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Aston Villa vs Arsenal (from the Villa end)

Aston Villa vs Arsenal (from the Villa end)

Ian Brookes 

It’s funny how things work out.

I live in the midlands and have a lot of friends that are supports of Leicester City.  So it wasn’t surprising that I received a text on Sunday morning from one saying “a local one for you tomorrow, are you going?” My initial thought was to say “No” as I had no ticket. I then thought that given recent results for Aston Villa the chance of the game being sold out would be quite slim.

A quick check with my wife to ensure there was nothing else arranged for Monday night and I decided I would see if I could get a ticket.  An exchange of texts with a close friend who works near Birmingham and I was on the phone to Aston Villa trying to secure two tickets.

I can’t remember the last time I woke up on a match day and decided that without a ticket I would like to watch Arsenal and been able to do so.  But I do know that in the 1990/91 season I didn’t miss a game either at home or away, including league and domestic cups. The only ticket I believe I had to book was the FA Cup Semi Final against Tottenham that was held at Wembley.  But I guess like many others I have been trained well, in that if you want to watch Arsenal at The Emirates, you book early or you might not go!

I got through to the ticket office straight away, explained that I was “neutral” and would like some guidance on where to sit. It turned out that apart from the Away supporters section I could have sat practically anywhere in the ground. Tickets started at £31 for adults and went up to £45. I opted for upper tier seats in the Trinity Road Stand at £38 each and was advised that they would be available for me to collect before the game.

So James and I met at Corley services and we continued the rest of the journey together parking a 10 minute or so walk from the ground.  A pint and a burger when we got in and we were taking our seats in Block A on Row Z about 10 minutes before kick-off.

James and I had a discussion about the last time we were at Villa Park and both realised that despite the fact that in recent times it’s been a good hunting ground for Arsenal, neither of us could remember being there and seeing an Arsenal win!

As the players came out there were gaps in the crowd everywhere, except at the Arsenal end which was full (as expected as it had sold out).  But the 8 or 9 rows in front of us were empty, and I mean completely empty, as were 3 – 4 rows behind us, indeed the whole block to our left was also pretty much completely empty.  So as we were sandwiched between Villa fans we decided to move so that we were sat completely on our own.

As the game kicked off, the noise from the Arsenal fans started and it was incredible.  It has been mentioned many times about the fantastic away support that we have, and our fans were once again in good voice throughout.

In contrast the home support was almost non-existent, even when the home fans were taunted about their support and the offers of “shall we sing a song for you” there was still no noise from the home fans. Indeed it took until half time when the Villa players were booed off for me to realise how much noise the home fans could make.

Now, I am not writing this to have a go at the Villa fans as they did get behind their team for the last 15 minutes or so, the point is to compare and contrast to the negative press that Arsenal have had.  As Tony recently pointed out it took someone clever to realise that “Highbury” and “Library” rhymed and therefore putting the two together to form “Highbury Library” meant that this had to be the only description for our former home.

I know that Villa have been on a poor run and the recent defeat to Sheffield United in the FA Cup would not have done much for the team or supporters confidence, but there seemed to be a lot of people making their way in and out of the stands during the game.  This wasn’t just people arriving late as many people were making their way out of the stands to get refreshments and bring them back to the seats during the game.

I am not saying this never happens at The Ems, it does, but it was the sheer numbers of people doing this that was surprising.  Could it be the time it takes to get refreshments at half time that is the issue? Well I think not, for to me there just seemed so little interest from so many home fans in getting behind the team.

I say this as apart from the noise from the away fans, Villa Park was so quiet… not just quiet when we scored or were on top, but quiet for incredibly long periods of the game.

The other thing I noticed was the amount of people who left with at least 5 minutes of normal time remaining.  And given there was an additional 6 minutes of added time at the end of the second half, it seemed quite premature to me. After all Villa were pushing hard for an equaliser and the game was far from over. I accept that the 8 added minutes in the first half may have had something to do with this if people were reliant on public transport to be able to get home, but still, I am not sure this can explain the amount of people making their way from the ground so early.

As alluded to above, the press love to mention the fact that the occupants of Club Level at The Emirates tend to take their time to make their way back to their seats at half time, they also like to mention how quiet The Emirates has been and in fairness are saying the same at the moment of Old Trafford. My point here is that maybe, stupid kick off times, high salaries, wasted transfer fees on average players and the poor performances from some players and teams is leaving increasing amounts of fans increasingly disillusioned.

Now the attendance was over 36,000, and just 6,000 short of capacity and yes it was a cold and miserable night for a game that many could have watched either at home or at the pub. But we are top of the league and they have already beaten us once this season (something that was repeated before the game on the big screens on many occasions). So on the face of it, Villa could argue that there’s no problem, a poor run of form yet a relatively healthy attendance given the weather and the fact that the match was televised.

However, if I am right in that fans are becoming disillusioned and this is a growing trend then one has to ask why this is not being picked up by the media. Why are there the continued discussion about the corporate fan being late back to their seats yet no mention of the lack of desire from many fans to get behind their team?

Surely this should be a bigger concern for football.  After all if the normal fan on the terraces is losing interest, where does this leave the club and football in general? This could just be a problem for Aston Villa, it could just have been a one off, but I think not. The fact that there was no support for such long periods is not something that I believe happens as a one off. The culture of so many leaving to get refreshments’ during play and so many leaving with so long to play when the game was clearly undecided would be a real worry to me if I were the owner of Aston Villa.  After all, if there’s little interest when the league leaders come to town what hope is there when they play the smaller clubs?

What I can’t make sense of is that people have turned up, paid their money taken a seat and sat there seemingly so uninterested in the game. This of course is not representative of all of the Home support just those that stood out to me.

If football has peaked and as AW said some time ago that football is not recession proof then how on earth do they attempt to reverse this?

What can’t be denied is that despite being out numbered our fantastic fans once again out sung and out supported another set of home fans from the very first to the very last kick.

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16 comments to Aston Villa vs Arsenal (from the Villa end)

  • Thanks Ian, really interesting.

    I suspect that what has spread through football is the feeling among fans that “when the players give me something to cheer, I’ll cheer”.

    So the players, who are paid huge wages, have to work for their support – it is not automatically given. It is given away from home, because that is a matter of pride – but even away, there is a limit, and some away support we see at the Ems is frankly poor.

    The media however will have none of this – for as soon as any debate starts on the subject of disinterested fans the media know that they will be blamed. So they carry on pretending all is well, and will always do so. Remember how, when Blackburn were in the top division, they would always ensure that the upper tier that so often was completely empty, was never caught in a camera shot.

  • gouresh

    nice read and also a good idea to get tickets. just don’t wear the Arsenal t-shirt, unless you want your arse wipped 🙂

  • Stuart

    A really interesting read Ian, thanks. Has opened up many trails of thought.

  • Alan

    Well put together. You must have heard the Villa fans to copy the Benteke song. Not much to sing about these days, and maybe the thoughts of a thrashing were on the fans minds. Cannot believe you can compare Villa fans to Arsenal. “Wenger’s lost it, he’s got to go” is all we heard. How many of the Arsenal fans would turn up on a cold Monday winters night, with the match on TV, in warm Pubs. And near relegation, playing very poor football? 36,000? I doubt it.

  • swallavfc

    Villa fan here. I have to admit that our fans were dead for 75 mins of the match. Weeks/months of poor football, poor results and possession around the 20% mark even at home has resulted in understandable unrest and apathy it would seem. A first half where we were outclassed by a much better side did nothing to encourage the fans who are used to watching championship quality midfield in a villa shirt. Cant say i noticed many/any fans leaving early with us pressing for the draw but perhaps I was concentrating on the game.

    Have to say that you would have been out of sight if you hadnt sat back in 2nd half and allowed us into the game.

    Anyway, off to Anfield on Saturday to join up with our away fans, which is also one of the best in the country!

  • BennyGooner

    Nice post Ian. I am a Gooner who also struggles to get to many games nowadays but have been to this fixture for the last 7 seasons in a row. Its reasonably local for me and I always seem to manage to get tickets somehow which I am very grateful for. I always usually sit in the trinity or the Holte stands and I would like to add that Villa park really is a great great stadium. It is so so so hard to pretend to be a neutral… but I am always very polite and manage to sit there quietly! I definitely noticed a difference this time too… the villa fans (who are usually full of song) were very quiet and the majority of the people around me seemed completely uninterested in the game. At one point I noticed a big handful of people got out of their seats and were heading out either for snacks or to use the toilets while villa were just about to take a corner kick… pure madness … why do these people even pay to attend if they are not willing to support their team?

  • Krfeskivilla

    The last third of last season Villa Park was a cauldron of noise and emotion. Just like I used to be years ago. At the moment, as rightly said, the atmosphere is dead. The attendance levels are excellent when you think we have only won two games at home all season, and only ten of our last fifty matches there. The belief and hope from the end of last season is evaporating. What attendances would other clubs get with a record like that? When Villa play away we nearly always make more noise than the home fans, but at Villa Park it is in reverse (except for the end of last season). I think it is a trend for most clubs. Supporters have lost hope that they can be successful with the obscene influence the Champions League has had on the game. Made it competitive for only a few clubs. How can you get emotional and excited when finances and the selfishness of the CL clubs mean the vast majority of clubs have no chance of winning everything. The soul has been taken out of the game, and that is why the attitude of home fans is so different to past days. By the way, the Emirates was a library on the first day of the season as well

  • Alan that’s difficult to say because we haven’t been in such a position. In 1975 we did end up 16th in the league and the last home game had 43752. to compare a January match we had 21538 when playing Carlisle.

  • Valentin

    Cost, Money and change in the demography of the support (older and more affluent) can explain part of fan/supporter apathy. However I believe that cultural changes in society are responsible. People have a sense of entitlement that maybe previous generation of fans did not have. Previous generations of supporters were supporting their team through thick and thin, success and failure. How many would still be supporters if their club result did not match their expectation? How many if their club were to be relegated?
    With Internet exacerbating that sense of entitlement, supporters are becoming consumers. I will show my support if you entertain me. If immediate success is not coming, then I will show my dissatisfaction. At Arsenal, we have AAA, at less successful clubs they boo their own players.
    With Sky and the rest of the media hyping players and managers, but in the same time harping on the fact that players are mercenary and do not deserve the adulation.
    I am afraid, it is too late to change things.

  • nicky

    @Ian,
    “Shall we sing a song for you”
    Absolutely priceless!
    @Alan,
    I share your doubt.

  • AL

    Am jealous. Being from the Midlands this is one game I’d earmarked to attend but when they put it on a Monday night that just made it impossible for me. But nice to hear that our away fans were superb as always. And nice to hear from Villa fans too.

  • In spite of this, I have respect for Villa fans, for singing “Let me go home, I wanna go home” at White Hart Lane. These people come from in and around Birmingham, which is not exactly a garden spot, and they still think “Tottenham’s a s***hole.” So, clearly, they have some perceptiveness.

    I’ve also heard this from Sunderland fans, and Mackemville isn’t exactly Hampstead, either.

  • Ray from Norfolk, Virginia

    I have to admit that Aston Villa, despite our away record, has been our bogeyman at our stadium; this includes a game where they led 3-0 before departing with all three points after winning 3-2 a few years ago, during the Fabregas era; the return game that season saw us lead 2-0 but they scored 2 to share the spoils at 2-2.
    One of my closest Gooner friends was wishing that they get relegated so we will not meet them again; they typically surrender supinely to the Chavs and Manure. On the other hand, they my escape relegation this season by 1, 2, or 3 points picked up at Arsenal.

  • blacksheep63

    thanks Ian, I’m off to Southampton in a couple of weeks and will sit with the home fans (quietly!) – I’ll compare and contrast. At Brentford on Saturday large sections of their ground were empty (although the Ealing Road end was noisy) – they had just under 8,500 in a capacity of 12,000. They are top of the league, unbeaten in 15 and had won 7 games on the bounce.
    Football does indeed have a problem it seems

  • NepaleseGooner

    in my country we are not allowed to eat or drink anything during the match as home fans can throw it to the away section or players…can’t you brits hold your piss & not be hungry for 95 mins?i can imagine that the obstruction of view caused by those people must be very irritating.

  • rantetta

    Very good article and responses. Ta.