21st minute sense
Aston Villa supporters prompted a welcomed change of heart by the club over its refusal to afford a 40th anniversary tribute at the Southampton game to the 21 victims of the Birmingham bombings on the 21st November 1974.
The proposed supporter 21st minute applause in honour of the victims (and press outrage) also triggered the club to also invite members of the Justice for the 21 campaign to the Monday night fixture (club statement). Now fans will be in for a double anniversary tribute night when Villa entertain the high-flying Saints, with 140th anniversary celebrations also planned.
Similarly, at the end of last year, it was supporter demand and influence that saw a minutes applause granted for Villa fan Jody O’Reilly who was the tragic victim of a hit and run driver shortly before he was intending to see Villa play Manchester United.
Understandably, sometimes the club find it hard to gauge supporter feeling on certain issues and prefer to wait to ascertain the consensus on issues before acting. It is surprising though that no one at the club made the connection of the significant anniversary of both the club and Birmingham 21 falling on the same day (21st November) to justify a tribute to the Birmingham 21 at the Southampton game in the first place. It would have certainly have helped avoid the PR disaster that resulted after the club unsatisfactorily suggested tributes could be made at the traditional end-of-season memorial service for Villans mourning lost loved ones.
It’s sad that it sometimes takes media pressure for the penny to drop for some of the club’s employees. During MOMS first year in existence we arranged the 6th minute applause tribute to Fabrice Muamba at Villa Park that fans had suggested would be a nice gesture when Bolton visited.
The postponed game would have been Muamba’s next professional football game. The club had stonewalled any notion of helping getting word out to supporters. In the end we had to contact Bolton, who helped MOMS get it into the press, which caused staff at Villa to soon change their tune. It was embarrassing really that it had to come to that. As I said to Bolton, it was like we were asking Bolton to wrap their own present, that we were planning on giving them.
While the supporter applause successfully went ahead, it was perhaps lost in the hostile reaction that was to follow when the Holte End officially turned on Alex McLeish after Villa lost 2-1.
The odd supporter has pointed out there hasn’t been a tribute before at Villa Park for the Birmingham 21, but as another supporter put it, 39 wrongs don’t make a right. Since running MOMS I’ve often heard the reason ‘well, it hasn’t been done before’ used as an excuse for not doing things. Such thinking doesn’t lend itself to progress or evolution.
Likewise when some quarters dismissed the validity of celebrating the 140th anniversary of Aston Villa, what is often forgotten is this is the first time we’ve all been privy to the influence and reach of social media which has allowed supporters to communicate on mass what they actually want to see.
If enough supporters want to do something, in terms of gestures and tributes, what harm is there? It is not a case of there being a wrong or right. The 140th anniversary for example, gives a great opportunity to teach a younger generation of Villa fans about the club’s history, as well as providing us with a reminder to what the club’s level of ambition should be. It’s also provided a reason to add a new monument to the Villa Park landscape, which was also a supporter’s idea. And later in the season there will be a chance for supporters to put on a show at Villa Park too. It’s all good. I can’t think of a reason not to celebrate it.
It’s easy to say ‘no’ to ideas, but greater reward tends to come when good ideas are supported and you say, ‘yes’.
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