Writer: J P Fear
Date:Friday April 7 2006
Around 15 years ago we were as good, if not better than Arsenal and Man utd and literally in a different league to Newcastle and Chelsea...So, WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG?
We're not alone when asking this question as we are part of a group of around half a dozen who have or have nearly won the league a few times in the last 30 years and regularly reached cup semis or finals only to now find themselves languishing on hard times.
Two events have bought this on, both of which were out of the clubs hands and one of which was solely in one mans hands. Firstly there was the utterly shambolic knee jerk reaction from Lord Justice Taylor to the Hillsborough tragedy where in order to be seen to be doing something he ordered everyone to get all seater stadia and it is this ruling that has ultimately lead to where we find ourselves today.
How the hell were clubs meant to find tens of millions of pounds when the punters were paying around a tenner to get in, the English game had no global appeal and other revenues were minimal? Enter SKY TV. The rich have got richer, the poor have got poorer, the gulf has widened, the competitive aspect of even the FA cup has virtually disappeared, the English guy toiling away in the lower leagues to go onto the big stage has become something of a rarity and the very foundations of the game have crumbled as the working classes get priced out of attending. Look where all the traditional grounds are. In the heart of the community to serve that community but as the club received more money, so the players wanted a bigger share and so the admission increased and so a new breed of supporter turned up. The type who looked down their noses at us all in the 1980's and would move to a different train carriage for fear of being associated with our type. These are not the type of supporter that are going to create a stirring atmosphere in the ground, and how many of us got hooked on The Villa as a result of the atmosphere at your first game? I know I did.
Foreign players started appearing with their massive wages, most of whom were no better than the British guys they replaced, and transfer fees rocketed as other clubs sought to have their share of the dosh. This scenario couldn't contain itself even within the monstrous figures being earned in the Premiership, so enter the tedium that is today's European football. More and more games for the fewer and fewer, further more widening the gulf and the inevitable reduction in top flight teams and revenue for those not fortunate enough to finish at the top. So more and more foreign journeymen entered the race to earn the big buck, resulting
in preposterous rulings such as Bosman and Brussels allowing total freedom to field an entire squad of non-British players. How can that possibly benefit the English game?
The gulf is so wide and the prospects of anyone other than the now usual four suspects winning the league, that they can think about and justify in their minds, setting up this G-14(?) league. Would this be better for the likes of Villa? Interesting debate, and I am tempted to say yes, lets cut them adrift and have something to play for each season and a realistic target of being champions. Of course, people would be-little any title won minus those four teams but times a great healer. Revenue would inevitably drop but then so would all the wages and transfer fees and within a few years normality would be resumed. Football is to a certain extent a fashion for a lot of people, and a few bad world cups would soon see these clubs wanting back in. SKY could have exclusive rights to every single game, both live and highlights, meaning terrestrial TV would show all prem games, and soon the fair weather fans of the top four would lose interest as everyone has access to Villa etc but only the few to Chelsea etc. After a while would Man Utd fans stand for travelling to Benfica instead of Bolton? Sounds appealing now, but after a couple of seasons I very much doubt it.
Finally, before you all think this exonerates Herbert - far from it. EVERYONE received the same money in that first year and so Norwich were on as often as Man Ure, Wimbledon as often as Arse, so we all started on a level playing field and as time went on that has very clearly changed. I thought we would be looked after in the shake up because we had a chairman with friends in high places and fingers in many FA pies, so how have we been left behind as even the likes of little Chelsea have in such a short period galloped past us and onto another stratosphere? I think you'll find the answer lie in Unky Herb trying to run every aspect of the club by
himself which as has now been proved is a fruitless and impossible task.
Oh I long for the 3pm Saturday KO and then settling down for the Sunday afternoon Big Match (of which there is only one). Would they lose much revenue by reverting back to this format? The Villa wouldn't as we would have more punters through the turnstiles, I mean do we really make enough money to warrant losing 12000 on a gate and possibly alienating the majority of those who get accustomed to their sofas? Would the players perform better in front of a packed Holte End? I bet the players would jump at the chance of having a bit of routine back in their lives whereby you can plan you life around Saturday afternoon and the very occasional Sunday.
The game died the day of Hillsborough and when I stayed routed to the spot until nearly an hour after the Holtes last stand had finished, I knew when they asked me to leave I wasn't leaving just my faithful crash barrier with my name scratched on it, but also the good times. Will they return? Yes. When? We don't even know the identity of the people who hold the answer.
I for one, have and always will refuse to give a penny to Mr Murdoch for destroying my dreams. I guess if all you've know is the Sky generation then you'll disagree with all of the above, but believe me were the best team in Europe not too long ago. How are the current and next generation ever supposed to know that though when every highlight of past league, cup and European games start when Sky got their grubby mitts on the beautiful game? I guess their like a microwave meal - convenient, technologically advanced, over priced, taking over peoples lives, appear in a box in your house and an acquired taste. They are a bit predictable and bland though.
Maybe I just fear change and am old before my time, but something has to give - besides, it's been quiet in work today!
UP THE VILLA
Date:Friday April 7 2006
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