When Will Villa Park get Safe Standing?
While the proposed rebuilding of the North Stand brings much excitement, there are no actual plans to incorporate any safe standing areas in the new stand.
MOMS got an insight into the club’s current position on safe standing, during the recent Villa Fan Consultation Group (FCG) meeting on the North Stand redevelopment.
Interestingly there had been a certain amount of reticence to the notion of safe standing from club officials over the last couple of FCG meetings, with the feeling that they needed to see the data from the Premier League trials that commenced at the start of the year.
On the eve of the 2022/23 season though, the government seems very much satisfied by safe standing based on these trials. The
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport announced this week that Premier League and Championship clubs wishing to introduce licensed ‘safe standing’ areas at football stadiums will be able to do so from the start of the 2022/23 season.
“We are not reintroducing terraces and only clubs which meet strict safety criteria will be permitted,” said, Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries.
“Thanks to a robust trial, thorough evidence and modern engineering, we are now ready to allow standing once again in our grounds.”
Brentford, Queens Park Rangers and Wolverhampton Wanderers will be the first clubs to join ‘early adopters’ Cardiff City, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in offering licensed standing in designated seated areas for home and away fans.
The most symbolic embracing of safe standing is the fact that Wembley Stadium will also ‘offer a small licensed standing area for fans at forthcoming domestic matches later this season’.
So, where does this leave Villa?
Safe Standing at Villa Park
Since MOMS began over ten years ago, it has been campaigning and supporting the notion of safe standing (including a visit to Parliament), as it logically solved a lot of the issues that the club had faced over persistent standing. Last year, MOMS even told Villa CEO Christian Purslow directly, that being proactive on safe standing would help tackle the persistent standing he professes to loathe.
It’s been clear that the notion of safe standing has slipped onto the back burner at Villa compared to previous owners and other clubs.
Villa’s Original Stance
Originally, Villa were the first club in the Premier League to actually publicly volunteer to trial safe standing. Paul Faulkner, the Villa CEO at the time, was happy to spearhead the effort and embrace the Aston Villa Supporter Trust survey on safe standing, which concluded that 97% of the match-going supporters that took part were in favour. A MOMS online poll of thousands more Villa fans, at the same time, also returned a 97% approval of safe standing.
Back then, the initial trial was earmarked to take place in L9 of the Holte End, which is essentially a small cheese wedge shape section in the corner where the Holte meets the Trinity Road stand. It would have only had held a few hundred fans.
Villa were then essentially waiting for a green light to trial it, but the politically the situation wasn’t ripe for it and the Hillsborough inquests hadn’t been concluded until a couple of years later.
The Twin Section Xia Holte Plans
Having been tempered due to the Hillsborough inquests, out of respect to the families involved, the discussion picked up momentum again nationally. In a Daily Telegraph interview in 2016, the then owner, Tony Xia suggested there would be the potential to add two safe standing areas in the Holte End.
“I pretty much agree we can insert some safe standing. We might add two standing areas in-between a seating area. That would be interesting,” said Tony Xia, in the interview.
This measure was expected to have in the region of 2000 standing spaces at Villa Park.
When Will it Actually Happen?
If there’s been one fundamental problem with the potential to introduce safe standing at Villa Park, it’s been the fact Villa have had three different owners from the time the club volunteered to trial it, so it’s suffered from a lack of internal continuity and momentum.
Currently, the focus is obviously on the North Stand development and that will trigger a two-phase regeneration of Villa Park.
Phase One – 2023-25 is the North Stand, Villa Live and Trinity (mainly hospitality)
Phase Two – 2026-27 is Holte End and Doug Ellis upgrades.
So, the introduction of safe standing, you’d expect to be slated for Phase Two, so potentially in four years time.
New Potential Location
The age-old concern of persistent standing in the Upper Holte reared its head again in the recent FCG meeting, and Villa’s Head of Estate Development suggested that the likely sites of safe standing at Villa Park could be the Upper Holte, to tackle the current standing issue, and in the Doug Ellis stand too.
Based on the plans of former regimes, MOMS had always perceived that it would be likely the Lower Holte would probably the first stand to see it, so it was interesting to hear that the Upper Holte is under serious consideration.
One perception is a safe standing section is meant to be an atmosphere driver, so you’d want it fairly close to the pitch. Yet, in the Holte, it tends to be the back of the Upper tier that is one of the prime atmosphere drivers at Villa Park, so it makes senses to have such a standing section up there too.
MOMS would certainly recommend the club surveying fans in the Upper Holte and probably fans in the Lower North, to see if they would be happy with a standing section in the Upper Holte? And what other location would they potentially migrate to?
The solution to a lot of matchday issues at Villa Park, was always to provide the option to stand for those fans who want to stand, which at the same time allows those who want to sit, to do so, without obstruction.
It’s a win-win for everyone.
Standing is historically how supporters watched their football and the Holte used to be famous for being the largest single standing kop end in Europe.
Can Villa Park really wait four years to start to implement safe standing?
Ideally, wouldn’t it be great to see it implemented around the ground, at the same time Villa Park opens up as a 50,000+ capacity stadium once the North Stand development is completed?