Having paid £32.50 for a ticket and then had an additional charge put on top for using my debit card the experience didn't exactly start very well! I would have thought that the majority of sales were credit/debit card transactions, at my workplace we don't charge our guests extra if they choose to pay with a card, irrelevent of the value of the transaction. In fact payment by card is preferable even taking into consideration the 'charges' supposedly imposed by the credit card company, the club has an
accurate record of where the ticket went, how much they spend with the club, when they spend it and to help on match day they know who is sat in which seat (easy to identify any trouble-makers). I would have thought that the club could afford to soak up the cost within the ticket price itself.
Onwards to the matchday.
I was privileged to have gained a ticket for parking in the Villa Village carpark and followed the clubs recommendation that I arrive at Villa Park with plenty of time to spare in order that I could gain access without to much trouble. It was very lucky that we arrived in the area early, as although I was in a car with a Villa fan, he was next to useless on directions as he doesn't drive, it was also lucky we arrived early as the area surrounding the ground has little or no signage to indicate how to get into the correct car park. Having asked the most unhelpful steward in the world how to get where we wanted, we followed his vague directions around the ground and by following an expensive looking Merc we eventually found our way to our car park. At this point we met the unhelpful stewards happy twin brother, there couldn't have been a larger contrast from our first encounter, a smile and a cheery welcome to Villa Park, he even took the time to take the p155 out of the Stockport County minikit in the back of my car and recommended I switched my support to AV. Having travelled to the majority of football grounds around GB (at the last count I have visited 80+ grounds) I have met most types of stewards and I have to say that apart from my initial encounter with Mr Unhelpful I am happy to actually complement AV on the standard of their stewards. They made their presence felt when required but didn't have the little Hitler approach to fan control which most clubs seem to encourage, the few which I encountered seemed to actually enjoy their job and all appeared to have a sense of humour! A HUGE SHOCK!
Onwards to the ground.....(I get to the actual football side of things much later!)
We wandered round to the Holte End and although there was less than 15 minutes to kick-off we gained access to the end without too much drama. The area underneath the stand is fairly small considering the volume of fans which congregate there. It was next to impossible to buy food or drink as the kiosks couldn't cope with the number of punters waiting to be fed and watered. I am guessing that the age of the stand means that the cost of developing the internal structure would be too expensive to justify and although at half-time you couldn't see from one side to the other through the fog of smoke which hung around I have to say the old place has a superb atmosphere which newer stadia can't come close to. I guess you can't have everything in life!
When we left the ground I have to admit that I confessed to the AV fan with me that I loved the architecture of the Holte End and that I wished more grounds had the 'old-school' air which it provides. We headed back to the car and attempted to leave the area....Once again crap signage was the order of the day.... No signposts to indicate the best way to leave the area. I would have thought that the sheer volume of people leaving Villa park would have justified the local council spending a little on helping fans to leave the area with the minimum of fuss. The local police force was nowhere to be seen which meant taking your chances at every junction, the local traffic light system is a joke.
Now to the football......
My first thoughts after the game were that AV had been unlucky to lose and that Arsenal should count themselves lucky to have 'stolen' 3 points. With the benefit of hindsight I have to say that my initial judgement was wrong. You will have to excuse the lack of specific names in this section, I concentrate on lower league football and I have to say my memory for names of over paid footballers is limited!
The first half was a fairly even affair but Arsenal were the better side, their passing was crisper and they always seemed to have options when they had the chance to break forwards. Whenever a Villa player received the ball in a midfield / attacking position they always seemed to have been closed down very rapidly and didn't have many options ahead of them. In contrast Arsenal were given time and space to work with, their players had a higher work rate and appeared to have a higher fitness level. AV were caught offside on several occasions and although our view from the Holte End wasn't the best for judging the linesman's work, I could tell that the fans on either side of the ground weren't complaining too much about his decisions.
This is in contrast to the referee's work which was appalling He missed two or three glaring fouls which should have helped to swing the game in AV's favour, as it was the inevitable happened....! Whilst the goal was a lucky deflection / shot depending on who you listen to, I do believe overall Arsenal deserved to be ahead after 45 minutes.
Whilst AV had the lions' share of the possession during the second half and had more than one opportunity to even up the score they ultimately lacked the killer blow. Carew and Young deserve a special mention here! Their work rate and commitment are beyond reproach but with both of them there are a couple of faults. Carew always seemed to have to drop back in order to help the build up of an attack. Having done so he is unable to regain his position to finish the move off in the area. Young always seemed to have yards of space to run into but the midfield appeared to be blind to his efforts and on more than one occasion he was left stood on his own out on the left wing without anyone being aware of his position (has he upset someone in the dressing room? :-) )
When he did receive the ball he did make inroads into the Arsenal defences but his crossing was all in vain, no-one stepped up to finish the job off. If you purely looked at possession you would say that AV were unlucky not to get a goal in the second half, in reality Arsenal looked as though they were happy to let AV come at them and they would try to defend their slender lead. This they did very effectively, the AV midfield / attack troubled them every now and again but as it took so many of them to mount an effective attack they were left desperately short in front of goal and as I have mentioned above they lacked the killer blow.
As a neutral it was an excellent game to watch and the fans in the Holte End certainly like to express their opinions about the opposition and their own, the language used around me was certainly of the more 'industrial' style (especially when it came to the ref and a certain German goalkeeper). I have to say at this point that AV fans would do well to concentrate on supporting the team rather than singing songs about Karen Brady's tragic loss of a baby, it is sickening to hear any reference to loss of human life as a method of baiting fans, let alone the fans of a team which isn't even in AV's league. IMHO they should save the songs about BCFC for when or if they make it to Villa Park again. (I have to say I hope they don't make it back! :-) ) I am not a fan of negative support and in my experience teams respond to positive support in a much more productive way. As for ten German bombers.... down right racist. Move on. Germany has, why can't we?
A special mention should be made for the chap sat next to me (Colin I think) who spotted my SCFC Supporters' Trust badge (It's blue so a few spotted it)and asked me who / what it was, we then went on to have a remarkably intelligent conversation about the new owners at AVFC and the support which larger teams should be providing to the lower leagues. He seemed to actually care about what happens below the Premiership. In my experience Prem fans tend to be blissfully unaware of the plight of many lower league teams and they are only interested in who their next big signing is.... Colin (if I have got it right) was a refreshing change!
As far as Mr O'Neill is concerned IMHO he needs more time to put players into the squad who are going to strengthen the spine of the team, too often AV looked a little lightweight and didn't have as much control over the game as they should have. Time is a luxury which few Prem managers have, I only hope that the powers that control AVFC have a five year plan for the club and that includes giving M O'N the time to construct a strong squad.
Here endeth the lesson! Overall AVFC have got it pretty much right. An excellent matchday experience with a few niggles which could easily have been prevented. SIGNPOSTS! BETTER FOOD PROVISION! LESS ABOUT BCFC MORE ABOUT AVFC!
Oh and a few more goals wouldn't have gone amiss!
Stockport County Gav
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Err. The Vital Villa man of the match v Stoke City...
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