MEET John Flanner, a lifelong Aston Villa season ticket holder who has only heard the roaring sounds of Villa Park for the past 50 years.
That is because John has been blind since he turned 19, and he has now released a book to publish his inspirational and moving story.
The 69-year-old will be joined by Aston Villa legend Peter McParland MBE at Villa Park on Thursday (May 4) to celebrate the launch of his book ‘Beautiful Game, Beautiful Memories’.
Documenting John’s memories from past and present times at Villa Park, the book’s launch coincides with the 60th anniversary of Aston Villa’s FA Cup Final win in 1957 – a game in which McParland scored the two winning goals.
Since turning blind, the Solihull resident has had to rely on commentary from friends, family and radio to have an idea of what is happening during the game.
But it’s the atmosphere which really excites John more than anything else.
Speaking to The Observer, John said his book reflects on legendary matches and dramatic events over the past 60 years.
He said: “I remember celebrating the 1957 FA Cup victory, that was magical to see. Thousands of people turned out in Birmingham the day after winning the cup to see Villa bring it home.
“I was hooked. I’d go to watch reserve matches with my dad before going with my mates when I started getting older – I never missed a game.”
John’s life took a dramatic turn in 1967 though when he became blind while still a teenager.
Determined not to lose his love for a club which provided him with countless memories as a youngster, John continued to go and support the Villa with his friends – who provided commentaries of the game while he sat in the ground.
He said: “When I went blind I didn’t want to go to the matches. But my friends started doing commentaries for me and I still loved the atmosphere.
“Now I go to watch Villa with my son. We have a season ticket together and he started doing commentaries for me.
“At one stage I’d listen to commentary through the hospital radio in the Villa press box.
“I’m a big sports fan – I love my cricket, football, golf and more.
“Nowadays the club supplies blind supporters with an earpiece so they can listen to the game – before when I relied on commentaries my friends would sometimes forget to say what’s happening when it got exciting.”
The book also focuses on changes to the ‘beautiful game’ since the Damson Park resident first started going to watch football.
Increased policing and a lack of relationships with opposing fans is something which John finds incredibly sad about the modern game – and he hopes things can change in the future.
“Football is called the ‘Beautiful Game’ but there are all kinds of negative attitudes and we see some ugly things,” he said.
“I miss the days where you’d go to away games and share sandwiches with opposition fans and swap telephone numbers with them.
“It’s a sport, not war. My book reflects on memories but also highlights my sad views on how the game has changed regarding fans.”
John’s story has inspired many, including former Aston Villa player Ron Wylie and former managers Brian Little and Ron Atkinson.
His story of continually supporting his team despite not being able to physically see them is something which Brian Little described as ‘amazing’.
The former player and coach said: “John’s story is simply incredible.
“Most of us have been blessed with being able to watch football, rather than having to imagine in our mind’s eye what is happening on the pitch.
“For someone like John to follow Villa as passionately as he has done without being able to see is amazing.”
Ron Atkinson added: “John’s recollections of players and matches stirred up so many wonderful memories for myself.
“This book is a fantastic read for all of those who genuinely love ‘the Beautiful Game’ and I thoroughly recommend it as an inspirational read.”
John will be joined by Peter McParland, Lord and Lady Taylor of Warwick, John Lerwill and Rt Rev Dr David Carr OBE for the book launch.