This week, I decided to pursue my journey at Villa Park. Now, I know Villa will get relegated this season but boy o boy this club has got some history. It will be a loss to the Premiership.
Let me first start by saying that, according to wikipedia, Aston Villa Football Club; also known as Villa, The Villa, The Villans, The Lions) is a professional football club based in Witton, Birmingham, that plays in the Premier League, the highest level of English football. Founded in 1874, they have played at their current home ground, Villa Park, since 1897. Aston Villa were the originators and founder members of the Football League in 1888. They were also founding members of thePremier League in 1992, and have remained there ever since. The club were floated by the previous owner and chairman Doug Ellis, but in 2006 full control was acquired by American businessman Randy Lerner. Aston Villa are one of the oldest and the most successful football clubs in the history of English football. Villa won the 1981–82 European Cup, and are thus one of five English clubs to win what is now the UEFA Champions League. They have the fifth highest total of major honours won by an English club, having won the First Division Championship seven times, the FA Cup seven times, the Football League Cup five times and the UEFA Super Cup in 1982.
Now that one I had to negotiate with the missus. Why are you taking a 2 year old on a 4 hours journey just to see an empty stadium. Sounds familiar, but the truth is she knows why. football is to me what air is to most humans, a necessity. Now the little one has just finished is football training that we jump in the car and embark in a 2 hours drive. Smooth. We arrive in Birmingham about 30min before the tour begins. Just enough time to change a nappy, have a bite to eat and collect our ticket booked from the day before.
I must say that arriving at the ground you feel the football atmosphere right away. You see terraces with houses made of red bricks. You know that you are in a working class environment (reminded me my days working at Goodison or playing in Barnsley) and I love that (that is what football should be all about not the prawn sandwich fans). You can imagine the smell of the burgers and the mass of fans trying to go through the tiny gates. The stadium at first glance looks tired but then you get to the Holte End and the outside view is beautiful.
Villa Park is an football stadium in Aston, Birmingham, England, with a seating capacity of 42,682. It has been the home of Aston Villa Football Club since 1897. The ground is less than a mile from both Witton and Aston railway stations and has hosted sixteen England internationals at senior level, the first in 1899 and the most recent in 2005. It was the first English ground to stage international football in three different centuries. Villa Park has hosted more FA Cup semi-finals than any other stadium, having hosted 55 matches in total. In 1897, Aston Villa moved into the Aston Lower Grounds, a sports ground in a Victorian amusement park in the former grounds of Aston Hall, a Jacobean stately home. The stadium has gone through various stages of renovation and development, resulting in the current stand configuration of the Holte End, Trinity Road Stand, North Stand and the Doug Ellis Stand. The club has initial planning permission to redevelop the North Stand, which will increase the capacity of Villa Park from 42,682 to approximately 50,000. Before 1914, a cycling track ran around the perimeter of the pitch where regular cycling meetings were hosted as well as athletic events. Aside from football-related uses, the stadium has seen various concerts staged along with other sporting events including boxing matches and international rugby league and rugby union matches. In 1999, the last ever final of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup took place at Villa Park. Rinder turned to the renowned architect Archibald Leitch to design a new Villa Park. Their joint plans included large banked end stands at the Holte and Witton ends and the incorporation of the original Victorian Lower Grounds buildings, including the aquarium and the newly acquired bowling greens. The outbreak of the First World War severely hampered design and construction efforts. On completion the Trinity Road Stand was considered one of the grandest in Britain, complete with stained glass windows, Italian mosaics, Dutch gables in the style of Aston Hall and a sweeping staircase. Several commentators including Simon Inglis consider it to be Leitch’s masterpiece, described in 1960 by a Sunday Times reporter as the “St Pancras of football.”
We make our way to the players entrance and here comes our guide. I was so pleased that it was not a black box! not with their accent. Very welcoming. We start with the press area and I must say that it all looks very dark and gloom. He starts by telling us how it is a good thing for Villa to go down, rebuild and go back up. not sure the half a dozen of us agreed but you have to respect him for his positiveness. One of the young lad mean they will win a game and beat local rival Birmingham. He responded very confidently. we then make our way to the 82 Lounge. What a beautiful setup. He tells me all the history of the marble and the windows. We then make our way to the changing rooms. My god, it is tiny and again very little light (more of an atmosphere that you expect in a romantic restaurant) available. It is cosy and I can well feel for the players when Keano use to barge into the dressing room to give a player a rollocking. We then make our way to the managers room (more of a lounge) and the story is that when martin O’Neil use to manage them he would share a glass of wine here with his opponent but not Benitez, as they couldn’t stand each other (mind you who gets on well with Benitez). We then make our way to the tunnel and you can’t miss villa’s history and European success. Out onto the pitch and in the dug outs. Again the story there is that only the home seats are fitted with heating (maybe why the subs can’t make an impact in winter). the tour comes to its end and our guide takes us back to the entrance. Our guide has been first class, unlike his team, and I can say that we will miss the Villans next year.
Official information regarding the Aston Villa stadium tour:
Cost: £17 adult
Stadium architecture: 8/10
Stadium history: 10/10
Stadium Tour: 10/10
Overall mark: 9/10