Remember once a upon time Aston Villa supporters were promised a ‘bright future’ by Villa’s then new American owner? Less than a decade later, Randy Lerner has since put the club up for sale and in-effect thrown Villa into limbo, with the shackles put on any really serious forward planning. After what will be the club’s fifth relegation battle in succession, it’s hard at this stage to see any brightness in the future at B6.
But what would have been the benefits of this bright future?
It had been hoped that Villa would utilise Lerner’s initial investment and knock-on potential infrastructure to get some on-field success. O’Neill perhaps should have done better in at least one of his seasons, when Villa were comfortably placed in the Top 4 come the turn of the year with daylight between them and Arsenal. If O’Neill’s Villa had seen that season out and qualified for the Champion’s League, life at B6 may have been a lot different.
Other key moments going Villa’s way, may have also provided the club with a bit more feel-good factor.
What if Vidic had been sent off in the opening minutes of Villa’s League Cup final against United, like he should have been? And what if Lambert hadn’t blown arguably an even better chance of winning the League Cup having drawn Bradford City over two legs in the semi-final, with Swansea awaiting in the final (after they had knocked out Chelsea)?
Well, if all of those factors had fallen into place and Villa had gained the financial spin-off of the Champions League and had a couple of pieces of proper 21st Century silverware in the trophy room, it may have had a knock-on effect on Villa’s following and also Lerner’s enthusiasm.
New North Stand
One of Lerner’s initial plans was to eventually update and develop the North Stand. It’s never happened, but the plans have been drawn up and have been gathering dust in an office at Villa Park, since they were last seriously talked about by the Villa board in 2010.
In recent decades Villa have always struggled to fill Villa Park regularly, even in the more successful seasons. This has always ultimately held back any revamping of the out-dated North Stand. Another factor was the failure of the FA’s bid for England to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.
Villa Park was one of the stadiums in the mix to be used if the FA’s bid was successful with proposed expansion of the North Stand to boost the capacity.
As we can see from the above picture, the North Stand could be build on three levels and also have the corners with the Trinity and Doug Ellis stands filled in.
Back in 2010, Lerner had admitted they were looking at a capacity of around the 50,000 mark. And then, he projected it would have been done by 2014, which gives you an indication how Villa’s fortunes have slumped and perhaps how his interest in the club has waned.
As former Villa CEO Paul Faulkner told MOMS over a year ago (late 2013), the North Stand would need a “wrecking ball” through it and a complete rebuild. At the time, he also seemed to indicate there had been a new set of architect drawings for the North Stand
But poor performances on the pitch and the resulting drop in attendances have held the plans back and made expansion economically unviable, as Lerner had warned in 2010:
“If you don’t have attendance at some point your success will decline and so there are a variety of balancing acts that go into figuring out how to generate additional capacity and at what price you’re going to do it,” he said.
Commercially though, Villa are currently less likely to proceed with their North Stand plans than they would have done when Lerner first bought the club. Relegation battles and the uncertainty they bring to long-term planning, tend to put grand scheming on ice.
“There are a couple of things that need to click in terms of a commercial model to put us in a position to really do something special with the North Stand”, said Lerner, again in 2010.
What is likely and may be on the ‘to do list’ of Tom Fox, if Lerner sanctions it and/or if they’re both around long enough, is for a naming sponsor to help fund the rebuilding. That would help a) actually get the job done and b) minimise the effect of rebuilding on the player budget.
Currently, though a new North Stand is a pipe dream when you have a team on the pitch that can’t score, making them far from a big box office draw.
We maybe far from where we should be at the moment, but it’s important as supporters not to forget what the ambition of Aston Villa should be.