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2003 Away Match Reports




From 2003

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Blackburn Report: Where Angels Play (and clouds swirl)


FA Barclaycard Premiership
Ewood Park, Blackburn
Saturday 20th December 2003
Blackburn Rovers 0 Villa 2

Well where can I start.

Perhaps with the weather? There are places in Scotland - the Inner Hebrides for example, where the clouds can do that thing of tumbling across the Sky, darkness and dampness in one. The wind can do the same - blowing several ways at once. Cornwall too, in winter can be pretty spectacularly awful. But more relevantly to what will be a somewhat statistically lacking match report, Ewood park can match either of them. And today it did. It was, as they say, "grim up north".

Still under the slate skies, inside the place of so many previous weak Villa performances a couple of things happened. First off, Villa played very well - they left off where they finished against Chelsea - committed, playing as a team, with belief and organisation and with confidence. Secondly Blackburn did the opposite. They were poor and little trouble to Villa all afternoon.

The ground was maybe two thirds full - 21,000 at a guess, with a good following in the away end. The only atmosphere throughout the match was generated by an increasingly contented, not to say delirious, claret and blue corner.

And so the game itself. We started well, Angel again played really well, this time with Stefan Moore as his partner. After 15 minutes or so of controlled "nice" football from both sides, with little punch, he played Hendrie through. I don't know why the ball didn't end up in the net, I was already leaping about, certain we'd scored. Apparently it went just wide. A minute or so later Angel set up Whittingham for a harder chance. I saw that miss the left hand post. Barry had two shots, both easily saved by Friedel. Villa were on top. Definitely. And unusually

Dublin and Mellberg were largely untroubled by Yorkie and the other one ("misses a lot - Cole is it?" I called him last year. Missing a lot generally this year). A couple of Yorke headers from crosses well over the bar were the sum total of t'Rovers efforts in the first half. They were half decent out wide - Emerton and Gresko, but everywhere else on the pitch Villa were clearly in control.

So at half time it was 0-0. The doubts about "we should have scored when we were so much in control" were countered by "we're playing so well and Rovers are so average that we'll surely win".

Second half kicked off and for 10 minutes or so t'Rovers did what you'd expect if you'd just spent 15 minutes being "motivated" by an unhappy Graeme Sourness - namely try a bit harder. They didn't really get anywhere with it though - JLloyd and Delaney were winning their battles with the wide players, supported excellently by Barry and Hendrie. McCann was the best player in the middle, by a distance, and Dion and Olly were controlling the game from the back. Angel was just a class player in form.

18 minutes into the half, a ball forward in the air from the left back area was brilliantly won by a perfectly timed leap from JPA. The flick on skidded and bounced up awkwardly for Hendrie, but he headed it back across the keeper and agonisingly wide of the far post......for Stefan Moore to knock it in from a yard, from a tight angle. Cue delighted Villa players and fans celebrating together, as one.

Blackburn seemed to sense that we were going to win, the first early leavers from the silent crowd started on their soggy journeys home and Villa, now more confident, gained a stronger hold on the game. Moore went off possibly injured in scoring, for Vassel.

The special lancastrian rain spent some time and energy doing the swirling thing around the floodlights and underneath its' display, some 12 minutes after the first goal, Villa got our second. A cross in from our left was turned home by JPA from 5 yards. Well deserved, and well received it was too.

Barry looking to have a tight hamstring went off for Hitz, and Hendrie, also looking to have a tweak, went off just before the end.

We completely deserved our win. T'Rovers completely deserved their defeat.

This was, albeit against weaker opponents, a progression from the Chelsea game. We controlled this one. Organised, hard working, skilful. A massive massive boost for all of us Villans. Against a bogey team too.

My nearest Villa game topped off by meeting up with some old friends and a nice lift home in a posh car, instead of the cacky train. Result!

Additional points - the ref, Dermott Gallagher had a good game really letting it flow. There must have been one period of what seemed like about 7 or 8 minutes with no whistle at all.

David O'Leary - credit for the way the team was organised and set out. Everything that has been missing for the best part of 2 years was back today.

Happy Christmas :-)


Friday, September 05, 2003



(A premier league, Aston Villa and Manchester City collaboration)

In 10 days time Villa will be playing away at Manchester City’s reputedly superb City Of Manchester stadium. You know the place – the former commonwealth games stadium – now called the “Theatre of Reality” or “Blue Camp” by the City fans. It’s the one we all want to be at for our first game there on Sunday 14th September.

Anyway, as a season ticket holder, regular away traveller and the like I was looking forward to going. I e-mailed the ticket office with all the relevant credit card details for 2 of us to get tickets (the other also for a regular away traveller etc.…).

They got the e-mail and responded within the hour on Monday that “Your request has been put on file until Wednesday, which is the date on which tickets become available for Manchester City to season ticket holders, and will be processed for you then without a problem”. I was happy. I was assured of the tickets, or so I thought.

But then something went horribly wrong. I read this morning (Wednesday) on the club web-site that the allocation was “sold out”. Slightly concerned, I called the ticket office to check that they had indeed “processed my application without a problem”. Sadly after a check I was told that no I hadn’t got the tickets.

Strewth, I thought, how could they have sold 3000 tickets so quickly that my application was unsuccessful? Then the ticket office lady said “we only got 1700 tickets from Man City”, but we are trying to get some more, and we’ll call you to confirm you still want two when/if we get them”.

After lunch I phoned the Villa ticket office again, speaking to another helpful lady (she has asked that her name not be given). I wanted to check that Man City were doing their bit, really. 

I explained my earlier call and ticket application and asked whether the club had indeed confirmed that they were getting the additional tickets from Manchester City. I was told that in fact Villa was not going to ask for any more tickets, (contrary to what I was told in the morning). The reason given, was the terms and conditions placed by Man City – if we don’t sell them, then we still have to pay for them.

Now to me, (admittedly not someone who works in ticket sales, but someone who has been going away with Villa for well over 20 years), it seems blindingly obvious that we would sell the additional 1300 we are entitled to. There is to me little or no risk to the club of losing money. My logic is as follows. Already 1700 tickets have gone in a flash (according to the ticket office this morning) with a waiting list of season ticket holders wanting tickets on top of that and this on the first morning of sale to season ticket holders. Given that there are likely to be more people to come to the ticket office tomorrow and then opportunity for general sale after that, plus it’s a new ground to go to, there are still 10 days to go before the game, Manchester (on a non-bank holiday) has great pubs and restaurants to go to, it’s 80 miles from Brum, we have a new manager, are playing well, etc. etc. (This does assume that the club doesn’t tell everyone we are “sold out” and thus kill all the interest though - more on that later).

She countered this with the fact that last year we took the extra tickets for Maine Road and didn’t sell them all, so the club lost money. She also mentioned the automatic away scheme for season ticket holders, explaining the 850 members of that scheme get a ticket, guaranteed. It is, it’s true, a great scheme in my view from the club, particularly if you intend to go to all the away games. It’s free, doesn’t involve e-mailing, telephoning, nipping down the ticket office at lunch time or any of the other hassle of getting tickets for away games and seems ideal for many. 

Unfortunately I’m someone who can’t go to all the away games (I live up North, even home games are a 260 mile round trip). I didn’t join the scheme as it would have meant frequent ticket returns, ticket swapping, credit card deductions then refunds and so on. Like me, many fans just want to buy a ticket for a match on a game by game basis.

For Sunday’s game Manchester City will provide the tickets to Villa for us to buy, but Villa won’t take them to sell to us in case they lose money. Of course they would make money if they sold them all, what with the £1.50 booking fees and £1.50 postal fees each time they sell by e-mail or internet. Not a great deal, but a little. Anyway, the assistant, though as helpful as she could be, clearly couldn’t resolve the problem, but did promise to ask the ticket office manager to call me back.

It was at this point that I really started to think a bit more about the situation. We’d been talking about opinions, really, so far - perceived risk, perceived demand for tickets and the like.

Thinking more widely about the way premier league clubs sell tickets, deal with supporters and so on the question grew from “I can’t get a ticket to a game I want to and ought to be able to go to” into “What on earth has gone wrong with football that people like me can be so distanced from “businesses” that ought to want my custom?”

I decided to find out from the FA Premier League, what the exact rules are regarding away ticket allocations - Are Man City allowed to demand cash up front? (They’ve now't at the back, but that’s another story).

Yes the FA Premier League told me:
The away team is entitled to 10 % or 3000 tickets, whichever is the lower. There is also a 10 % of disabled seating capacity requirement. Of the away tickets, 50% must be made to the away club on a sale or return basis – if they aren’t all sold, then it’s the home club who “suffer”. The other 50 % CAN (but not must) be provided as a “pay up front” block, and must be ordered by the away club no less than 4 weeks before the fixture. In other words, of these tickets, if the away club takes them, they pay for them, even if they don’t sell them all.

Whilst waiting for Villa to call me back I spoke to Manchester City’s Head of Operations at the C.O.M.S. Sara told me that City split the 3000 away allocation into 1700 and 1300 approx. seats in 2 tiers one above the other, for reasons of segregation. She said that because City can sell unused tickets to home fans they insist on cash up front for the seats upstairs - They would lose revenue if they didn’t do this. They will however NOT put these tickets on sale to City fans until the last minute, when it is definite that the away team does not want them. If Villa want them, they can still have them, she said.

Within the premier league rules, as they stand, this is about as good as you can get, I think, given Man City’s own demand for tickets. Sara explained that as far as City’s away games are concerned, Man City generally always take the maximum allocation, unless the game is a Sky game a long way from Manchester – Southampton was the example she gave. She said that from time to time they lose money by doing this, but generally sell their allocation. This means that City’s most loyal fans get provided with the best service, basically, even if like at Charlton a couple of weeks ago, the club loses money by not selling all of the tickets they take up.

Basically it seems that Man City take the view that even if they lose the odd 25 quid on a number of their season ticket holders and regulars not taking up tickets for away games it’s money well spent. This is because when you think of the number of season ticket holders, and the money they spend on their club - say an average of 600 quid a year each, then if over a season of 19 away games 400 tickets a game in 10 of the games go unsold at 25 quid each that’s 100 grand “lost” But then again, with 34000 season ticket holders each paying 400 quid on season tickets, that still leaves them 13.4 million quid up on the “deal”. And that’s before merchandising and goodwill generated from the service provided by the club. A rough calculation for Villa based on the same 10 games where we sold an average of 400 tickets less than we’d paid for gives the same 100,000 pounds “lost”. Season ticket holders at Villa pay, say, 360 pounds average price. 20,000 of them = 7.2 million, or 7.1 million if you knock off the 100 grand “lost”.

These figures are purely illustrative, to outline my thinking, and are “off the top of my head”. Hopefully though they do make a point – there’s more to making money for the club than just counting a relatively few unsold tickets. Villa would point out that this ‘lost’ money will have to go on next years ticket prices. City might point out that they are inundated with people wanting to buy season tickets, shirts and all the rest, that their fans feel well looked after and better connected with their club.

Many views could be put as to why City have more season ticket holders now than we do, but I feel that City’s approach to their supporters is more “inclusive” than that of Villa and this must be a factor.

Sara, unprompted, also expressed surprise that Villa doesn’t take the same approach as Man City. (I had told her I was a villa fan and was trying to get to the bottom of a problem of not being able to buy a ticket for an unsold seat at a game I want to see).

So far then I had come across people who were eager to talk and to listen, at Villa at the Premier league and at Man City. This actually came as a pleasant surprise to me, I had expected to be treated as a bit of a nuisance if the truth be told – neither Manchester City nor the Premier League had anything to gain by giving me their time and attention, but they did so willingly.  

I had confirmed that Villa don’t want to risk losing any money on tickets unsold. I had learnt that the premier league rules allow the “cash up front” policy. I understood that Manchester City tend to accept that they will lose money in this way in providing tickets for their own travelling support, putting it down to a cost of keeping customers happy.

Oh and Man City also told me that nearly all premier league clubs operate in the same way when it comes to selling tickets to City for away fans. Their Head of Operations obviously couldn’t speak for other clubs, but it seems the practice is widespread.

Next Nicola Keye, the Ticket office manager at Villa phoned me back, as promised by her staff. My impression throughout a half-hour conversation was that Nicola, who has been in the role for just 4 weeks, is a very competent person. She was again, eager to explain and to listen, helpful and fair. Like her staff she emphasised the excellence of the guaranteed away ticket scheme. She also accepted and understood my reasons for not joining the scheme.

Nicola explained that the decision on whether to go for the full allocation tended to be based on precedence, but that given the long lead time for making the decision it was not easy, with demand affected by results and kick off times and such like. She also explained that in the first 2 away games of this season (both of which sold out) at the last minute quite a number of people returned tickets. Concern at the possible loss of money to the club was clearly apparent.

Nicola definitely wants to improve the service that is available to Villa’s away fans, and is looking at gauging demand for tickets in any way possible. One possibility is to ask people at the start of the season which games they will want to go to way from home, for example. 

A concern I expressed is that at the moment the mechanisms in place do not allow this to happen accurately. How many people who would like to go to Man City for example will have seen “Sold Out” on the club web-site, or been told by their mates, or read in the press, or on internet Villa sites, that all the tickets have gone and will then just say to themselves “shame that. I would have gone”? No one knows - certainly not the club. So the clubs’ information will be “we sold 1700 tickets, a couple of hundred people were disappointed, then it went quiet - same again next year then.”

I would counter that in reality they would certainly have sold all of the 3000 tickets if we had taken them from the start. I would also suggest that a continuation of the current approach will “manage down” expectations from supporters of being able to get tickets for away games, and will lead to people not even bothering to try after a while “well I never manage to get one, it’s always sold out” 

Another point I made was that there are a number of ways of buying tickets from the club - by personal visit to the ticket office, by post, by the secure link on the club web-site or by e-mail. Of these ways, all are advertised as “being equal”. In reality however, my experience has shown that this is not the case. Despite e-mail and internet carrying handling and postage charges on top of the ticket price, clearly personal callers got first dibs on the tickets this morning. How else could an e-mail request that was there at the very start of business not be met, yet people who turned up after the opening of the office get their tickets? According to the first lady I spoke to in the ticket office, I was far from the only person in this position and people applying by post also missed out in this way. Had I known in advance that there is an advantage in personal visiting I would have asked a friend to get me a ticket from the ticket office.

The electronic and postal methods either need to be clearly identified as “second class” or else the ticket office need to handle all requests with the same “rules.”

Our Ticket Office Manager is a very easy person to deal with, promising to keep me updated of any possible opportunity for me to get returned tickets (rightly without queue jumping though) and to let me know exactly where I am on the waiting list. This she has since done. I may yet get a ticket, fingers crossed.

The fundamental problem remains though. Villa fans want to buy tickets to a game. We are good customers, yet the club is not prepared to take the tickets from Manchester City to sell to us. The club is happy to charge me 3 quid on top of the ticket price for any ticket I buy by e-mail, but is not happy to take a chance that they might lose money on any unsold tickets. What they may do is lose our goodwill. Instead of viewing the club as a “preferred” seller of merchandise, from shirts to pies to beer and so on. Will we see local pubs, shops and so on as more keen for our custom than a club that doesn’t act like it wants to sell us a ticket. Look in the annual shareholders report and see how merchandising is going for evidence.

The Premier league, Manchester City and Aston Villa all employ helpful, genuine, people who do a more than good job individually. That much is heartening. Less heartening is the corporate attitude of Aston Villa towards it’s customers/fans. It appears to be “we are not prepared to take any risk in providing you with what you should have by right, if it means we might lose some money.” I suspect I know where that comes from, and it’s not the ticket office. The contrast with Manchester City’s attitude “sometimes we lose some money in providing the fans with their right to buy tickets, but we live with it and overall we’re getting more fans and keeping them” is stark, and will not come as a shock to many.

Overall it seems the “money machine” has circumvented the premier league rules meant to protect fans. Surely a more appropriate rule would be that all the allocation should be sale or return, but perhaps with a time limit - If the away club hasn’t sold them all by a week before the game, then they can either keep them and pay for them, or return the unsold tickets, to go to home fans. With movable segregation mesh in all but a couple of grounds that should be workable. Today though, a combination of the premier league’s “rules” and the Clubs collective desires to rake up every last pound of their multi-million revenues means that fans who want to go to games and who have a right to do so, cannot.

With helpful staff, the club is doing much right at the moment, but the further culture change is needed in my view. I may end up getting a returned ticket from Villa or I may put on my best mancunian accent and get a ticket in the home area - perhaps even in the very seats that were available to Villa - now that really would show the absurdity of the situation.


Sunday, July 27, 2003

From Aston to Edgbaston


I went to the test match yesterday and had a fine day out. Nothing to do with football or the Villa, but the thing was that looking at the green grass, the buzz of the crowd, chatting with friends and the rest of it (OK some beer too) made me realise that I like sport, a lot.

The day out made me realise that it's meant to be enjoyable, and yesterday was. I can't really remember the last time i felt like that at Villa Park - The Albion game maybe, 8 months ago.

Amongst the topics of conversation was the footy season and Villa's early games. Now last year i was pretty gloomy and despondent, but for some reason this (pre) season I am returning to my more normal state of "slightly hopeful" maybe it's all the other Villa fans I have talked to (and read on the internet) being optimistic. Maybe it's the VFC and the general feeling that soon Ellis WILL be sidelined or gone or maybe something else altogether, but something's happened to my mood. So much so I'm probably going to buy a season ticket again next week (after not doing so last year).

There are a lot of questions and some hurdles which prevent full on, major bouts of unrestrained optimism, though - What to make of the new manager is one such question?

DO'L is a bit of an unknown quantity in some ways, as he seems to talk as much about Leeds and himself as his current club. He had high finishes at L**ds, but spent a fortune, wrote an ill advised book and fell out with the bloke who 'gave' him all that money to spend. Curious.

When he took over at VP he said it was a good job, and a challenge, but he hasn't come out with any dubious hyperbole about Champions league, or loving the club and seems to have distanced himself from the board - a clever move, perhaps he has accepted he can't fight them for cash or to get them to act less cautiously - in effect he is acting like a continental style "coach'. he is employed to do the "team" stuff and not to get involved in other aspects of the running of the club.

In many ways this is a good approach, because as much as the rest of the club needs an overhaul, he isn't the man to do it.

He has a hard enough task to turn a nearly relegated side back to European challengers in 3 years without having to worry about the stumblies above him.

The signs with the 'alienated' players have been VERY encouraging. So have the initial results in Scandinavia.

It seems that the squad is ALL of the players, not just the ones that haven't been frozen out and ignored. Communication and togetherness seems to be the state of affairs once again.

When we return from Sweden and start playing the Dublin matches and the other pre-season games we'll have a better idea of the extent of the improvements made.

Noises so far, particularly from and about JPA are a massive boost.

Some of my strongest memories of last season (apart from the nightmare games against you know who) are the first home game of the season v Liverpool and the away game at Man City. They seemed to me to typify what was wrong.

In the Liverpool game I was sat in the top tier of the trinity and the view gave me the perspective to be able to see that the players were off the pace in many ways - the movement was poor both when defending and attacking, the closing down happened too late and we just seemed leaden and laboured as a side, despite no lack of endeavour. it was all just channelled in the wrong ways -aimless.

Man City away was worse, at the start, as the players seemed totally unhappy with themselves and the 'plan". Once Staunton realised that things weren't right, HE seemed to do some sorting out, which was credit to him, but made me wonder even more about the manager and coaches.

What I'm hoping for this time is that we play as a unit and are more mentally alert and attuned to what is required and that the players all understand what needs to be done and believe in the way they are asked to play.

I don't think that was the case as a team last year. Dion, Barry and Olly got on and did their jobs, but the rest looked like they had no idea what was supposed to happen, and thus they didn't do it.

it might all go pear shaped again, but at the moment i don't think it will, Little seeds of hope are beginning to grow.

A couple of decent signings and things could really be cooking.

Now if only the Ellis problem could be addressed further....

Sort of a ramble, but I think I might be back at VP rather more than I was last year. Wish me luck.


Sunday, May 18, 2003

He did it his Way


As Graham taylor faces the final curtain, I thank him for finally doing the right thing

So, Graham Taylor has resigned.

First off, it's sad. It's sad because he has turned from someone who had my everlasting respect, thanks and admiration into someone who who has my everlasting thanks, respect and admiration, but also proved to be a bit of a failure. Not much of a difference, but an important one to me, if no-one else.

He was the magic cure that stopped working and instead became part of the problem. He never stopped trying his best, and remains a thoroughly decent man, but he undoubtedly made a mess of things this time round. Muddled selection, muddled tactics, poor buys and most significant of all HE FAILED TO STAND UP TO ANSELLIS WHEN HE WAS IN A POSITION OF STRENGTH - When he came back. That he has now resigned because of the "private agenda" of Mark Ansell and the negative atmosphere enveloping the whole club is in my opinion directly as a result of his lack of willingness to effectively confront the deep problems at our club from the start. He left it too late, and with a very poor season behind him didn't have the strength to win a battle with Ansell and Ellis.

So the deep problems remain (their names are Ansell and Ellis) and they will be hard for the next scapegoat, sorry manager, to overcome.

For the sake of the club it is important that GT lets the truth out, both barrels, no prevaricating. Blunt and to the point is needed.

The club has given up, completely and utterly, with trying to be a football club. Ansellis is obsessed solely with "managing costs" (and preserving their lucrative positions) nothing else matters to them. Nothing and no-one.

Now that GT has gone, plenty of players can use that as an excuse to ask for transfers, to tout their services to real football clubs, like we used to be. And they will. And there'll be no shortage of takers for Olly and Darius and Gareth. They will all go, I would imagine.

Ansellis will use the managerless period to raise revenue and f*ck us up even worse.

Oh dearie me. Still, one day they will be gone, and then we can start rebuilding our club, from whatever lowly position they will have left us in.

Oh and as a postscript, I wrote here

"If so I will set the machine off on task 2 - The final instalment - The one where the words that come out of GT's mouth transmogrificate into:

"I've made a pig's arse of it, haven't I? - I've bought badly, selected badly, and employed bad tactics. I haven't sorted out the coaching, and I didn't stand up to Ansellis at the start when I should have. I resign and urge those two clowns to do the same."

It seems I don't need to - he's said it himself on radio 5 tonight. Thanks Graham


Tuesday, March 11, 2003

It's English G, but Not as we Know It.


I'ves been on the high-tech babble-a-tron again, and becomes as a result the first person in a long time to make sense of what the Villa manager says...

Following on from Malcolm's fly on the wall piece on Villatalk and equally fantastically (as in fantasy , not as in brilliant) , I have used a high-tech babble-a-tron to decipher the coded messages hidden in GT's recent ramblings to the press. This has taken much time and effort (I lie) but perhaps surprisingly, the results have been encouraging.

Here they are digitally enhanced and turned into plain-speak, in handy cut out and keep format.

1. We've got some good young players at the club, but they won't be ready to make up the majority of the first team for a couple of seasons yet. I want to bring in some experienced quality players to help us develop them and fill the gap.

2. Ansellis won't let me have any money to do this.

3. Some of the players here at the moment are wasters and slackers. They whinge and moan and their hearts aren't in the club. I want to sell them, but no-one is offering big money for them and Ansellis won't accept a paper loss on them, because they are worried about the share price. It's doing my head in.

4. Villa has underachieved for the past 20 odd years. Some of this is down to the various players and managers, but not all of it is. The attitude of the board is also to blame.

5. This club ought to be in a position where it attracts full houses every home game.

6. We're in a relegation battle still, with just 2 games left.

7. The way we are going, with the current attitude of the board, we are not going to do any better next year.

8. I'm not in this job for the money (unlike Ansellis) or for the long term either. I could walk away from it and leave Ansellis to take the stick if they don't change their attitude.

Does that make any sense? If so I will set the machine off on task 2 - The final instalment - The one where the words that come out of GT's mouth transmogrificate into:

"I've made a pig's arse of it, haven't I? - I've bought badly, selected badly, and employed bad tactics. I haven't sorted out the coaching, and I didn't stand up to Ansellis at the start when I should have. I resign and urge those two clowns to do the same."


Thursday, March 06, 2003

The Other Side of Life


I was going to post this in response to John Lerwill's prodigal piece, on Villatalk but it's a bit longer than i started off to intend
I agree, sadly, that GT has not proven to be up to the job. I don't think though that JL (or I) missed something last time he was manager. He did a fantastic job of restoring the club.

All human beings have strengths and weaknesses, and it seems to me that we saw a lot of GT's strengths last time, but then again he was what? 14 or so years younger.

He has always favoured a direct straightforward style of play. This worked well last time, in the era of wimbledon and the Dave Bassets and Steve Coppells, but football changes, nowhere more so than at the top of the leagues, where the best coaches of whatever era are coming up with new and different ideas and routines. GT however has spent the last 14 years failing at England (not alone there) and then in the lower divisions with Wolves and Watford, apart from one disastrous season in the prem. he hasn't been pitting his wits against Wenger and the rest and learning and changing.

When he was appointed, I thought, Oh well - that's him there then, lets give him a chance. He wasn't first choice in my eyes, but then again I didn't know who would definitely be a success given Ellis and Ansell..

Anyway, The reason I guess for our inconsistency is because whoever is manager does not have the right support from the board, so they are left to stand and fall on their own. This has meant that after a couple of seasons of a good appointment (BL, BFR, JG) each manager has been unable to continue what he has started and so has fallen away. And the bad appointments have just failed straight away (No names eh Graham, Billy and Doctor Jo) .

GT I feel sure will be wondering in his heart if he should carry on after the end of the season or not. Well he shouldn't. He won't change the board (who have got worse since Ansell joined) and he can't attract the players to compete with the top teams.

Where I disagree with John Lerwill (again) is that while losing to Small heath is awful, the defeats to Charlton, Fulham (and Sunderland, Bolton and the like) are actually a better picture of our plight. And thus in a way more disappointing. Local derbies are different - form...class etc. can be over-ruled by passion and fight and luck and character. The defeats by teams we have assumed to be "3 points to us there then" are the things that eat away at you and tell you things ain't right. They allow you to look at the tactics, selection and coaching and see what's wrong without the emotional hurt a derby defeat causes.

After 10 minutes on Monday night. My pal Allan and myself both said "it ain't working, this 4-3-3 is it?"

The midfield left outnumbered and 2 of the 3 "strikers" out of position. Barry, Hendrie and Joey always working against the odds.

I thought little Lee did quite well on two counts. 1) He kept the ball well and used it well, and 2) He kept his head. Overall he was one of our 3 better players the other 2 being Wrighty and Barry (our MoM). The rest were poor to average at best.

They were let down by the formation chosen. When Dion was on everything was hoofed up to him, and Moore and Vassel were too far away from him to pick up the flick-ons he won.

When Moose came on it was better, but then Dion lost it and it was game over.

An awful night. I left with Al shortly after the second goal. There was fighting breaking out, and the 'noses in the villa seats were being hunted out and battered. A mate and a true fan in another stand was attacked and racially abused by our own fans, (although he says other fans came to his aid, which is a tiny consolation, but no doubt does little to ease the pain).

I don't feel proud to be a Villa fan any more.

As we stepped past an unconscious bluenose lying in the deserted tea bar area of the Upper Holte and walked out of the ground, I wondered if I'll ever go back.

They'll have to do something massive to tempt me.

I spent the afternoon happily laying out the coloured cards on the seats before the game, Kate the Villa liaison person was there (and they/she treated us well) along with plenty of other eager fans giving up their time to do a tiny bit to make us proud..... and then the day was ruined.

We're turning into what Blues used to be, and while they will never be what we have been, at least they are bloody trying.

How can football make you so proud and so appalled in such a short period of time?


Sunday, January 26, 2003

Doh! Did they really say that?


Having read the transcript extracts of Mark Ansell’s interview on the radio, I thought it might be worthwhile highlighting a few points, largely by quoting from his boss, with a few other quotes from JG and Dennis Mortimer thrown in to illustrate the point that perhaps there is an opportunity being missed and a lack of clear vision in the running of our club.
The quotes and my comments are in brackets, all the rest is from John’s transcript.

Mark Ansell said, “We can only operate within the football industry. To put it in perspective Leeds last year lost £34m and their results this year are likely to be even worse, because we’re the first in the circle of reports of this current season”.

“I don’t like us being a selling club and by design if we wrote a completely new business plan we wouldn’t say that we were a selling club. 

[So perhaps a new business plan is called for then, and perhaps we should be told, as shareholders and fans what it is? Or failing that perhaps a new finance director and a new Chairman?]

‘But what’s happened is we’ve had to compete with levels of salaries & transfer fees, which have caused losses. We can’t, in the last 2 years even before this half-year; we couldn’t actually afford these salaries & transfer fees without trading & making profits on other players. So the last 2 years we were able to do that and we about washed our faces in financial terms, but you know we’re always running uphill in those terms the transfer market has disappeared now. We’ve actually made £7m less in the first half year than the previous year and that’s reflected in a bottom line loss of £8m. But our supporters shouldn’t be surprised about this. I’m not saying they should be pleased. But we have tried to communicate with them and our shareholders consistently, myself & the chairman over the last 3 years saying this is the state of affairs in the industry that cannot continue and Aston Villa has to have an eye on the medium & longer term future and you know that’s how we have to plan”.

[Dennis Mortimer, 14 jan 2002 - "There are plenty of people willing to put money into the club to buy new players. But Ellis doesn't want to lose control. - Mmmm, responsible, selfless custodians looking after the best interests of AVFC indeed.] 

“I’m afraid football has to accept that there are 3 clubs in the Premier League that 2 of them are likely to be in the top 4 most years now. The answers quite simple. Manchester United paid wages out last year of £70m. How can we pay £70m out when we only earn £30m? Now I know they say that we should actually therefore improve the business, I’m afraid these differences are enormous with Manchester United with season tickets of 50,000, Arsenal 2 years ago their wages were £40m. I think it’s estimated that they’re £65m at the moment, Liverpool about the same £65m. That is very difficult to compete with. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to try, we’re going to have to over achieve”.

[ Jan 6 2000 - Doug Ellis quoted as saying
"He (Mark Ansell)'s an accountant and he tells me banks are there to lend money, but I won't take it. It is a country boy's outlook. Never borrow money or an apple, well bought is half sold" but then 11 months later it was "If you go into the Champions League it's worth about £8 million for the first phase. Then if you get through to the second stage there is another £10 million. We are well aware of that. It is just a case of speculating to secure that. Rest assured, we are prepared to speculate..." - So what's the plan again? to speculate, or not to speculate? I think I know the answer actually, it's just that they seem a bit confused about it themselves] 

“But every now & again we actually get one of the other clubs that actually starts featuring and that’s what makes this exciting. 

[for them]

Just after the Premier League started we got our second position. Then everybody spoke about Leeds, obviously they did it by pushing the financial boat out, too far it now seems and you know we did point out that that’s what we thought was happening. Newcastle are the team of the moment. So, why can’t Villa be the team of the moment next year?”

[because Mark, you and Doug and Graham are clearly incapable of taking the steps and decisions needed for us to be the team of the moment, let alone an established top 4 club, that's why it won't be us] 

He then looks at the squad Graham Taylor took over, “Clearly that squad towards the end of John’s tenure as manager, that squad actually needed chivvying up. Graham came in and that’s what he’s had to do, he’s had to change the squad”.

[John Gregory - "I always wanted Villa to be a Champions' League side, to have a go for the title.....there was a board meeting, and I was told that we weren't going to improve the squad. I felt that on that day (with Villa top of the Premiership) we should have gone out and bought a player, even two players. It was a great day to kick on and really let people know that we'd not only gone top but that we were going to stay there. The squad needed improving, without any doubt." - so a bit of “chivvying then might have been a good idea, Mark, but it was decided not too and now look where we are.]

“People are saying well this is the best time to buy players cause the transfer markets depressed. Mark my words in the close season there’s going to be more free transfers than ever before, salaries will come down on re-negotiations and there’ll be only those few exceptional players where there’s going to be huge transfer fees and point of fact there’ll only be a few clubs that can afford it”.

[July 18 2000 Doug Ellis "It breaks my heart when ill-informed people state that Villa are somehow on the slide and incapable of competing with the leading clubs like United, Arsenal and Chelsea."]

“...this is a personal view, but our players need to get into the habit of actually being involved with European football. But, what we need to do is to have that discussion with Graham. You know Graham’s a sensible man, he will put his case, we will actually put our case. When we got into UEFA through the Intertoto Cup, I mean a lot of people would say “well the team ran out of steam in January – February”. By me, we’ve got 27 players in the first team squad and they’re running out of steam, we actually won the championship with 14 players! 

[And how many players, full internationals (not promising kids a squad number and hardly a first team game between them) were in Arsenal’s squad last year, or Man Utds the year before - surely these comparisons are more relevant, Mark?]

The position is, I believe the 3 executive directors would like to see us go into the Intertoto Cup. We’ve got the small matter of having to finish seventh or eighth before we even get to that. Graham will also have his view and that will be a discussion we will have”.

[ So as I understand this, the board’s view is that we should enter the intertoto, against the will of the manager - the football man amongst the accountants and travel Agents - is because they think that “our players need to get into the habit of actually being involved with European football”. Now GT, the man resposible for the football, thinks that entering the intertoto is detrimental to the longer term aim of a high final league placing (and thus higher merit money from Sky) and automatic qualification for Europe. What was that about short term and long term thinking? ] 

Ansell then makes it clear that we expect too much and should think back to the late sixties, “I’ve just heard Birmingham City supporters actually congratulating the board for a side that’s 3 points below us and you know will they finish above us at the end of the year? I don’t know, but Tom I hope blues stay up, but I hope we finish much higher up the league than they do. But it’s a matter of expectations.

[worth repeating this one: Doug Ellis - "It breaks my heart when ill-informed people state that Villa are somehow on the slide and incapable of competing with the leading clubs like United, Arsenal and Chelsea." - so in the 2 and a half years since Doug said that we have now come to the point where our expectations are being pointed, by Mark Ansell, at hoping to finish above the Blues in their first ever season in the Premier League] 

“I think all bets are off in the close season. Again we have to look at it again. We’ll look at the state of the transfer market & the salaries market and I think we’ll be in a good position. Because just understand that whilst we’ve lost £8m our balance sheet is still better than the majority of Premier League clubs and there’s still some high profile names that are in an awful position”.

[unlucky Darius, best of luck at Boro’]


Monday, January 13, 2003

A video and a washing machine: Liverpool Report and Ratings


Yep, time for the annual report on our trip to Theme Park Anfield.

First the thanks. Ta to big Al for driving. There was 5 of us in all. 3 in Al's car - Al, myself and a free ticket neutral pal of Al's and 2 other free ticket plastic reds from Burton on trent (nice lads though). After the usual supersonic Monro drive, we arrived in Liverpool and had a few scoops in the Arkles. From there into the ground, and the usual routine of the "Never Walk alone" pre-kick off scarf airing - I assume they are contractually obliged to do this as part of the Anfield "experience" but are asked not to make too much noise during the match itself - that's the job for the 3000 in the away corner.
The game itself does not fit into the category "Great games of our time", but like Albion Away, I enjoyed it nevertheless. A good sing song, not all anti-blues either, although the "they're coming up, they're going down..." routine is definitely catching on. I quite like it, but then it's maybe just a relief to have a new song or two.

For the first 20 minutes it was pretty even, with perhaps us just shading it, Dion missed his customary couple of half chances, but then LFC started to get more of a grip on the game. Their passing, while not adventurous and usually ending in a hopeful ball for little Michael Owen (ah God bless him) to chase did have one advantage over much of ours - which was that it was more consistently directed towards the correct coloured shirt. Jlloyd and Darius - no bows needed.

Dion was however leading the team very well indeed - winning battles with Hypia and chasing and harrying like someone 10 years younger. Barry was as we have come to expect - a couple of great balls in for the aforementioned half chances and composure on the ball.
Hendrie was using the ball well and Olof looking outstanding with RJ happily restored alongside him. But the major difference was the return of Ian Taylor for that invisible one..er...Irish...points a lot.

Sadly though As LFC took more control they scored on 37 minutes and 48 seconds from little Michael Owen (ah God bless him) lashing in after a cross had been blocked by RJ amid scouse fans appealing for handball - it was whacked at him from about 3 yards, but I've seen 'em given. Perhaps Paul Gerkin got bored of giving everything their way.

1-0 down at half time, and the only cheery though is that Liverpool are so bad that there's definite hope if we get at 'em and keep the ball a bit better.

The players were all sent out on to the pitch, as GT obviously couldn't think of anything to say to them and had lost the plot i thought. Shows me as a plum, because when LFC came out 8 minutes later and the half began, we battered 'em. With Stefan Moore on for Vassel we were right on top. Stef crossed for Ian taylor to head goalwards in front of us, but Kirkland saved very well. A downward header would have scored.
Shortly after, after the period of Villa pressure continued, we may have got a pen for a pull on Moore?, but Gerkin waved play on (as in the first half before LFC scored). Barry picked up the loose ball ran at Carragher and was brought down for a premier league penalty - it was a foul, but Barry suckered Carragher into diving in and was only too happy to be brought down.

Cue minor discussion between Dion and Hitz, who both seemed to want to take it. Dion won and Did a repeat of the baggies style shimmying run up, but this time he just managed to put it past the keeper. 1-1

Cue more pressure from Villa, where Dion headed an absolute sitter of a chance just over the angle, from a UDLC cross - he had just come on for the injured L'il Lee.

The rest of the game was even, although LFC had more possession both team had free kicks at goal - but Hitz missed, and Murphy came very very close. Gerrard hit a fantastic volley just over and as time ticked away we dug in and got a well deserved point.


Enks 7.5 two excellent saves
Jlloyd 6 not a right back. Some dodgy passing
Wrighty 6 - was Alan Wright
Olly - 9. Excellent
RJ - 7.5 - very good
L'il Lee 7
Ian Taylor - 8
Hitz 6 - poor first half, better second half
Barry 8
Dion 8.5 - not as deadly as we would like, but led the team superbly and kept going against Hyppia - Won the first 60 minutes against him, and lost the last 30
Vassel - 4 poor

Subs - Stefan Moore - 6.5 - lively, but needs to acclimatise more yet. Made carragher look like a fool twice.
UDLC - 6 ran at his full back, some good crosses. Worked well.

GT - Half time tactic worked, so well done. Why was Crouch on the bench - (0 goals) and JPA (scored in his last match) not?
Fans - good support for the team. A few more pro villa songs would be nice though.

Me - home in time for tea, and happy.



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