Thoughts and issues regarding the past and present of a great football club by "The Chronicler".

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Villa Park - A Conundrum

In August, an SCG meeting was held at Villa Park, and the Q and As are reported via this link.

The matter was reported on Jonathan Fear's Vital Villa site via this link. But the first response to this post on the Vital Villa site, by 'voiceoftheholte', really did make me think hard... (I have included only the main issue of the response and also have broken it up into chunks, for readability), and caused me to come to a conclusion that has surprised myself:

"... I understand the issue on the North Stand redevelopment as we cannot fill the ground we have, because there are too many fickle fans/part timers/glory hunters etc. ... The question was asked on transport but the club has a fundamental problem that will not be overcome whilst the club is based in Aston.

"Due to cultural changes, the ground is in a deprived part of Birmingham that is home to a 90% immigrant population. This social group have no affinity with the football club within whose shadows they live. Villa are not alone with this problem. Newcastle, Bluescouse, Redscouse etc are fortunate to have locations that have not been affected by population change over the years. So regardless of transport, Villa Park will remain a matchday venue only.

"The location and lack of supporters that live within the shadows of Villa Park will mean that youth/reserve games will struggle to attract support. The restaurants are underused and the Holte Pub can not open except on matchdays. The mainly muslim population have no need for pubs in the area. All the supporter consultation groups, whilst occasionally coming up with an idea, will never overcome most of the problems facing many football clubs in the future and are akin to moving the deckchairs on the Titanic.

"Flatten Villa Park, sell the land for development and move to the area now home to the Aston Science Park on the east side of the City Centre, next to the ThinkTank and within walking distance of the 3 Main train stations in Brum, the Metro service and every bus route into Brum. Make it the heart of the City or all the fan initiatives in the world are pointless. Big men and big leaders make big decisions. Lets forget ticking boxes and do something fundamental for the long term health of our great club.

"Villa Park worked up to 40 years ago. It doesn't anymore. Fortune favours the brave." 

Phew!! 'voiceoftheholte' (if he is!) certainly packs a powerful emotional punch. Until now I had never seriously thought that Aston Villa FC should move from where it is. There is so much history tied up with the area on which the ground is located, and the club's own lengthy and deep history there, that I previously could not reconcile with the thought of the home of Aston Villa being elsewhere. But his arguments are pointed and caused me to address this issue for myself.

I have to say that I now agree that something fundamentally requires to be done. And I also think that his proposal (the move to an adjacent point to the ThinkTank) has merit. But would the city government support that location?

It's hard to think of another location that would be more appropriate, to my mind. I definitely would not be happy for the club to move to a green-field site outside the city. The idea of utilising rail transport seems far more appealing.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Aston Villa's History

I received the following testimonial for the book, Aston Villa : The First Superclub,  from a reader this week-end:

"Congratulations on writing a superb book. I ... have been enthralled reading it. ...I have a copy of Peter Morris"s 1960 book which started my collection of Villa books. Your book is the best so far produced."

Don't worry, this kind of feedback doesn't go to my head, but the last sentence is worth looking at.

How many times has the Villa story been told (in printed detail), is the first question. I think the importance of Peter Morris's book was that he set a standard - and the basis was that he ensured, in the 1960 book and his 1974 follow-up, that the glory of Aston Villa would never dim. Previous histories were very tame and scattered affairs - he at least put a story together.

It was only in the 1990s that further comprehensive histories of the club appeared - notably by Rippon and McColl. And they - despite the size of their publications - did not go as deeply into the history as they might have. Other publications have appeared that have discussed the club's early history - but nothing very comprehensive. Simon Inglis's fine book was, of course, primarily about Villa Park and not the entire history.

Not only that, but all those books have contained a fair number of errors or exaggerations.

One of the perpetual errors is that the club was founded by four people under a lamplight ... whereas Jack Hughes insisted that the founders of the club were all the 15 founding members, as stated in The First Superclub. The 'four' were just out on a scouting mission on behalf of the Bible Class, nothing more. Perhaps it was Norman Edwards who gave undue prominence to that lamplight meeting.

It wasn't until The Villa Chronicles appeared that people were aware of who was the first club president, and other early Wesleyan Chapel details that were uncovered by Peter Lupson. And there is a photo of the first club president hidden in a newspaper of 1924 - one that proved too expensive for me to get an extract.

It was because of the errors and omissions that I commenced my delvings starting from early 2006, firstly resulting in The Villa Chronicles. I believe that publication put considerable amounts of additional information out for public consumption, and though I was shocked that the club has reduced the cost of the book to the extent it has, at least people can now more easily afford to buy it. The real early history is now more widely disseminated.

What is more, The First Superclub improves on the early history  in respect of Jack Hughes' statements, and for the first time a book contains profiles of nearly all of those early members.

The book also contains considerably more new detail - not only in respect of details of matches and players and other important detail - but also in respect of the involvement of fans, particularly in the significant 1968-2006 period.

So, The First Superclub book is more than a simple repetition of stories told before. It in fact tells those stories in far more detail and accuracy than before and, I hope, acts as the true bible (with The Villa Chronicles, Bishop and Holte's Complete Record and Simon Inglis's book) of the club's real history.

I am not saying it cannot be improved upon. Some day someone may well just do that. But that someone will have to do more research than was packed into 60-70% of my time in the 6 years between 2006 and 2011.

For a review of the book, please click here. 

Monday, 3 September 2012

What a Surprise!

Surprise, surprise surprise...

What happened against Newcastle was a good uplift for all Villa fans, me included!

For the first time for quite awhile we not only saw a Villa team pushing back the opposition but doing it in a coordinated way ... there was actually teamwork, and more than a trace of method.

It's not by any means the finished article, but considering what happened against Everton only a week ago, this was a vast transformation, and it gives great hope that Mr. Lambert will get his team to improve on it. What is important, that by the time we get to meeting the big teams in the League, there may well be a Villa team that is living up to the club's motto: "Prepared".

One further note: it was good to see Gabby back. That sublime pace was seen once when Bent was supplied with a very scorable chance. Shame that Falcao wasn't playing for Villa - he would have scored!

March on, Paul Lambert! The Force be with you!