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Thanks for everything Dalian - yours was a black life that mattered more than you'll ever know
Posted on the 16th Aug 2016 in the category sport



I wrote this the night after I heard Dalian Atkinson had been killed after being tasered by the police. Being able to write helps me so much dealing with various situations, and being able to write this about a football player I loved was great, and the fact the Halesowen News blog got shared all over the place meant a lot. I hope this is a fitting tribute to a great man.

 

When Dalian Atkinson laughed at a joke it was like he laughed for hours, and when he shook your hand it stayed shaken all day.
He was larger than life but now that light which shone so bright has been extinguished at 48-years-old by a police taser in a tragedy which has been especially felt by Villa fans of my generation.
In that incredible 1992-1993 season when the Villa nearly won the league I was a catering porter at Villa Park, dressed in blue overalls and armed with a walkie talkie I'd take food from bar to bar and executive box to box.
I was 18, a nine stone streak of piss, had fledgling curtains and someone said I looked like Robbie Williams I quickly got the nickname Take That, and because I was a porter people would always be telling me to take this or that somewhere.
The highlight of any match day was dropping a box of Mars, Snickers and Twix to the players before the game. They were my heroes.
Many were nice like Kevin Richardson, others didn't give me a second look but Dalian always made it an event. Whether it was asking my opinion to back up whatever good natured argument he was having or to ask me to tell him a joke, or making me the but of the joke - "Take That's here."
I don't think I ever saw Dalian quiet, he was always mid-conversation, it seemed he could have three at once.
He reminded me a bit of Frank Bruno, who I'd met at the Villa as well, but way more cooler. He towered over me and seemed to have that star quality, I got the feeling he'd ring every drop out of being a footballer off the pitch.
On the pitch, he had it all. Power, pace, terrific touch and a rocket of a shot without the need of back lift. He could pick up the ball in midfield and go past players like they were not there. He was unplayable, when he wanted to be.
When you support a team like the Villa you don't get the elite players who are brilliant nearly every game, if you are lucky you watch players like Atkinson and John Carew who can be unplayable, if they had not spent all night in the strip club.
My first hero down the Villa was Mark Walters, a local boy who when he picked up the ball you'd hear all the Trinity Road wooden seats slap back as people stood up in anticipation. After Walters went it was Tony Daley who provided that electric feel in the ground, albeit like a flickering lightbulb due to his inconsistency. But Atkinson had that quality to make grown men's stomach turn in the hope of seeing magic before their eyes.
He arrived in that magical summer of 1991, Big Ron had made his sensational switch from Sheffield Wednesday and then we started to buy quality players. Steve Staunton from Liverpool and in one week two record signings, first Oldham's Earl Barrett and then the day after Dalian Atkinson from Real Sociedad where he had spent a season in Spain up front with John Aldridge. If only we had bought the pair, I reckon we would have been unstoppable.
Atkinson scored in that sun-drenched Carlsberg sponsored away game at his old team Sheffield Wednesday on the first game of the season which heralded the Big Ron era. And that was it for that season, he did not score again due to injury. And a goal drought ensued, the longest run of games without a goal from the team in years, old man Cyrille Regis finally ended it.
Knowing we had a leather seated Rolls Royce in the garage which would not start causing to get the equivalent of a snot covered seated bus proved too much for a lot of Villa fans. Atkinson became known as "Sicknote" by some, never me, and funnily enough, not usually by friends or age group.
As well as "Sicknote" the whispers started, you know the type, in a Brummie accent out the side of the mouth came the refrain - "he's on the coke up town every night en he."
Said usually by blokes who would still order a pint of Davenports if they found themselves within the ringroad and the nearest they had got to cocaine was ejecting Scarface from their Betamax in disgust.
But the next season he could have been Pablo Escobar and Villa fans would not have blinked.
He scored the greatest ever Villa Premiership goal - against Wimbledon away. Dons players tried to stop him, the ball was glued to his foot as they bounced off like the bit-part players to history they would become. And then came the chip, the trickiest finish in the game pulled off like it was child's play. Who can forget the friendliest pitch invader ever, an old fella with a brolly who looked like he'd wandered off the Number 11 looking for his Darby and Joan club, Atkinson's reaction? To laugh of course.
We had bought Dean Saunders, after Ron's weird Crystal Palace game on pitch speech, to partner Atkinson and the title seemed to be ours to lose. Goals were flying in from all over the pitch, home and away.
We had a pair upfront who were the scorers of spectacular goals, not spectacular goal scorers, hence why we could have done with a poacher like John Aldridge.
The next season we did not challenge for the league, a team like that was only going to have one chance at title glory and we'd blew it. However, the team had one beautiful story to write in the history books.A glorious cup run which culminated in stopping the mighty Man Utd winning the first treble.
That was Atkinson's cup. He scored in every round, he singlehandedly destroyed Sunderland away. And he scored two last minute goals against Tranmere, away and home. I was 19-years-old and could never remember Villa scoring in injury time, only ever letting them in, but Atkinson changed that.
Tranmere at home in the semi-final was the greatest game I've ever attended. As the minutes ticked away we were about to be dumped out by a Division One team on terrestrial television. And then Atkinson rose and nodded in the equaliser, he dashed and picked the ball up and did not even celebrate because he thought we needed another.
The crowd celebration was monumental, I was in the Holte End and ended up god knows how many rows away from I started and upside down. During extra-time he nearly bested his Wimbledon goal with another mazy run towards goal which had the crowd holding their breath and commentators spluttering. Ozzy Bozzy became the hero that day due to his penalty shootout heroics, and I had the best Sunday night of my life celebrating getting to the twin towers for the first time in my life.
Getting a ticket for Wembley was like a quest for the Holy Grail involving old programme vouchers. I got mine and me and my pals went away in a dodgy minibus for the weekend for the first time in our spotty lives.
Our seats in the wee-drenched Wembley Stadium were behind the goal to the left. I saw Atkinson latch onto the ball and was mesmerised as he bore down on goal, he was never going to miss.
The ball beautifully rolled into the back of the net as he ran wheeled away towards the fans in ecstasy, tongue out like a good un.

Me and my pals screamed to the sky as we dived over row after row of crazed Villa fans (and the fella who we had spotted wearing Manyoo socks) feeling like we'd never die.
Yesterday when I heard Dalian had in fact died, my first reaction was "that man gave me the best moments of my life."
His was a black life that mattered more to me than I ever knew.
Thanks for everything Dalian, from "Take That"

 




 

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