While England may have invented the beautiful game, we’ve recently looked to Germany to teach us about safe standing (which Villa are one of the leading clubs in backing ) in one attempt to bring back some long lost atmosphere to the game. Now MOMS has a little Dutch lesson in club’s allowing the new breed of peaceful ultra supporters to help make match day a real experience.
While the Aston Villa’s marketing team talk the talk of supporting fans initiatives to bring the atmosphere back in Villa Park (a problem most Premiership stadiums have), the club’s operations team are not walking the walk. Witness the evidence of increased stewarding, the harsh stance on the Petrov banner, fixed CCTV filming, photographing of Holte Enders and season card checks in the Lower Holte at the Norwich game. It’s not only attitudes on the pitch that need to change for the club to improve…isn’t it time to start trusting fans again?
I’m of course a Villa fan, but also I’ve been following FC Utrecht, a Dutch Eredivisie side for many years now; the team that hails from the birthplace of Marco van Basten and Wesley Sneijder, who both defected to play for the red and white of arch-rivals Ajax. I’ve watched things change around the club over the years, but the most noticeable difference has been the influence of their supporters.
The Utrecht Ultra’s were known for years in the public eye as thugs and hooligans, after clashes with opposition fans. It was back in the day when police in the Netherlands on football day were badly organised and hooliganism in general was a serious issue; in very much the same way it was in English football. However once the reign of hooliganism ended, a set of Utrecht fans, now known as the Utrecht City Saints, came about.
The Utrecht Ultra’s managed to build a relationship with the club via nonviolent, atmospheric and loyal approach to supporting. Without any pressure on the club, a relationship sprung organically. Seeing the benefits to the match day experience, the club began to accept the Ultra’s (who sit in the Bunnikside stand) more and more as the season’s progressed, due to the atmosphere they brought to the Stadion Galgenwaard (see below video).
(Also check out the 3.00 minute mark for funny waving of shoes for ‘Shoes off if you hate Roda”)
It promoted a U-turn in club’s attitude to the Utrecht City Saints and led to the club spending a large sum of money on a ‘Supporters Club’ inside the stadium (similar to the Holte Suite), for their hardcore fans to go to before and after games. The spin-off for the club was improved average attendances.
A relationship between club and supporter ultras further blossomed to the point where they were working together to intimidate visiting teams by creating vibrant match atmospheres (like the visit of Liverpool in the below video).
The Utrecht team has also grown a closer bond with the fans over the years, and success off the pitch brought success on the pitch, as Utrecht returned to European football, reaching the Europa League in 2010/11; taking on the likes of Liverpool and Celtic, drawing to Liverpool and achieving an amazing 4-0 win at home to Celtic.
Although Utrecht are a relatively small club compared to the Villa, it is easy to see the similarities between what Utrecht Ultra’s went through, and what some Holte Enders including the Brigada1874 ultra’s want to bring to the Villa Park match-day experience.
Being an ‘Ultra’ is nothing to do with violence, and is completely different to an old school ‘firm’. Ultra’s go that extra mile to support their team, as Utrecht have shown, and what Brigada 1874 are currently showing and attempting to expand on.
Being at a football game should be an experience you would want to keep with you forever; not treated as if you are going to watch a film at the Cinema!
The relationship between the fans, players and club is a vital part of bringing a club together, making it a ‘People’s club’. This is exactly what Villa fans need to achieve, and all the small steps we take add up to a large moral victory at the end of it. Lets continue to improve the Villa support, and bring back the glory days in not just the Holte, but Villa Park as a whole.
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