The game against Bolton at Villa Park witnessed a full spectrum of supporter emotion, from the generously observed sixth minute celebratory tribute to Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba to the full vocal wrath of fans that had quite frankly had enough. With the team limping along to a final points tally that maybe below the normally sacred relegation-beating 40-point mark, how will Villa fans express themselves at the last home game of the season on Sunday against Spurs?
While supporters will support the team whole-hearted as they attempt to confirm their Premiership status for next season, a talented Spurs team still fighting for a Top Four finish, have the talent to make the atmosphere turn very sour. It’s not the finale to the season we want to see at Villa Park, by any means. Instead, while beating Spurs at Villa Park will not paper over the cracks of the worst home record in the club’s long history, it would at least see Villa safe and also allow Alex McLeish to wave good-bye from Villa Park with some respect, if his tenure is to end.
With talk in recent weeks of protest, banners, and heavy-handed stewards (before it was replaced with nightclub brawls) , having recently had a chat with the gents at the West Midlands police, I thought I’d detail a few things to think about with the upcoming game with Spurs coming into view. I’m just broadly covering the role of the Police, Stewards and the club’s viewpoint, so you know where you stand, if you wanted to protest, show a banner, wave a flag or do whatever you do, when you do, what you do.
If anybody has anything to add to this article, please do comment below or email in.
Two pieces of info first….
1. The preseason protest against McLeish’s appointment in June last year went completely peacefully. When I called the police to check everything an hour after it happen, I was told it had gone fine with no trouble (despite Talksport radio trying to discredit Villa fans by reporting there had been trouble).
2. After the game against Bolton at Villa Park, when as we know, the crowd’s patience finally ran out, the West Midland’s Police made this following tweet:
From the two examples, even when passions and emotions have been high, Villa fans have behaved in a decent manner. Credit for this must also go to the police, who I think it’s fair to say, have done their work in recent times with a great deal of understanding. At least in my experience of dealing with them. Remember there’s Villa fans and football fans in the police force, so they understand the situation. Their twitter feed @WMPVillaFC is actually a good fan source of info for home and away games. Of course, you might get a nervous twitch, as I did, when you suddenly get an email alerting you to the fact that WMPolice is following you!
The Police’s role at Villa Park (apart from being paid to watch the game…although, some people would consider that a tough job this season!) is essentially to observe the peace and only interfere if there is a breach of it (i.e. it all kicks off). And also to remove a flags/banners that have something that is racist, expletive, or personally abusive on it.
The police have had a meeting with Aston Villa FC club this week in preparation for the final home game with Tottenham Hotspur, where amongst other things they will raise the issue of fresh reports again of heavy-handed stewarding.
They have read the recent Vital Villa article on the recent example:
A MOMS member also this week emailed in an example of questionable steward behavior. He wrote:
‘At Villa Park in recent weeks fans have had banners and flags confiscated that show the message “McLeish Out”, also stewards have been forceful and threatening even towards young fans with similar banners. More alarmingly than that, there was a fan who had gone to the toilet in the Holte End and was searched on his way back to his seat, where a banner was found. He was refused access to his seat in the Lower Holte, even when he explained that his seven-year-old son was there on his own. They would not let him back. Other fans tried to help but were told, don’t get involved or face being ejected and banned. This as I’m sure you’ll agree is unacceptable behaviour.’
“If you want freedom of speech then that is for outside Villa Park. You are not allowed this freedom within the ground” – Senior Villa Park Steward (as reported in Vital Villa, see above link).
If true…they REALLY don’t want to be saying or taking action like that.
You know that mobile phone you have, that you spend all day sending silly tweets or posting rubbish on Facebook? Use it to record/video any conversations with stewards, if exchanges get heated. It’s all evidence to clamp down on this situation.
Of course, this isn’t the first time this issue of over zealous zero-tolerance stewarding has been raised. Remember the teenage supporter who innocently headed the ball back into play and ended up falling over the other side of the advertising board? A light-hearted moment that soon turned sour when he was grabbed and whisked out of the ground by a bunch of stewards, because he was ‘encroaching on the playing area.’
Hopefully, common sense will prevail more often, because why would you buy a season ticket or match day ticket to be treated like this?
The Club’s Standpoint
There’s a bottom line mentality the club takes in terms of Villa Park – it’s private property.
Remember the preseason protest?
The club originally weren’t going to let fans into the car park outside the ground as it was ‘private property’. Obviously, while this is strictly true in the eyes of the law, as it was pointed out to them, supporter’s emotionally feel it is their club. In some cases, their support of the club being passed down several generations of family.
In terms of banners, the club understandably doesn’t want to have things in the ground that are detrimental to their image, corporate sponsors and shows the club as a whole in a bad light (some fans would argue maybe they should do something about how the league table looks then!)
The WM Police cited to me, the example of McDonalds. Would McDonald’s let people come into their restaurants with banners saying the meat was made from cow brain and pigs testicles, and that McDonald’s french fries are practically toxic due to the additives?
No, they wouldn’t (even if all the above was true)
So the main issue with banners and flags is what they say and also the old chestnut excuse of being a health and safety risk. The heath and safety issue tends largely to be a convenance card. While on mainland Europe massive flags and banners create amazing atmospheres, it a shame that in the UK they’re judged so cynically.
Personal attacks and abusive-natured banners are quite rightly not going to go down well. As I’ve always maintained, humour is always a key tool to get your message across without the need for small-minded insults.
You can refuse steward’s requests of wanting to relieve you of banners that are not abusive. You do the maths – how many supporters are there to stewards? Stand firm, but try not to be verbally abusive or aggressive, after all they are just people doing a job. If they’re put under too much pressure, then that’s when errors of judgement are made.
If everyone in the ground exercises common sense and decency, there should be no problems.
Back the team all the way and if you’re going to smuggle anything into Villa Park, make sure it’s just a bottle of champagne to celebrate the relief of safety from relegation… and perhaps the last game at Villa Park for you know who…