Writer: J P Fear
Date:Wednesday November 1 2006
Reaching Out To Fans Old And New:
Most fans would love regular manager forums, even if just annually, or maybe the start and end of a season.
A few player (present and past) forums would be good as well*
Some fans and shareholders are worried, as there will be no AGM`s if we are de-listed, so a possible annual forum with the board would also be welcome. Doug stopped doing a fans forum years ago, can`t think why (!)
Players at some clubs go out to schools etc to meet the youngsters. Once the kids meet these players, they usually become supporters of the club and once you support a club, you support it for life. I believe Villa used to do this, last time I was asked, I was told the players were too wealthy and wouldn`t do it these days. I think that is rubbish, I`m sure they could find time to do this occasionally.
Fans can go to Bodymoor Heath training grounds but are kept very much at arms length. Now it is obvious that fans can`t get in the way of the very important business of training, the preparation of the players is obviously paramount, but I`m not sure the fans need to be as far away as to need binoculars to see things properly! I went with a friend once who won a morning watching the players train with a group of another 10 odd fans. Graham Taylor made an effort to make us all welcome, some of the players were great, some tried to slope off! Maybe some fans could occasionally get some up close access.
*VFC/Aston Villa Shareholders Association organised a 'testimonial` night for two players, Ian Taylor and Alan Wright who had been with the club 9 ½ years or so. The current board only give testimonials for players who stay over 10 years, so they were leaving with nothing. Ian especially was a local hero as he is a Brummie as well as a Villa fan through-and-through, who when injured would be amongst the fans in the Holte End. We contacted the club for a price to hire a room and weren`t exactly encouraged. The quote was way out of our range and no help was offered. Out of interest we contacted another local, smaller club, Walsall. They said if we`d been Walsall fans doing this, the room would have been free!
We still held a smashing night after hiring a room elsewhere, raised £750 for AVIDS charity and presented Ian Taylor (Alan Wright was in contract talks with a new club and at the last minute couldn`t attend) with a signed limited MacKenzie Thorpe footballing picture, a scrap book full of good wishes and a few poems. Not only that, he answered questions from the fans and had a great send off. Surely this is the sort of thing the club could/should have arranged? Certainly something a new fans group - should you choose to use one - would be very willing to do I should imagine.
Cleveland Browns Tie In:
I`m setting up a Browns Backers chapter for Aston Villa, which should make a good start to building relations between the clubs.
What about mixing the badges on a single shirt or baseball hat. There is a company that does half England international and half domestic club shirts, so half Villa/half Cleveland Browns might be good!
Maybe, if there proves to be a demand, Cleveland Browns games could be screened at Villa Park - add a bar and everyone is a winner!
One football site said the following about Villa Fans Combined:
In Villa Fans Combined, Aston Villa boast perhaps the most active and organised supporters' group in the game. http://www.tribalfootball.com/article.php?id=7237
We however thought it was crucial to disband and will do the same with Aston Villa Shareholders Association once we are de-listed. It is also our opinion that the Trust should do the same and we should a) wait to see what your plans are (after reading what you all do with the Cleveland Browns, it is plain to see you are serious about fan participation) b) assess what is needed for fans. Although VFC especially became very well quoted in the press, for new owners with fresh ideas, we didn`t feel it was right to keep old groups in existence, especially ones set up to agitate for the change that is now happening.
A major thing for fans is the need to feel included and brought back into the fold. We have been kept at arms length for the entire time Doug Ellis has been at the club. You have made more contact with fans groups in the recent weeks than Doug has in over 30 years. Amazing!
The fact you approached us to gauge the fans reactions is not only very appreciated but also a very positive sign of things to come in the future.
I don`t think any group should approach with demands, the belief of VFC (now disbanded) and the Shareholders Association (soon to be defunct - I`ll end up just chairman in front of my TV at home!!) committee members is that we would all be very willing to consult with you and help in any way we can, but it isn`t down to us to dictate.
I think I`ve put over the fans view that some sort of caucus, fan liaison officer, or system for fans to be heard would be great but that is as much is needed to be said by us unless you need any further input. I`ve read the literature that Bill Bonsiewicz gave me on the Cleveland Browns and it is hugely impressive. There are existing supporter groups for Aston Villa and I`m sure the network can be increased and communications improved.
Some of the issues fans feel passionate about and would like consultation on appear to include: Kits, ticket pricing, the music the team run out to, a club anthem, any problems faced, ideas and feedback, things relating to 'our` part of the club, badges etc (for instance many didn`t like the change from the old badge to the new.
Comment sent to me re: badges, although it isn`t an issue with many fans I must say: One of my main gripes is the badge. I want a return to the traditional one, the one that was emblazoned on the old Trinity Road Stand facing the pitch, which was subsequently demolished (vandalized!). Whatever happened to that motif? No doubt taken its place in history in some land-fill site! I believe the badge/motif is the most important representation of the club. Wherever you see the badge you will see the club. What we now have is some stripy nothing which has no tradition or style. I believe we will get a sympathetic ear from Randy on this subject. It can be done, Chelsea changed theirs last season. (Brian Hewson)
A Chelsea fan involved with fan representation at Stamford Bridge said:
Yes I'm involved in the Fans Forum at Chelsea and have been for two years, I'm about to start a third term. It was set up by the Electoral Reform Group at Peter Kenyons request. We meet four times a season with the directors, usually before home games, and have established a meaningful dialect with Peter and the others. So far our achievements are
1. A new badge similar to the rampant lion we cherished.
2. Eviction of away fans form the Matthew Harding Stand for Cup games
3. Repositioning of away fans for Premeirship games
4. A ticket price freeze for next season.
We were also invited to many of the centenary celebrations and were lucky enough to meet our benfactor - Roman.
Real communication, no more spin and bluster. End the culture of leaks coming from the club. I believe Graham Taylor (former manager who had two periods at the club and also a time on the board, as well as time as England manager) was once asked at a forum about the new kit design. He was asked if the new colour scheme proposed was right, and he laughed saying only 3 people at the club were meant to know, and yet a fan was asking him about it.
I don`t have the number for Graham Taylor, just his address. He did take the time to ring me a few times and also wrote. He was to be offered, I believe, the Chairman`s role if Michael Neville had bid (!) and a football directors role if Padfield had bid. Although he questioned the motives of an American buying the club, he could certainly be useful.
I emailed the commercial department about six months ago to enquire about sponsoring a player for my Vital Football website www.astonvilla.vitalfootball.co.uk . To this day I am still awaiting a reply. Seems crazy to ignore potential customers and it makes you wonder how much other business they are turning away?
I`m not sure how American Football clubs are with independent websites, the issues might not be unique to us, but the sites that are run by the fans aren`t allowed to use the clubs badge without permission and permission is rarely given.
The fonts of the different Aston Villa signs on the stands, match day programme etc don`t match, they should! (Name who suggested witheld)
Due to Doug`s attitude, it appears the relationship with Birmingham council is 'average` to say the least. Hence, the title 'Aston Villa Forward` to share the moto of the city. Obviously links need to be re-built with the council and the city. Villa should be the flagship for Britain`s second biggest City, not an afterthought.
Another comment passed on time and time again is the wish from fans to see no more of the manager merry-go-round. Doug managed to get through 13 managers in his time, 14 if you count Martin O`Neill.
Villan Radio and Official Site:
There have been many comments about the official site and Villan Radio over the years. The site is ok, but certainly doesn`t excel. I believe Bruce Langham was looking to end the association with premium TV, the company who Villa have their current contract with, and get it back to something that the fans want to visit. Although running an unofficial site, I`d rather the official one stayed boring!!!
The Villan Radio is amateur and at times, especially half-time during match commentaries, embarrassing. Fans pay for the service and get short changed. The commentary is awful and at half time you get some school kids reading out results badly and giggling. This is not exactly world wide branding. Jonny Gould (as below) would be very willing to help advise.
Details of Jonny Gould: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonny_Gould He is of Channel 4 and 5, ITV Sport and Talk Radio vintage, now running Sportsmedia and footballaudio.com.
I`ve had a contact with him regards to Villa - we have become friends and have regular discussions of what we`d love to see happen to improve Villa (I should get out more!). He said the following:
I would be delighted to advise or direct The Villan; currently it is a frustrating combination of self-interest and no income streams. I have good contacts there on the shopfloor, but my dealings have always been at arm`s length. Quite simply the vacuum of the Doug era meant it just rolled along without a clear strategy.
I know that Doug was advised not to close it (the right decision) - but frankly, that was all there was to it. I could really turn it around with my understanding of radio. It just needs a clear strategy and thinking. It needs a vision and that needs implementing. I see it as an opportunity for the club.
I am being really serious about this - as I see the Villan as genuinely something I can give support to the club with.
Details were also passed on as to who in the press had been pro and anti the fans, details of AVIDS, Neil Rioch and the AV Former Players Association + the All Stars.
Date:Wednesday November 1 2006
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