Writer: J P Fear
Date:Monday March 22 2010
Ok, I've gone back into the archives today to look for one specific thing!
As I explained at the time (November 1st 2006)
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.
So why go back?
Well one reason is it has been fun to get the archives back, I want to try to make more use of them, link to old Villa Times etc to get a snap shot of what we were talking about at different times, but in this case I thought I'd look at the sort of things we were talking about as issues back at that point what has since been ticked off the list. A great deal in my ever so humble opinion.
The first part from the archives with some good article comments (you can't add to archive comments by the way) Aston Villa 'Forward'
Aston Villa 'Forward'
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.
Aston Villa 'Forward' Part Two
Aston Villa 'Forward' Part Two
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 Ĺ 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. (link no longer active)
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:Monday March 22 2010
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