ON THE DL
Meet a regular Dubai Lion every few weeks in this new series. This week – The Dubai Lions' Chairman himself...
Welcome to ON THE DL where we meet a new Dubai Lion each month. Through this series, you will get to know us better and for those thinking of joining us on a matchday, you can see that we’re (mainly) just normal folk with an abnormal love for all things ASTON VILLA. This week, we meet our founder and Chairman - Mark Forrester.
The Chairman originally hails from Great Barr where he grew up before moving to Dubai in 2004 to find some rocks (more on that later) and later set up his own business. He then set about looking for an Aston Villa supporters club with limited success before taking the reigns and creating what we now know and love - The Dubai Lions. You'll find him in The Rose & Crown on matchdays, usually followed by Fibber Magees. He'll be the one holding a bottle of Budweiser and asking you for your fan ID.
HOW DID YOU START FOLLOWING ASTON VILLA?
As a youngster on the Beeches Estate, everyone was either Villa or Blues with the usual smattering of glory hunting reds. I couldn’t consider supporting anything other than a local team, even at that age, so I had to choose Villa or Blues. A couple of mates of mine were avid young noses and persistently tried to persuade me to be a Blue (you’ll see how close they came a bit later), but I heard Villa had a player called Chico Hamilton. I decided I had to support the team that had a Chico Hamilton. So from that day forward, if anyone asked, I was a Villa fan and I got a new Villa kit, a nice school bag and pencil case for Christmas. It would be years before I got to see them play though.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST VILLA GAME - HOME OR AWAY?
Home v Norwich in 1975, a night game so it was under the AV floodlights. My Dad (The General) took me. I was completely mesmerised by how the green pitch glowed under those lights. We went to the left side of the Holte End, right next to the big concrete plinth at the bottom of one of the legs of the floodlight tower. I experienced the roar of the Holte for the first time that day and drank my first hot Bovril. We won 3-2.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE EVER VILLA PLAYER?
A tough one. My first real hero was Gary Shaw. David Platt, Dean Saunders, and Dwight Yorke were all right up there. Paul McGrath, he was just different class, but my favourite to this day was Paul Birch. A no-frills, honest, grafter of a midfielder. As it happens our paths crossed later in life when our daughters were born in cubicles next to each other in Good Hope Hospital, just minutes apart. He was a postman then.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE MANAGER?
Big Ron. The era following his team in the ’90s were my Wonder Years. Ron Saunders devastated me when he left in 82, so I hadn’t really got to appreciate him other than through news clips, but Big Ron was one of us. It felt like someone had died when he was sacked.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE VILLA KIT?
The Umbro away kit 1976-81. The white shirt with claret and blue trim and the famous round badge. It was the first to have a manufacturers logo on it. Perfect with the light blue shorts and white socks. Andy Gray looked the nuts in it.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO/CONNECTS YOU WITH DUBAI?
I came to Dubai in 2004 to work in the rock quarries in the Northern Emirates, they were being blasted to create what is now the Palm Island. I literally moved mountains.
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER DUBAI LIONS?
This bit might be a little bit long, so bear with me. In 2008, I moved down from the Northern Emirates into Dubai. I tried a few times to see if there was a Villa Supporters club, but the guy who was listed on the AVFC Lions Club network was uncontactable. This went on for years where I thought I must be the only Villa fan in town. Watching the games on TV in the pub was a lonely experience. In 2014, after speaking to another Lions Club Chairman whilst on the preseason tour in Texas, I contacted Villa and my contact details were added to the Dubai Club. I was now the registered Chairman of a club, which had one member - me. I created a Dubai Lions Facebook page in the hope someone might send a message. Nothing for six months, then suddenly two arrived at once, from Steve Hodgkins and Dave Banner. We arranged to meet on November 2nd, 2014 for Villa v Spurs. Dave couldn’t make it, so Steve and I met in Fibber Magees. The Dubai Lions was born.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE WITH DUBAI LIONS?
I am the Chairman, and I suppose, the Founder. In the early days, when we only had a handful of members I ran the club single-handedly but within a couple of years the Club grew quite big and was taking up a lot of time. I am extremely fortunate to have fellow Lions members who are equally as dedicated and passionate about the Dubai Lions and now share the load in running the club as a Committee. We are now the biggest overseas Lions Club in the World (excluding Ireland) with well over 100 registered members. Even my Dad has become a key part of the team.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE AND LEAST FAVOURITE DUBAI LIONS MOMENTS?
I’ve enjoyed 5 years with the DL, in which time I have had the pleasure of experiencing so many memorable “incidents”. I’ve met Big Ron and Peter Withe, I’ve experienced unbridled elation numerous times celebrating crucial wins (The DL really know how to celebrate!), I’ve been on tour around Europe with the DL for preseason and even travelled to Greece with them as guests of one of our boys' wedding. So to pinpoint a favourite moment for me is impossible. Instead, I will share my proudest moment... In May 2019, we gathered in our Upper Tier to watch the Championship Play-Off Final v Derby. More than 200 Villa fans packed into The Rose & Crown that day and the atmosphere was just superb - the place was rocking. On the final whistle, the place erupted. I looked around and saw collective unbridled elation. For a brief moment, it dawned on me that I’d started this and I’d somehow enabled a huge bunch of complete strangers to come together and experience that. I don’t think I have ever felt so proud.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE DUBAI LION?
I refer to every one of the regular members of the Dubai Lions as “my boys” and I sincerely mean it, they are. We share a bond and friendship that most other clubs don’t get to enjoy, so to single out a favourite is difficult. However, my closest brother in arms is Mark Maynard. We only met in Dubai through the DL but he’s my closest ally and wingman. Our Villa histories are almost identical and it's amazing we never met at any of the hundreds of Home and Away games we went to back in the 80s and 90s.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE ASTON VILLA MEMORY?
The European Cup Final 1982. I’d really started following the Villa during the Championship season 80/81, due to being old enough to start going to the games rather than just on the back of the success. By the time the 81/82 season came I was an avid supporter and attending every home game. The European away games weren’t on the tele much but the Final was shown live so I watched it at my mate's house. It was just an incredible thing to watch and everyone had been excited for days as the game got closer. When we won I didn’t know what to do, I was only 14 so not old enough to go to the pub and I’d already drunk my three cans of Skol. For days afterwards (well years actually) it was all we talked about, then there was the civic parade in town with Villa fans everywhere - just an amazing feeling.
WHICH OTHER TEAM DO YOU DISLIKE THE MOST?
Whilst I have a deep hatred of the chavvy little urchins of Blues, the fans I despise the most are Man Utd. Their arrogance exceeds even that of Liverpool. Over the years, I’ve had so many run-ins with them, both verbal (1989, 93 and 96) and physical (1983,84,85,86,87,88,89,90,91,92,93,94 three times, 95,96,97,98 and 2000). I feel a deep sense of disappointment when a person I at first think is alright, tells me he is a Utd fan. Every defeat for Utd, no matter who it's against, brings me deep joy.
AND FINALLY…HAVE YOU EVER SUPPORTED A TEAM OTHER THAN ASTON VILLA?
No, but I came close. I could easily have become a Bluenose. As a kid, for my birthday the first shirt I had was the Blues penguin kit. I got to wear it once before my Mum washed it in the toploader and the whole thing ran, the blue faded and the white turned a nasty grey. Just three months later, I got my first Villa kit for Christmas, beautiful Claret and Blue. I became Chico Hamilton and I never looked back.
Thanks for everything, Chico, errr - I mean Chairman!