Mat Kendrick: So was Craig Gardner a boyhood Villan or a Bluenose?
Feb 8 2010 By Mat Kendrick
What is it with modern-day footballers, changing childhood allegiances to their so-called beloved dubs more often than the Chelsea captain changes lovers?
No sooner had Tottenham Hotspur striker Robbie Keane taken the high road and joined Celtic on loan until the end of the season, he proudly declared that he was a boyhood Bhoys supporter.
This is the same Robbie Keane who, upon signing for Liverpool 18 months ago, professed a lifelong love for the Liver Bird and an undying affinity to all things Anfield.
My memory fails me over whether, when he joined Wolverhampton Wanderers as a teenager, the Republic of Ireland striker claimed to have Bully posters on his walls.
Or, indeed, whether he also used to dream of playing for Coventry City, Inter Milan, Leeds United and Tottenham.
But, rather than indiscriminately kissing their latest club crests like politicians kiss babies, players should either come clean about their childhood allegiances or simply say nothing.
Most modern-day supporters realise that their own affection for a team will last longer than that of the latest ‘hero’ to pull on their hallowed club’s colours.
Providing said player puts in the necessary blood, sweat and tears during his spell at their club then it needn’t matter whether he stood among them on the terraces or used to cheer on their fiercest rivals down the road.
Which brings me to the subject of Craig Gardner, of this parish, who ditched his claret and blue connections with Aston Villa the very moment he signed for Birmingham City last week.
Gardner is a likeable, down-to-earth Brummie lad, like many of the Villa and Blues supporters on either side of the Second City divide. From my limited dealings with him during his time at Villa he struck me as a sensible youngster, who had benefited from a fine family upbringing. My opinion hasn’t changed.
However, it strikes me – as firmly as the versatile midfielder can strike a football – that Gardner has simply tried too hard to blend in.
When I first interviewed him as a 20-year-old in April 2007 he told me: “I signed for Villa when I was 15 and since then these have been the best days of my life. I’m a Villa fan.
“I’ve come through the ranks and nothing can be better. I used to be on the Holte End. I was there when we beat Tranmere in the League Cup semi-final.
"I was at the game when Mark Bosnich saved the penalty and we all ran on to the pitch so it’s come from that. When I was watching Villa as a kid there were people like Garry Parker, Dalian Atkinson and Paul McGrath.
"They were all brilliant. I used to sing their names and now I look at the crowd and they’re chanting my name so it’s great.”
Fast forward just under three years to him signing for Villa’s near neighbours Blues last week and Gardner’s tune had changed.
“Having played for the Villa everyone thinks I’m a Villa fan but I’m a Bluenose. I have been all my life. I was a mascot at John Frain’s testimonial.
“But I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. People who know me, my close friends and family, they all know I’m a Blues fan. As they say: ‘once a blue, always a blue’.”
In fairness Gardner’s situation was a sensitive one. It wouldn’t have done his fledgling Villa career much good to have owned up to being a devoted ‘Bluenose’ as a teenager at Bodymoor Heath.
However, equally, there was no need for him to pretend he had claret and blue blood coursing through his veins.
It is completely unnecessary for any player to proclaim to be a scarf-waving, season-ticket-holding, die-hard supporter of any particular club as long as he proves where his loyalties lie on the pitch for the one that pays his wages.
Gardner and Keane have always done that for their previous clubs and I’m sure will continue to do so throughout their careers regardless of who they support.