A promising start, the price of truth and standing shouldn’t be a crime
It is safe to say there has not been a lack of talking points surrounding Aston Villa despite the irritating absence of league action since the Liverpool defeat. From transfer dealings to supporter issues, here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the last three weeks at Aston Villa Football Club.
The team. Going back to August 28th, although the 3-0 Capital One Cup win over Rotherham United was hardly an eye-catching scoreline, there were some key moments in Villa’s season in the game. For a start, we don’t have to talk about the defence. Clean sheet for Aston Villa, somebody write that down. The Ron Vlaar-Jores Okore partnership looked solid (yes against a League One attack, but if there’s one thing last season’s taught us, it’s that lower-league opposition shouldn’t be belittled), with Okore continuing to show a maturity which belies his youth.
Andi Weimann got off the mark for the season, something he had several pretty decent chances to do in the first week of the season. Considering the quality of the strike, you’d hope he’ll have rediscovered his confidence for Saturday.
Given his flying start to the season, never has a goal been more richly deserved than August player of the month Fabian Delph’s superb strike for Villa’s third goal. It was a joy to behold – the link-up play in midfield was superb, Benteke’s lofted through-ball was exquisite and Delph’s control and finish was excellent.
On the transfer front, Barry Bannan and Stephen Ireland were finally moved on, and the signing of Czech striker Libor Kozák is beginning to look like an astute acquisition, even before he’s kicked a ball in the name of Villa. The big centre-forward scored a wonderfully-taken opener in Czech Republic’s 1-2 defeat to Italy in midweek, and should prove himself a worthy addition to the club’s squad.
The FA.Paul Lambert’s fine for pointing out the basic errors made by Kevin Friend at Stamford Bridge was farcical. Anthony Taylor was dropped for his supposed poor refereeing performance on the opening day at the Emirates, during which a few decisions were deemed to have ‘gone Villa’s way’ – was Szczesny being sent off for bringing down Gabby when he was through on goal too much to ask for then? I jest. Although seriously, dropped from the referee list? Bit strong. In contrast, Lambert was punished for having the temerity to point out that Chelsea were allowed to beat Villa only thanks to an equally useless showing from Kevin Friend.
The FA’s decision only served to send out that eternal message – if referees make poor decisions which benefit the big teams to the detriment of ‘smaller clubs’, the bigwigs couldn’t care less.
Football vs the fans.The desperately sad ‘clubs vs fans’ argument reared its head once again in the last couple of weeks. This time the issue, was of fans’ loyalty and devotion to the club (both emotionally and financially) down the years being completely overlooked as they were punished for the heinous crime of standing up at a football match by being ejected from the ground and having their ticketing account blocked. This from a club who ‘endorses’ safe standing.
Anyone who watched Crystal Palace’s 3-1 home win over Sunderland could see that, when managed correctly, standing enhances atmosphere and can be a huge positive in football grounds.
The heavy-handed approach taken by Villa’s stewards does no good whatsoever, only serving to alienate supporters and to prove that the difference between how the club defines a fan and what a fan actually is only seems to be growing larger.
Villa seem pretty keen on their supposed fan interaction this season, introducing features such as the “#AVFCSocialScene”, where they publish fans’ tweets (carefully selected, of course) ahead of each Villa game. They really wouldn’t have to dig much deeper during their forays into social media to realise the negative impact issues such as their misguided policy on standing are having amongst the fanbase that are the very core of all things Aston Villa.
The club need to be very, very careful over treatment of fans in the future. Still, this is an issue that the whole of football has to find a happy medium with. The recently published Independent Football Ombudsman’s Annual Report 2012-13 indicated it was time for football to fully acknowledge the issue of standing in football.
The IFO said: “Complaints relating to standing and the clear evidence in our stadiums and on our TV screens of large sections of standing supporters demonstrate that, in effect, the ground regulations relating to standing have become unenforceable.”
Of course, the fairest solution is to offer supporters the choice to stand – which the Football Supporters Federation Safe Standing proposal would do. A proposal, that Villa sadly remain the only Premiership club to publicly support.
The solution is out there and it’s time the sport took bolder steps towards it.
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