Under Alex McLeish, a history low four wins in a season at Villa Park brought for the fourth season in succession a drop in the average Villa Park attendance. It was a 9% drop from the previous season, and 15% from the peak average of 40,029 that Martin O’Neil’s Villa enjoyed in the 2007/08 season, the first of his three 6th place finishes.
But even during O’Neil’s 6-6-6 years there was a gradual decrease, due to a mixture of economic recession and perhaps his one-dimensional football at Villa Park, with his speedy counter-attacking tactics being more suited to away matches.
In Lambert’s first season in charge, the average attendance for the season was 35,059, which represents a 3.5% increase on the previous season, after a run of four straight season decreases.
Villa Park’s Last Six Years of Attendance Averages
2007/08 – 40,029 (8th highest average in EPL) League Position 6th
2008/09 – 39,811 (8th) League Position 6th
2009/10 – 38,573 (7th) League Position 6th
2010/11 – 37,193 (8th) League Position 9th
2011/12 – 33,873 (9th) League Position 16th
2012/13 – 35,059 ( 10th) League Position 15th
Villa dropping to 10th in terms of all Premiership club’s average attendances is a concern, when you consider Spurs and Everton with smaller stadiums are above us.
Still, potential growth is there to be seen for all. Take Arsenal. In the 90’s, it was still pretty easy to get a ticket for Highbury on match day. If the Villa end was full, a place on the North Bank was always a back-up option. I remember getting a ticket for the 1996 League Cup semi-final in the North Bank on the night of the game. Now, you have to wait in line to get a membership to get a ticket at the Emirates Stadium that boasts a 20,000 odd more seats.
When Lerner took over Villa, he’d have seen the huge potential of growth at Villa Park. Birmingham, after all, was England’s second city and Villa Park boasted a huge catchment area, with their local rivals seeming to spend most of their time in the Championship. The long-needed redevelopment of the North Stand would bring Villa Park closer to 50,000, as would the recent announcement of the mooted plan of having some trial terrace areas to the Holte End.
But it’s a chicken before the egg situation. The egg in this case, is a Villa team for fans to truly believe in.
Villa fans have long had the label of ‘fickle’ in terms of their match day attendance, and thus expansion is a potentially risky business. Even when Villa finished runners-up, chasing for the title under Ron Atkinson and before him, Graham Taylor, regular full houses were far from regular.
Yet, believe it or not, the current Villa team actually offer a chance to break that trend.
Lambert’s squad of young lions – from the NextGen winners to the first team – offer a unique situation for Villa supporters. Fans will literally see their team grow in front of their eyes over the next couple of years. They’ll see their initial teething problems as young inexperienced underdogs facing the odds (like this season), and in-turn, grow a bond and sentimental investment beyond just supporting the team.
In many ways, the current Villa set-up, especially after the forthcoming transfer window ships out the remaining high-earners, is the antithesis of modern day teams full of high-wage demotivated mercenaries (been there, done that).
Lambert knows that Villa supporters embracing his young chargers is directly linked to boosting the team’s confidence and effectiveness. That’s why Lambert talks up the Villa crowd after every game. He believes in the old school principles of the game – a team full of endeavor and playing for the badge, giving supporters something to fully cheer for, which helps push the team onto even greater heights. A real team effort of players and supporters.
It’s the essence of what football should be, rather than players becoming C-list celebrities and just in B6 to earn cash to build another wing on their house, add another car to their collection, and fund their WAG’s tacky wardrobe.
It will be very interesting to see if Lambert’s old school ideology pays off. It’s an approach that in the modern game, ironically, is seen as radical and pioneering. If it works, it opens up a potential new dawn for Aston Villa – a packed Villa Park, happy supporters, the possibility of silverware and Europe.
If a principled approach doesn’t work in the game, it may finally be the death of football, in the way a lot of us purists still want to know it. Then, probably the only way to fill Villa Park will be to buy Ronaldo and Messi. UTV