[quote_center]“Relegation should not be in the lexicon of Aston Villa” – Tom Fox[/quote_center]
The last time the Aston Villa Supporters Trust (AVST) held an AGM, just over a year ago, Aston Villa had both a different CEO and manager than they do now. Obviously what was said at that particular meeting – attended by the then Villa CEO Paul Faulkner, chief financial officer Robin Russell and Head of Consumer Sales Nicola Keye – in terms of the club’s plans ahead, didn’t quite pan out.
It’s been a confusing and frustrating year for the club and its supporters. From the phantom sale of the club, various staff changes and poor performances on the pitch, plus, it has to be said, the AVST has also failed to deliver in terms of representing and communicating to Villa supporters.
Prior to the AVST AGM and Q&A with Tom Fox, solutions to improve supporter representation were discussed by the AVST director board. Also, extra directors were elected to give the AVST a full board (for the first time) that will hopefully give it increased people power to be more proactive and grow. After all, everyone is working on a voluntary basis.
For the AVST to work effectively, it is of course up to supporters to also get involved. The AVST can only be what supporters make it. It was encouraging to see more fans at the meeting pledge their help to the cause. The bottom line with these meetings is that supporters have a chance to have a voice and meet the decision makers at the club and engage in open and frank discussion of Villa’s affairs unfiltered by the media.
After the business of the AVST was conducted, Tom Fox (with Nicola Keye and Robin Russell also present) joined supporters in the 1874 Suite overlooking the hallow turf of Villa Park for a Q&A that lasted about an hour. In the past these AVST/CEO meetings have been ‘off the record’ to encourage open dialogue, but Fox was happy for any info to be passed on to other supporters not present.
The following insights run over two pages and there will be a further post on supporter issues very soon.
Insights from Tom Fox Q & A
The overall Fox impression
There were a couple of early slip-ups by Fox – he said “crimson” before correcting himself to claret, and he also referred to Villa being ’14/15th in the league’ (when they were 18th), but more importantly the Villa supporters in attendance were overall very impressed by the Villa CEO’s drive, confidence and how he perceived the club in terms of ambition and status.
Fox joked later in the evening, a few weeks ago he honestly wasn’t looking forward to the AVST Q & A. The sacking of Lambert, appointment of Sherwood, and getting through to the FA Cup quarter finals had indeed changed supporter’s moods somewhat. It was still a good open and frank debate about the club though.
Man for the Job
As an intro question Fox was asked why Villa? And if it was meeting his expectations? Lerner had hired a team of headhunters to track down a replacement for Paul Faulkner, ideally someone who could seriously increase revenue streams.
Fox admitted at the time he’d done everything he could at Arsenal. The key anecdote Fox told was of when he sat down with ex-college and friend, the Arsenal chief executive, and told him about Villa’s approach. He was told, he had to do it. Fox also added, that in terms of what Villa needed, with his top level sports marketing experience, he actually couldn’t think of any better candidates for the job than himself.
When asked when he thought the time would come where he would have done everything he could do at Villa, he implied that wouldn’t be for a while yet and he was in for the long haul. To be honest, for Fox to prove anything at Villa, it’s going to take two or three seasons at least to see the first fruit of his intentions.
Fox’s steadfast confidence set the tone for what he had to say about his vision for Villa.
If there was one through-line to Tom Fox’s contribution to the evening it was he was consistency bullishness about where the club should be.
He repeated what is something of a MOMS mantra that “relegation should not be in the lexicon of Aston Villa”
At least a couple of times he mentioned that 12 Premier League teams weren’t even in the same league as Villa, and that we were currently in a false position.
Fox received an ovation from the fans present when he said:
“We’ve got by far the best house on the worst street in town”, and the aim is to “Get to be the smallest house on the best street, and try to build it up from there”.
The several long-term plans are all dependant on as Fox put it “reviving the patient” in the short-term (to avoid relegation), and then systematically building commercial opportunities/partnerships and improve on-pitch fortunes. Both will feed each other. Then long-term if average attendances reach the 40,000 mark, they can think about putting into play the North Stand plans and taking Villa Park beyond 50,000.
Moving With the Times
On the same executive recruitment website that is adverting the Aston Villa Director of Football Operations post (more of that later) Liverpool are advertising for four Partnership Development Managers, this is an indication of how far behind Villa are on the commercial side of things, since the club’s first commercial director was only appointed this month.
In terms of commercial outlook, Fox cited Villa were eight years behind the likes of the top four or five clubs in term of how football had evolved commercially.
He stated, commercial partnerships shouldn’t be made because we are simply a Premier League club, but because we are Aston Villa. He seemed to indicate the club had under-valued the name in the past and been shy in building ‘Aston Villa’ as a top-level brand in the game.
The ‘football man’ on the board debate
It’s been interesting to see two different men answer the same criticism of not being ‘football men’.
Paul Faulkner had previously joked it off, saying, when he passed, he hoped it would say ‘Paul Faulkner was a football man’ on his gravestone.
Tom Fox didn’t shirk the issue and pretend to be anything he’s not. He emphasized that football had become a very different business in the past eight years. Stressing that it had already changed at the time Lerner had bought the club, but they hadn’t moved with the times.
Fox said, he had dinner with Steve Stride recently and stressed that football had become a different business from when Stride was at the club. And that, if Stride came to the club now he wouldn’t recognise his old job.
However, Fox did say, he would look into having a football person around the board further down the track, but he wanted to get ‘the patient’ out of sick bay first.
[Click ‘Next’ for page two – includes Fox on Lambert, Sherwood, Finances, Lerner’s position]