O'Leary Misleads Villa Fans?
The Mirror and I believe the Guardian have picked up on the comments by David O'Leary saying he would be happy to attend a fans form but that he had 'never been invited'.
I couldn't let that lie (!) I'm afraid. The Shareholders Association invited David O'Leary in 2004. I know local radio stations have asked; as has another Villa supporters group. So why has he said that he's 'never been invited'?
David O'Leary replied to the Association's invitation saying: 'As regards your request for a fan forum, as I am sure you will appreciate Jonathan, I have been approached by various supporters' clubs, associations, local media etc, with a request to attend such events and I have made the steadfast decision to decline all such invitations. I simply feel that if I were to accept one, I would be setting a precedent which, unfortunately, I would be unable to adhere to.'
Seems very clear that there was an invitation. And yet he told the press conference at Bodymoor Heath on 24th March: 'I haven't been invited. If I was asked to go, I would be happy to go, without a doubt. I think I get on very well with supporters.'
I had to think long and hard whether to make the reply to my invitation public after all this time but after taking advice on the ethics and speaking with a lawyer, it was agreed that the letter wasn't of a personal nature and that because the initial invitation was made on behalf of the Shareholders Association and it was important to show the press, fans and shareholders that what David O'Leary is saying is totally untrue.
It isn't the first time this situation has arisen either. Villa Fans Combined wrote to David O'Leary before we held the protest march before the Southampton game several seasons ago to assure the manager and players that the protests was purely aimed at the chairman. He replied with thanks which I thought would be the end of it. However, when asked at another press conference about the assurances he had been sent he told the reporters that he had never had contact with any group. That made me out to be a liar. Why? There is no need to mislead, all he had to say was 'no comment' or that he doesn't get involved in fans issues. I then had to answer questions from people asking why I'd said I had written with assurances. This time around I've had to reply to Shareholder Members asking why I'd told them that I had attempted to attract David O'Leary to a forum.
The forum situation was also brought up at the AGM when a shareholder asked why the manager wouldn't meet with the fans. Doug Ellis promised to look into it and try to arrange something. I actually extended an invitation again two weeks ago to see if David O'Leary would now attend a forum having implied he would if he was invited. I contacted the Trust and Tom Ross of Capital Gold/BRMB and suggested if the manager was willing, we could do it as a joint thing. No reply has been received as yet!
I am quoted in the paper today saying: 'It appears that Mr O'Leary does not want to face the fans or the shareholders. I took his response by letter to be categorical. It is his choice what he wants to do. But to then hear him complain about never having been invited, it makes it sound as if we are snubbing him. It is highly misleading. It is treating us as fans with a great amount of disrespect. It implies that I am lying to our members when I tell them he has been invited to a forum.'
The report in the Mirror says that 'Villa yesterday declined to comment' and suggests that David O'Leary wants to wait until the takeover situation is sorted at before speaking to fans. So if that is the case, why didn't he say that in the first place?
As John Gregory said in a press interview, 'Villa fans are very passionate. But they're also quite willing to put up with things and it takes a lot for them to turn on a manager' adding: 'I reckon David has made a monumental PR error in distancing himself from the fans.'
Now he has been shown to not only distance himself but also miss-lead. So now what?
Footnote: The article also quotes me as 'supporters chief.' Anyone who knows me will realise I'm not even chief of my own household (and I live on my own!) so I don't profess to be or consider myself any sort of chief. I apologise (again) that I have been called this and hope this doesn't deflect from the issue the article is dealing with. It seems a very thorny issue speaking about Villa in the press. Some think that I am trying to talk for all Villa fans, which would be impossible as we all think so differently, but if I am asked on behalf of the Shareholders Assoc, VFC or even my own website, I will always (or nearly always) give my opinion. I also do try to talk about the majority view whether it is on Ellis or the manager. If anyone is pro either, there is nothing stopping them from making their feelings public is there? We could have an Anti-VFC-Pro-Ellis party maybe! ;-)