By Lou Thomas
A football reporter accused by Aston Villa’s manager of having a vendetta against the club has called the allegations "mind-blowing" and said claims that previous managers had banned him were "completely false".
The Birmingham Mail’s Bill Howell was denounced by David O’Leary at a press conference last Friday. O’Leary said: "We’ve got a local paper that has an agenda against myself. The journalist involved — who has been banned by the two previous managers of the club — is a West Brom fan. He’s had a vendetta against me. He is trying to undermine me and the football club."
O’Leary then repeated the remarks on Saturday’s Five Live following the Birmingham team’s 5-0 away defeat to Arsenal. Howell is currently banned from the club’s press conferences, but has been told the situation is being reviewed each day.
The reporter told Press Gazette: "It is just mind-blowing. He said that the two previous managers banned me, which is completely false. I had a good working relationship with both John Gregory and Graham Taylor, so that was a strange, stupid thing to say."
Howell said that he had a fairly good relationship with O’Leary until Christmas. He said: "He privately blamed me for cancelling the players’
Christmas party. He told the dressing room that I found out where they were going and what their itinerary was.
I knew they were going to London, but nothing more than that. That’s when I’d imagine it started to fall apart."
Howell denied that his support of Villa’s local rivals, West Bromwich Albion, affected his reporting. He said: "At least he got that factually correct.
That’s the only thing he got right.
I haven’t got a vendetta. I’ve got a good relationship with the supporters and an exceptional relationship with most of the players. I’m into my seventh year of reporting solely on Aston Villa and I don’t think I’d be doing my job if the only person I was speaking to was David O’Leary."
O’Leary has previously said that fans calling for his resignation were "fickle".
Howell said: "They’ve all got badges now. They’ve produced 4,000 badges saying, ‘We’re not fickle, we just don’t like you.’ It’s become the fans’ slogan."
Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson, whose editorial defending Howell was published on Monday, said: "It’s ludicrous that Villa or O’Leary try to single him out, because we’ll just laugh him off the pitch."