Aston Villa 'Forward'
Some while back, when we dissolved Villa Fans Combined and it became clear that the Aston Villa Shareholders Association would soon be consigned to history, I worked on a 24 page document - called Villa Forward - to pass on to the new group should they have an interest in it, which they did!
What I tried to do was give a brief background to a lot of our gripes over the years but wanted to try to slant it so it was more positive and also not looking like fans dictating.
Since time has now passed and people are asking what communications the club have had, I've decided to post the parts of it that I can. Some parts were more 'sensitive' and obviously the contacts section with press, players, former managers etc have been removed from this scaled down version.
It was by no means all encompassing but hopefully covered a good amount of what has been said over the years during the Ellis era.
The Doug Ellis Stand:
The stand renaming was a major bone of contention with many thousands of fans. The stand was always known as the Witton Lane Stand and for the Chairman to have had it changed (whether with his knowledge as the fans suspect, or as a surprise as he claims) was quite obviously wrong without consulting with the fans.
Most people appear to want the name changed and we added a resolution to the AGM in 2004 to have the name changed back. This resolution won by a show of hands but was out voted by the proxy vote of Mr Ellis.
If the stand can be re-named, I think the fans would love to be consulted, possibly with a vote by season ticket holders to make them feel an integral part of the decision making process (and no, I don`t have a utopian view that decisions should be done by committee on all matters!).
Some of the names suggested are:
1) Reverting back to the Witton Lane Stand
2) The Ron Saunders Stand
3) The Tony Barton Stand
4) The Ron Saunders and Tony Barton Stand (bit of a mouthful)
5) The 1982 Stand
6) The Dennis Mortimer Stand
7) The William McGregor Stand
I recently did a poll on my site and 62% voted for the Witton Lane Stand.
The Trinity Road Stand
There is an issue with the lack of a fascia on the new Trinity Stand. The old and historic stand, which many still can`t believe was demolished, had a fantastic fascia with the clubs crest. Many have said they would like some sort of replica added.
General: (Not THE General!)
Some comments passed on are to look at making the separate stands blend together better, joining them up as per the original plans, making it look more complete.
Not to have the concrete look if stands are changed, Villa Park was always at its best when brick built like the Holte End.
PA system that people can actually hear when announcements are made would be good!
Toilets can be cramped, not cleaned during games; soap and paper towels run out before the end of the game, bins become full to overflowing.
Shop looks tatty and the name 'Villa Village` was a direct copy from The Chelsea Village, Villa should be able to innovate, not copy.
Aston Villa`s shop in Birmingham is 'hidden` on the basement floor of the Pavillians shopping mall.
Queues can be very long and some people, especially at half time, simply give up waiting.
Choice of food and drink isn`t very diverse, maybe some more healthy food and the total opposite, a McDonalds franchise might be better!
You must try the balti pies though, they are an 'experience` if nothing else!
One comment on the food: 'It`s appalling. Appalling selection, served in disgusting conditions by staff who are paid so poorly they don`t care or know how to care. It doesn`t have to be that way.`
Tributes and history:
The team of 1982 have never been embraced by the club or used as ambassadors for the club. This is another major gripe from the fans as well as the former players. These are our League and European Cup winning heroes and although you don`t want to hark on about the past, you do want the history recognised and celebrated.
Our captain of the time, Dennis Mortimer, has never even been invited into the Directors Box for a game, he has ended up coming down to matches with me as my guest and you can see the respect and awe he is still held in. Dennis would be a great person to act as some sort of ambassador for Villa and shouldn`t have to sit with the 'commoners` like me!
Many fans would love to see a statue of Dennis Mortimer lifting the European Cup.
The same goes for all the players of the 1982 team. Maybe as a way forward we see a nod to the past first? This could be done by a celebration dinner (there was one done for 20th anniversary, but it was a tame affair), a possible testimonial or through other means.
Managers Ron Saunders and Tony Barton who is now sadly deceased, famous for what they achieved in the late 70`s and early 80`s, have received no real respect or tributes from the club despite the honour and glory they brought to the club.
There is very little in the form of history, or much pride in our heritage despite Villa being founding members of the football league. We`ve also won a fair amount of honours, especially when Mr Ellis wasn`t around! Some sort of recognition, a hall of fame or museum would make sense to recognise this heritage and remind the younger generations of our glorious record. (VFC/Shareholders have 5-6 great banners that were used over the years, would gladly hand them over as they would fill a wall or two and are all part of our history now!). I`ve been told the Chelsea museum is a good example as it is 'interactive and well presented`. Chelsea don`t have even a fifth of our pedigree and yet they`ve got it right.
We also have the old Holte Hotel, which has been left to go to wrack and ruin. This used to be a fabulous place and in days gone by, they used to fly the flag of Villa and whichever team we were playing on match days. That might be a nice feature to re-introduce somewhere at Villa Park.
The Trust members voted and decided to attempt to raise funds for a statue of William McGregor. (Contact details were passed on and I think moves are afoot).
One forum user said to pass on the biggest crime at Villa Park has been the failure to make enough of what William McGregor did. We are the club that invented the Football League, everything that followed came from William McGregor. To me this is Aston Villa`s unique selling point and we can claim with some justification to be the home of football. I always found it annoying that places like Old Trafford (Man Utd) and Anfield (Liverpool) - who don`t really compare in terms of history, prestige or, tradition, brand themselves as Cathedrals when Villa Park is obviously one of the most historic sites in the game.
A supporter called John Lerwill is working on a book about our history and runs the site linked here. He said, following on from Neil above this is one of the most important points. I hope that my book The Villa Chronicles, is going to help re-address that issue, but extended memorabilia about McGregor should be included in some form. An appropriate museum would be nice. The history of Aston Villa is, effectively, the history of football since the game became organised. His details were passed on and his site was linked: http://hp-h.com/p/astonvilla
I don`t think a great many fans - Villa or otherwise - especially the younger generations would realise this fine history because it is never heralded.
We`ve had some disasters that haven`t followed the traditions and looked more like pyjamas! This is where fans could play a role if they are consulted and obviously you do that with the Cleveland Browns.
Many feel that the current kit supplier Hummel is 3rd rate. No other Premiership team use them and only Barnet in the lower leagues (Coca Cola League 2) have them as a supplier. They are shoddy and not the image we all think we deserve. We should be able to attract the top brands like Adidas, Nike, etc.
It is always seen as a bit of a joke that our shirt sponsors are usually low key deals or firms that no one has ever heard of.
Some teams display a star above their badge to commemorate winning the European Cup. However the issue is a mute point as the FA have apparently said it is against their rules (or which their must be a 10 000 page book full of unnecessary red tape, why isn't football in England run by people who understand football?).
No Star: Real Madrid, Benfica , Liverpool*, Manchester United*, Feyenoord, Ajax, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, FC Porto, PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona.
These have a star: AC Milan, Inter Milan, Celtic, Bayern Munich, Hamburg, Juventus, Steaua Bucharest, Red Star Belgrade, Borussia Dortmund.
*Liverpool and *Manchester United have European shirts, so I`d have thought they will display the star on those when they play in European competitions. (Info supplied by an online contact - Brian O`Flaherty).
Traditional Villa kit is claret body, blue sleeves, white shorts. I believe in the 1880`s Villa also played in brown!
Next year is our 25th anniversary of lifting the European Cup, so there is an opportunity to model next seasons kit on the 81/82 home and away kits. These could sell thousands, help educate the kids and would be great pr for RAL. (Suggested by Nigel Ashford).
There are some great staff in the ticket office, but there have been a few issues where fans from abroad have struggled to get tickets despite Villa only getting one full house last season (v Liverpool, 42 551). Some don`t want to join official supporters clubs, they just want to buy tickets. An example is a Dutch supporter called ****(name removed). He wanted 20 tickets and was refused them for the Holte End. I got involved and it was sorted, but it is ridiculous that someone like me who doesn`t work for the club had to get involved. I`ve done this for several other foreign fans as well, which just seems bizarre to me. I can certainly get the contact details of a couple of these fans should they be required.
A few comments with reference to Reading fc ticket system sent to me to ask why 'we` don`t do the same:
They have no paper tickets, just a smartcard. It works great, when you buy a ticket online, it is credited to your account and you just swipe the card to get in to the ground.
Everything you buy is converted to loyalty points and these are used when tickets are allocated for away games, cup finals etc.
He added: also, why is it not possible for me to see all available seats online? When I go to the Villa website, I can`t buy a specific available seat (the Royal Albert Hall and even my local cinema can do it, why can`t Villa?)
I believe Bruce Langham, our last CEO, was working on similar. Bruce, formerly at Fulham FC, was also very interested in bringing the fans back into the fold. I had a couple of constructive one on one meetings with him and he seemed to impress a fair few fans.
Season ticket holders who have not renewed have not received communications asking why and trying to lure them back. I believe the arrival of Martin O`Neill and Randy Lerner will do that job and that we will start to see Villa Park sell out again, but obviously not trying to lure back the 'stay away` fans is a basic business error.
I`ve also often wondered why the club don`t allow more school or scouts (cubs) parties to Villa when the tickets aren`t selling. Once a kid sees a team play they quite often stay with that team for life and some will progress to being season ticket holders as they grow up.
Villa introduced 0% credit to buy season tickets this year. That compares very favourably with previous schemes that charged a fair amount in interest.
Make being a season ticket holder an 'exclusive club'. I`ve discussed this with an online contact called Steve Wade for a few years.
When I spoke with Bruce Langham I suggested this and he was in full agreement. I don`t know if that conversation brought about the new 'package` but we now get the Claret and Blue magazine and were getting free access to the Villa World part of the website (although this year they have not offered that). There are also discounts for merchandise etc. (Although having just placed an order online, I've noticed I couldn't get the 10% discount that you can if you buy the goods from the shops).
It makes sense to go further than the current efforts, especially when you look at the poor quality of the season ticket book AND the fact the tickets for some reason this season are in 'Birmingham City' blue (and anything that reminds us Lions of Birmingham City is to be considered not good!). That decision has baffled a good few fans!
A season ticket holder is obviously paying in advance, so it seems good business sense to make the purchase 'special` and too good to miss, like a membership to an exclusive club.
If a fan buying a season ticket is making a commitment of money and faith in the club and that this should be recognised. Being a season ticket holder should bring both privileges and a sense of being a bit more part of the club than a person just buying a single ticket for a single game.
For instance, a season ticket holder could be automatically entered into a raffle at every home game and the prizes could be Villa orientated. The prizes could be of low monetary value but there should be enough of them to make winning not a rare event and they should create a sense of personal contact between the club and the fans - such as special merchandise only available to prize-winning season ticket holders - baseball caps etc to show off in.
The prizes don`t have to be expensive but should be about celebration and appreciation, with the added bonus of getting the privilege to enter the inner-sanctum.
A shirt worn by a favourite player.
VIP days at Bodymoor Heath training ground.
Free access to the Villa web site - including streamed media.
More prizes at Christmas.
Possibly even an annual major prize like a trip to see the Browns and get some Browns fans over here - hands across the water gestures to lessen the sense of distance between the clubs.
part two to follow....