Aston Villa
Villa Park




Ground No. 11 (return visit)
Visited - Saturday 19th March 2011
Result - Aston Villa 0-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
Competition - Barclays Premier League
Attendance - 38,965

1874 was a very good year for football, apparently. Shinpads were introduced, referees allowed to send players off for the first time, and Wolves and England goalkeeper Tom Baddeley was born on the 2nd November in Burslem. One can only assume that these are the events that the banner flying across the centre of the Holte End at Villa Park is referring to anyway, or perhaps it was the formation of a club in South Lanarkshire that would give the game the fantastic name of Hamilton Academicals to tongue tie the announcers of full time results on a Saturday evening. Who knows? Another minor event that took place was a few blokes kicking a ball around a park in Handsworth, Birmingham. It’s not out of the question that the banner could perhaps be referring to that! But who can possibly say…

For too long Villa have been sitting pretty at the top of the Midlands football tree, unchallenged during the late 80s and 90s with the regions other clubs languishing behind, largely in the second tier, with only Coventry putting up a modest fight, before dropping out of the Premier in 2000. The latter part of the decade though has seen the region starting to regain the stature it enjoyed in the 70s and before, with 2010/11 seeing Wolves, Albion and Blues all join Villa in the top flight together for the first time since 1984, and on the pitch it had been a close fight between all four clubs, albeit unfortunately at the wrong end of the table. Founded in 1874, (lets assume that it is what the banner is referring to), Villa are one of the few clubs left who have never been relegated from the Premier League, but since Martin O’Neil departed on the eve of the season, then they’ve been giving it a good go, with some supporters even seeming to want to repeat the experience of Newcastle fans who spent the previous season winning for fun and seeing a load of new grounds into the bargain. Whether it happens remains to be seen, but if it does, then it won’t be for the first time, the club having last played in the second tier in 1988, and even having a prolonged spell there during the late sixties/early seventies when they dropped into the Third Division.

One of the founder members of the Football League, they enjoyed their most successful period during the latter part of the nineteenth century, winning five of their seven league titles whilst Queen Victoria was still on the throne, including the double in 1897. If anything, it should be this year that the fans should refer to as one of their most dramatic, with the on field achievements capped by moving into their present home, the Aston Lower Grounds. It was a homecoming of sorts, having played games in the adjacent Aston Park in the early days, before moving to Perry Barr where their first ground was built on Wellington Road in 1876. Despite an impressive Grandstand/Pavilion, which was later sold to Small Heath, the facilities were otherwise poor, including a row of trees bordering one touchline, and it never truly suited the clubs needs or the crowds that certain games attracted, and with the pleasure gardens at Aston already attracting significant football games in the form of the 1884 and 1886 FA Cup Semi-Finals, it was an obvious choice for the club to move to, building it up first into a venue that held a capacity of 40,000 after moving in. As was popular at the time (Molineux had one too), the club opted to retain the cycle track, before starting to develop it into its familiar shape in 1914 when the track was removed and the Witton Lane Stand extended, and the Witton End banking built up in size. After the war, the Trinity Road Stand was added in 1922, and in the late 30s, the Holte End was extended to make it the largest end in football, with a capacity of 30,500. Following the second world war, this helped Villa record their highest attendance, when Derby came to town in the FA Cup, 76,588 people watching the Rams run out 4-3 winners on their way to the final that year. It’s the FA Cup that the ground has perhaps become most synonymous for, having hosted the largest number of semi-finals of any ground (55), in the days before the FA ruined a day out at Wembley by making fans go there instead of a neutral league venue. It had been a semi-final when I had first visited the ground, in 1998 for Wolves’ 1-0 defeat against Arsenal, and even despite the result, and nature of the performance ruining the trip (still have never forgiven Mark McGhee for leaving Bully and Robbie Keane on the beach), I had still been mightily impressed with the ground.

At that time, the old Trinity Road Stand had still been in place, before Doug Ellis ordered its destruction at the turn of the millennium, an act that could only be described as architectural vandalism by the former chairman, who replaced it with the imposing three tier stand that sits there in its place now. Anyone who has seen the pictures of it in Simon Inglis’ Engineering Archie book would have to be the most bluest of blue noses not to lament its loss, but even with it gone, you still get the impression of a grand old venue up there amongst the best in the country. Since that first visit, I’d been to the ground on numerous occasions, but it had been a while since I’d last visited, having passed up the chance to pay £43 for a game on TV in March 2010, but one year on, and I was determined to make a revisit, setting off fairly early to go up to the ground and take a few pictures beforehand.

Whilst Aston itself is best described as a horrific hell hole of an area, the immediate surrounds of Villa Park are actually fairly pleasant, especially on a beautiful day such as was the morning of the game. Coming to the ground from Aston train station, first of all you are greeted by the sight of the restored Holte Hotel, standing at the junction of Trinity Road and Witton Lane, the fine Victorian building enjoying a new lease of life that might not have happened had the clubs application to demolish it in the 90s not been rejected by Birmingham Council. Beyond that is the Holte End, and whilst the old Trinity Road Stand’s architecture might be sadly missed, the Holte End, only built in 1994, is a pleasant reminder. I’ve seen it criticised as a cheap mockery of its former neighbour, but frankly that viewpoint is ridiculous, and it is without doubt, the finest exterior to any modern stand in the country, with its red brick fa├žade and external staircases and balconies making it stand out amongst the tin sheds that have popped up throughout England since the Taylor Report. Indeed, of any stand in the league, then I can only think of Fulham’s Stevenage Road Stand perhaps eclipsing it (Ibrox’s South Stand if you want to go north of the border as well), so to write it off as a cheap imitation is sad given what so many other chairmen have built instead. Heading to the right of the Holte, you walk along Witton Lane, which the imposing Doug Ellis Stand towers over, leaving the road in permanent shade. Whilst not quite as grand as the Holte End, the red brick exterior again helps hold it in a good light, perhaps extenuated when you reach the far end and come across the North Stand. Built in 1977, you can only say oh dear, and along with the exterior of the Trinity Road Stand (which I’ll come to shortly), leaves Villa Park as a ground very much of two halves when it comes to style. Again, I have seen conflicting views to mine claiming the swooping lines of the stand make it a graceful, almost art deco style building, so each to their own, and whilst the shape of the stand might not be awful, the over powering concrete hulk is just crying out to be clad with steelwork as at Bramall Lane where Sheffield United have massively improved both the South Stand and Bramall Lane End with minimal effort and expense to show that just a few touches of well placed colour can make the world of difference. Anyway, behind this end are the club shop and ticket office, freestanding buildings the other side of a vast car park that borders Trinity Road and brings you back to the fourth side of the ground. For some, it might be enough just bemoan the loss of the old stand, but what makes it worst for me is that its replacement is just so cheap looking. The unimaginative, colourless metal cladding (again in contrast to Bramall Lane where colour can make such a difference), the shiny reflective shapeless windows and the cheap signage that looks lost amongst the cantilever struts along the top of the stand. It’s just horrific, and in total contrast to the rest of the ground, because what sets Villa Park apart is the attention to detail. The gates and walls that surround the site with lion statues and ornate metalwork, painted in a classy combination of the clubs colours and gold, or the clubs name nicely shaped in along the top of the gates. It’s these little things that makes Villa Park look so great, so to stick a great big, cheap modern monstrosity next to it ruins the ground, and is crying out for money to be spent just to put it right and perhaps return a bit of dignity back to this side of the ground. Even the statue, added since my last visit, of William McGregor (ex Chairman and founder of the Football League) doesn’t quite sit right with what you expect. The idea is right, but the proportions of it are all wrong, not quite Ted Bates wrong as at Southampton, but the brick plinth on which he stands is almost the same height, and slightly too big which gives him the impression of looking squat and practically a dwarf. Its position is likewise wrong as well, it stands too far from the main reception to be a focal point of it, and at a difficult point of the crowd flow to become a place where crowds can gather, such as the Billy Wright statue at Molineux or Billy Bremner statue at Elland Road. A more correctly proportioned plinth and perhaps situating it in front of the Holte End would have given it far more prominence than it has now. Still, what can you do…

Anyway, having visited the ground, I headed off back to the station and into the city centre to meet with a friend and introduce him to a few of Brum’s better pubs (the Wellington and Bachus Bar), before we headed back to the ground for the match.

We were sitting in the Doug Ellis Stand, the away end having moved from the North Stand lower since my last visit (a crafty ploy by clubs to switch away fans to a more expensive stand knowing that they’re more likely to sell out than home fans in that area). I’d heard very bad reports about the facilities here, but couldn’t really find any complaints myself, except for being stuck up on the very top row, where the view of the ground, if not the pitch, was partially restricted by the goalpost support of the roof. Two tiered, it’s surprising to note that the stand only holds just over 10,000, looking far bigger than that, and certainly feeling it from the top row. The North Stand was to our right, again two tiered, with a double row of executive boxes in the middle. Opposite is the three tiered Trinity Road Stand, and whilst I’m quite unrestrained in my criticism of the stand from the outside, from within the ground it does look quite smart, and if anything helps improve the look of the ground, bringing the roofline up to the same level as the two end stands, which used to dwarf the old stand on this side. Due to the road behind, it’s quite an irregular shape, with only the lower tier running the full length of the pitch, the middle tier sitting off centre, starting at one end in line with the penalty spot, and overshooting the North goal to look out over the North Stand, whilst the upper tier is the same length, sloping in on each side. A large three storey building of executive boxes sits at the truncated end, sadly in keeping with the exterior of the stand, with its unpainted sheet metal and tacky oversized reflective windows. Finally, to the left is the Holte End, the largest freestanding end stand in the country, split into two tiers, and again affected by Trinity Road cutting in on its right hand side to slope gradually inwards the higher you go.

The crowd wasn’t quite a sell-out, but the only visible seats were tucked away in the upper reaches of the Trinity Road Stand, and a few dotted around the centre, giving the impression of it being mostly full all the same.

Going into the game, whilst Villa were having a poor season by their standards, they were still above us in the table, and favourites for the win, but Nenad Milijas gave them a scare early on with his second minute drive that forced a save from Brad Friedel. After that, twice Wolves had the ball in the net, firstly by Christophe Berra who was adjudged to be offside, and then minutes later Kevin Doyle who had the flag raised against him as well. Far from lying down though, Villa were looking dangerous going forwards, in particular Marc Albrighton causing problems down the right, but it was the visitors who took the lead in the 38th minute when a free kick was lofted in and headed down by Berra to Matt Jarvis who lashed the ball home into the corner to make it 1-0. The scores should have been level at the break though with Jean Makoun finding himself free in the box only to head wildy wide, before in the second half Villa went in search of an equaliser, Darren Bent being unlucky not to get a penalty early on when Berra conceded a free kick on the edge of the area that replays showed to be just inside the box. It wasn’t coming though, and Milijas had another long range shot that tested Friedel, before 10 minutes from the end Ashley Young found himself played free into the box and with the easiest chance of the game to slot it underneath Wayne Hennessey. Instead though he decided to go for style and smashed it as hard as he could, seeing the ball rebound off the underside of the bar and away, with it being as close as the hosts would come all game, not that I relaxed until the very end of injury time, convinced that we would throw it away as at Albion the previous month, but hold on we did for a fantastic three points that left the boos ringing around the ground from fans fed up with Houllier’s tenure in charge of the club (another banner being unfurled to leave him in no doubt of the fans displeasure (they like their banners here!))

After leaving, we headed back into town and back to the Wellington and then the Old Joint Stock before making our way home to the Black Country having enjoyed the day out.

Whilst I’m highly critical of the Trinity Road Stand, the truth is that I love this ground, it really is one of the best in the country, and as mentioned, it’s the attention to detail that makes the difference. Perhaps that’s the reason that I really don’t like the stand, because it could, and should have been so much more. Place it at another ground and it might not look out of place, you might not pick up so much on its faults, or even mention them, but Villa Park isn’t any other ground, it’s more than that. It has history, it has a sense of grandeur and it has a touch of class about it. Sticking that on one side is like driving through a quaint English village High St and seeing a cheap pound shop with flashing neon lights spread over its front and house music blasting out through the open door. Some grounds have class, others don’t, and this stand is a nuisance neighbour that has moved into a nice area. Still, overall though, the ground is very much up there with the best, and should the FA come to their senses, then it would make a welcome return as a semi-final venue.





Welcome to Villa Park


Rear of the Trinity Road Stand


The William McGregor Statue


The Side of the Trinity Road Stand


One of the Lion Statues atop the gate posts around the ground


Rear of the Holte End


Rear of the Holte End


The Holte Hotel


Rear of the Doug Ellis Stand


Rear of the North Stand


The Club Shop and Ticket Office


Rear of the North Stand


Ready for Kick Off


The Trinity Road Stand


The North Stand


The North Stand


The Trinity Road Stand


The Holte End


The Holte End


The Trinity Road Stand


The North Stand



Villa Park Panoramic 1
(click here for full size picture)


Villa Park Panoramic 2
(click here for full size picture)






Previous Visits to Villa Park





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