Same Old Ambition Problems? Have Aston Villa Learnt Anything from 10 Years Ago?

doug ellis randy lerner

 A Deja vu Decade


I was flicking through some old Heroes & Villains fanzines the other day, when I came across the November/December 2003 edition, which featured a picture of a ‘Ellis Out !!!’ placard on the cover. The image summed up the majority of supporters’ feelings at the time of being fed up of Villa’s perpetual state of stagnant ambition.

As well as summing up Deadly Doug’s unpopularity with most of a claret and blue persuasion, it was also not too far away from the time, when the then Villa manager, David O’Leary, would go on to invent the word ‘fickle’. A term that since has been used by some fans to describe any supporter who dares question the club’s position (remember, every time you use it, DOL gets royalties).

A section of Villa fans still backed Ellis vehemently at the time, which shows a lack of solidarity on issues has long been a problem with Villa supporters, rendering them conflicted when concerted action is needed. For example, the fact fans could allow a stand at Villa Park to be named after Doug Ellis, while his ego was still at the club, is an eternal embarrassment and shining example of such weakness. It’s hardly surprising a local journalist recently had to plead to Villans to be more responsible and have a collective voice in terms of their club.

While we’re on the subject, the naming of football stands should be reserved for creators of the club’s footballing legacy – i.e. founders, top managers and legendary players. Modern day naming examples include: The’ Brian Clough stand’ – respect to Nottingham Forest. The ‘Sir Alex Ferguson stand’ – respect to Manchester United.

To name a stand after a man who provided Villa with stunted ambition, false hope and is pretty much responsible for the swift dismantling of a team that were league and European champions (a period during which Ellis was on hiatus from Villa) is dumbfounding.

I have two key Villa-related happenings I want to see while I still walk this earth – Villa lifting the FA Cup (the only thing I haven’t seen them lift) and the renaming of the Doug Ellis stand. I have no grudge against Doug, per se, it’s just the principle of  the matter. Anyway, I digress…

While Randy Lerner doesn’t cause the same vitriol of feeling that Ellis once did, after four consecutive seasons where relegation has been in the equation, some supporter’s disenchantment of him and the current board is growing. There’s also questions over the club’s overall ambition and growing distrust in the ability of the current manager. You’d be forgiven for thinking the club have come full circle a decade on. The common backdrop as per usual is a lack of focused and constructive supporter voice.

So while flicking through this November/December 2003 edition of Heroes & Villians, an article titled ‘Can Fans Play a Role? caught the eye (the following brief excerpts from the  article have been reprinted with the blessing of its author Trevor Fisher).

Can Fans Play a Role (excerpts)

A club in decline whose squad is diminishing and lacks quality even in a poor Premiership should be demanding a response from fans. But that response has to be somewhat sharper than merely calling in traditional fashion for sacking the chair, the board or the manager. It needs to be based on an analysis of what is actually going wrong and seek to build bridges with the mass of apathetic fans who aren’t going to join protests unless there is a crisis. And then it’s too late.

The Hodgson report showed that it is a myth that Villa have not spent money. The problem is that we have spent money badly. Any club which has had Balaban and Crouch on its books cannot be accused of excessive parsimony.

Bad judgement certainly, and ultimately since Ellis appoints the managers that’s his call. But simply splashing out cash is not the answer, if only because the really big players don’t want to come to Villa.

We cannot survive in a situation where the Birmingham Post states rightly that the Villa are three-long injuries away from relegation. And we look to youth to be given its chance, though relegation struggle is not an ideal time to bring them in.

Promoting the kids may not be feasible in the short-term but it must be the case that we sign experienced players in the transfer window, if only on loan. It cannot be the case that the manager is simply told there is no money. There will be even less money if we drop into Division One.


It’s uncanny how the above written at the end of 2003 applies exactly to the present-day Villa. The bad judgement on transfers (see bomb squad), being three long-term injuries away from relegation (imagine if Benteke, Vlaar and Guzan suffered them), the call for experienced players to be signed, relegation pressure stunting the progressive blooding of youth players, apathetic fans and there’s even mention of a Hodgson report (of which, we recently had the second edition).

It seems nothing does change at Villa Park. Are we a club in a hapless limbo? That’s an examination for another time, but certainly, it’s coming up to crunch time for the ‘Lambert Project’ part of the Lerner administration to be accountable to Villa fans. On paper and in its ethos, it has the potential to shift this limbo, but is it actually working?

Patience is a virtue, but the year ahead is a key one in terms getting an answer to the question.  It’s a year that could also establish the mentality of the kind of club the board and supporters want Aston Villa to be.

The relaunch and refocus of the Aston Villa Supporters Trust is a good step, if taken firmly. The club being more forthright in their objections and communication to supporters, would be another one.

The whole point of history is to learn from it. For a change, it’s time as Villans we started to do just that. UTV



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