Aston Villa Fans Are Not The Real Villains
This week saw yet another example of supporters getting it in the neck as Villa Park recorded its lowest attendance since 1999.
Ignoring statistics, Villa fans are right up there with the best and most loyal around. They always take numbers away; the Holte End is a formidable roaring beast; and they cede to few for noise or passion. This despite enduring decades of unfulfilled hope, the complete absence of silverware, and Bosko Balaban.
The attendance for their fixture vs Southampton was 25,311 which actually represents a respectable return for a Monday night game, during a prolonged spell of poor football and results, a month before Christmas, and when tickets were £40 upwards. The tempting alternative was to stay at home, in front of a toasty fire, and watch the game on Sky. The figures suggests that the die-hards chose the first option, while the fair-weather fans opted for the latter.
Who can blame them? Disgracefully, some portions of the press could and did, along with rival supporters who gleefully scoffed and called them out for disloyalty on social media.
Sky themselves could barely hide their disgust at the empty seats which really is the height of hypocritical sadism considering that the fans who weren’t there would have been watching on TV. It’s akin to offering someone a warm chocolate fudge cake then making snidey comments as they enjoy it.
Certainly the lowest attendance for fifteen years by a top flight club warrants some media glare. But surely the angle should have been how and why.
How staging games on a Monday night inevitably lessens atmosphere. Why we’re sick and tired of being royally ripped off and taken for granted. Being expected to pay four times what fans in Germany do and that’s before you get to the over-priced excuse for a stadium hot dog. How Sky are killing the game that we love.
Instead it was the supporters who took the blunt of it. Those protesting with their feet over Paul Lambert’s miserable tenure. Those unable to get out of work in time to travel into the congested city centre on a Monday evening. Those who cannot afford tickets in a sustained and cruel recession.
This was only the latest in an increasing trend of fan scapegoating. Recently we witnessed multi-millionaire Paul Scholes enjoying an all-expenses-paid hospitality-laden trip to the Etihad and wasting no time in laying into the Manchester City supporters for generating too little atmosphere for a Champions League game.
Bizarrely, this was uttered in his atmospheric monotone voice a half hour BEFORE the game was due to start and as he purveyed a half-empty stadium. Meanwhile, supporters were busy navigating a gridlocked city centre, sweating on making the TV-friendly kick-off time, with a ticket in their pocket they’ve worried their overdraft to attain.
Over on Twitter, Scholes’ ex-team-mate Rio Ferdinand dispensed with feigned serious analysis and openly mocked non-attending Blues. He tweeted “Big CL game and fans would rather watch Ramsey’s Kitchen”.
Is it only me who finds it somewhat sick when multi-millionaires ridicule those who currently don’t have a pot to p**s in through a bleak economy? Yet this is fast becoming the norm and is occurring unchallenged in a new narrative where Sky, Murdoch, and the Premier League are no longer the villains of what the sport has become. Rather it is us, the life and blood of the game, who are now apparently to blame for the banality of what passes for modern football.
That City match is particularly pertinent to myself. As a Blue I have travelled the length and breadth of the country watching pre-takeover dross and post-takeover wonderment. On this occasion two simultaneous bills arriving the day before the game meant I had a straightforward choice to make –attend the Roma game or eat that week. How was your pre-match hors d’oeuvres Mr Scholes?
We’ve also recently seen Jose Mourinho turn on his own fans for their apparent lack of atmosphere, while Emmanuel Adebayor took matters into the realms of the surreal by chiming in with criticism of Spurs fans.
When a player on £200k a week who is known for putting in the minimum of effort – and only then when the mood takes him - feels he can slag off supporters for enthusiastic shortcomings, you just know the game is up.
There isn’t even solid grounding to the claims. While the average price of a Premier League matchday ticket has risen 15% since 2011 attendances continue to rise with grounds 96% full last term, an increase of 2.1% from the previous year.
As for atmosphere it is impossible to use statistical data to assess whether it is indeed quieter. But anyone who has attended a PL game in recent years will know all-too-well that everything is stacked against us in this regard.
When clubs threaten you with eviction if you have the temerity to stand – or even shout or become agitated in some cases – it is extremely difficult to rouse an electric atmosphere sitting in the plastic, sterile environment of someone else’s making.
Throughout the years we have been caged like animals, demonised as the scourge of society, baton-charged by foreign police, fleeced stupid, overcharged and under-appreciated. We are not taking the fall for this one.
The next time a club’s fanbase receives criticism for not filling its ground and jumping about wildly at a ludicrously-paid striker going through the motions, refrain from joining in.
Stymie your every instinct to ‘bantz’ a rival. Instead consider the source. A manager with a motivational agenda. A deluded player living in a fantasy world. An ex-player pathetically trying to gain a reputation for straight-shooting. A media thoroughly bored of the old narrative. And overall a depressing reversion to assumed type that somehow the supporters are always to blame.