Villa Park Twelve Man
Up until 10 minutes to go against Wolves at Villa Park, match-going fans at Villa Park this season had been blessed with an unbeaten start to the season. Last season, across the Premier League, the lack of home crowd advantage was clear to be seen, as most club’s away form greatly improved with the playing field more even.
With fans returning this season, it was hoped that Fortress Villa Park would provide the backbone to Villa’s campaign…hopefully, despite recent setbacks, it still might.
After increasing complacency to the importance of match-going fans due to club’s ever increasing TV rights revenues, the recent experience of what football is like without fans, highlighted how empty stands can make a difference for both TV viewers and a players alike.
While obviously supporters create a match’s atmosphere, what has been forgotten is how a stadium’s crowd provide a better indication of a fanbase’s current mood than Twitter’s often nameless and unquantifiable pool of opinion.
The local press, clickbait football media and even outlets like the BBC, increasingly are content to look to Twitter for a litmus test of opinion, as it enables them to cobble together a few Tweets to create any desired narrative that will get clicks and engagement.
You just need four or five random Twitter accounts with tweets attacking a manager for their latest loss, to spew a bunch of articles that will get ‘hashtag [insert name] out’ trending. We’ve already seen it this season for Nuno, Munoz, Ole, Raffa and Smith.
Thank god supporters have returned to grounds though.
When the road is rocky, the Holte End at Villa Park reminds me in many ways of a Roman Coliseum crowd at times. It ultimately provides the pollice verso on the fate of a struggling manager.
Its judgment has proven over time to be measured, and neither rash or unreasonable.
Even in a pretty woeful last decade or so, where the likes of Gérard Houllier, Alex McLeish, Paul Lambert, Remi Garde Tim Sherwood, Roberto Di Matteo and Steve Bruce have had poor periods, Villa Park is largely tolerant and supportive up until the point the manager really needs to be given the thumbs down.
McLeish is perhaps the best example. While a misjudged managerial appointment that was unsurprisingly afforded no honeymoon period (especially on social media), the Villa Park faithful at least gave him a chance and had a certain amount of empathy to his situation.
The club was a shambles on and off the pitch, so when supporter’s patience was taken too far, namely Villa throwing away a lead in a vital home clash against Bolton, it was ultimately the fierce response of the crowd that night that effectively rubber-stamped the sacking of McLeish for the end of the season.
While #SmithOut may trend on Twitter, at Villa Park you’d struggle to hear Smith’s position currently up for discussion. When Villa went down to 10-men, 2-1 down against West Ham, the Upper Holte at least, let out a defiant extended chant of ‘Dean Smith’s Claret and Blue Army.”
It was the kind of rally call in adversity you’d expect from supporters. After all, if one of your own is not having a good time, support is often the most helpful way of remedying the situation and getting improvement.
What does entitled vitriol and unconstructive negativity achieve? Especially when it provides no alternative solutions to the situation.
So far the only solutions to Villa’s recent poor performances that Twitter have thrown up are to play a young midfielder who has less than 90 minutes combined to his name in a Villa first team shirt, and to get a Portuguese manager in, who’s literally got ‘Managerial Mercenary’ stamped on his forehead.
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Road to Improvement
Considering the upheaval in preseason and the frustrating injuries, Villa’s start to the season was always going to be compromised.
Yes, they should have done better, but while supporters understandably decry what they’re watching from the stands at Villa Park during games, they do so with context and the hope that Smith can turn things around.
The ‘this is a must-win game or it’s Smith Out’ Twitter ultimatum approach to each game is nonsense. Look at Newcastle United, unlimited wealth, yet they’re struggling to get a ‘wow factor’ manager in.
The expectation of Villa needing to be better goes without saying (and MOMS will discuss it in detail elsewhere), but it’s just a shame that for the moment at least, the online version of Villa fans can’t be more like the proverbial twelfth man in times of trouble.