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Posted by: OutByEaster? on Monday, October 27, 2008 - 10:54 PM

Sunday's News of the World carried a story by Dan Evans that declared that Aston Villa had committed an act bound to bring disgrace upon the club, its supporters and its board.

“A Top football club has cruelly snubbed Remembrance Day heroes – by BANNING poppy sales from their ground” it read.

An emotive piece followed, carefully constructed by Mr Evans to stress the great shame we should feel in being associated with the club, and the outrage that we would make such a decision and turn our backs on those fighting for our freedom.

The facts?

Well, it’s true to say that the club won’t be allowing the sale of Poppies on its premises from salesmen on matchday.

I’m not sure that in itself justifies the papers reaction.

What’s also true is that there is nothing stopping Poppy sales at all of the entranceways to Villa Park; at the North Stand gates, at the gates to the Trinity Road stand, at the foot of the stairs on the Witton Lane next to the Holte, at the gates of the Holte on the Trinity Road side, in fact, in just about any of the places that every single person will pass through on matchday.

You can also pick up your Poppy in the club shop, on the premises; right under the noses of those who it’s alleged would prevent you buying one!

Is that enough though to excuse this club of ours the heinous crime of not allowing the salesmen unfettered access, have we no care for this countries veterans?

Well, I have one or two other things I’d like you to consider:

Last year the club welcomed The Royal Staffordshire Regiment home from the Gulf with a VIP day at Villa Park, the soldiers were applauded all the way around the pitch prior to kick off and were given free tickets and hospitality as a mark of our appreciation.

That’s part of an ongoing link between our club and the military that includes discounts on tickets to all servicemen and strong links with local regiments.

In fact we’re probably the most military friendly club in the country and the club felt strongly enough about the News of the Worlds piece to release a statement on the matter.

"Villa can confirm that - contrary to newspaper reports - there will be support for the Royal British Legion at the home game with Middlesbrough on Sunday November 9.

The club's charity partner Acorns will hold the collection for both causes - splitting the proceeds 50-50.

The club will, as usual, also have poppies on sale in the club shop.

Villa are also pleased to announce a link-up with HMS Daring enabling sailors from Birmingham's navy ship to wear claret and blue kits in inter-force competitions.

Villa also have special ticket deals for members of the armed forces and have recently set up a British Forces Lions Club."

Board member and former head of the US Marine Corps, General Charles C Krulak was also moved to respond, telling this very website;

"The Poppy Appeal: I confess to being somewhat surprised by the News of the World article. Having served in the Forces for 35+ years, fought in Vietnam on two tours of duty (wounded in action twice), and fought in Desert Storm, I doubt if anyone appreciates the sacrifice of our fallen warriors more than I do.

Randy, whose father was a Marine Officer, has visited troops in Iraq and has supported both US and UK Forces in many "unheralded" ways equally has the deepest admiration for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

As many will see, there will be a guard of honour at the Middlesbrough game, money collected by acorns will be divided equally between acorns and the Poppy Appeal, and, as has been the case since Randy took over the Club, all members of the Forces will be able to obtain discounted tickets.

We have NOT publicized any of this because we do not believe in tooting our own horns.

Just please know that YOUR Club would NEVER disrespect those who ARE serving or HAVE served...and certainly not those who have laid down their lives for their Country. God Bless them and their loved ones who have been left behind.

We owe them our MOST precious possession...our FREEDOM!!!"

So, there you have it, a club that has “cruelly snubbed Remembrance Day heroes” or not?

The answer seems clear enough to me.

This begs the question then, what inspired the poison pen of Mr Evans?

I’ve been thinking about that, and I think I can provide at least part of a solution.


Compare and contrast if you will, Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa and in particular Messrs Levy and Lerner.

Mr Levy and his new manager are always happy to spare a little time for the boys from the press, I’ve seen the chairman’s face on Sky Sports News all week, and his manager is so keen to please those journalists with columns to fill and stories to write that he’s been interviewed eleven million times in three days since taking over at Spurs, and has even gone as far as being generous enough as to call up Sky Sports’ news desk at gone midnight on Saturday as the story broke.

There have been some negative stories about Spurs performances this season, but I don’t think we’ve seen many about Mr Redknapp or Mr Levy.

Randy Lerner of course is a more private man; he neither craves nor welcomes the attentions of the press and indeed has led the way in taking an altogether more pertinent step in sidelining them altogether.

Daniel Levy has written an open letter to Spurs fans this week, explaining his decision of the past year and the situations that the club has been through. It’s a bold and clear direct communication to the fans.

Randy Lerner wouldn’t do that.

He wouldn’t have to; Villa fans get day-by-day news and information directly from the board through General Krulak. His posts on message boards and Internet sites are a clear step in the evolution of communication between clubs and fans.

Not happy with ticketing? Ask the General. Not satisfied with the catering? Ask the General. Need help with information on the club? Ask the General. Kids clubs? Ask the General. Need advice on just about anything Aston Villa related? Ask the General.

It works. As fans, we get straightforward honest answers direct from the horse’s mouth and we get them every single day.

The press don’t like it one bit.

We’ve already seen this problem rear it’s ugly head in the increasingly troubled relationship between local journalists and the club, they’ve been spoon fed exclusives for years, now the spoon goes straight into the mouths of the fans.

No one becomes a sports journalist for hard work.

So we get pieces like this one from Mr Evans, deliberately sensational, factually dubious, and ridden with an emotional language designed for one purpose and one purpose only.

They are the cry of a spoilt child, desperate for an attention that is currently being laboured on us the supporters.

The British press wants access to Randy Lerner, they want scoops, they want exclusives, they want to know first; the club tells them and they tell us, that’s how it works, and woe betide anyone who tries to do it differently.

The question has become whether the board will indulge this child or continue to ignore it.

It’s a difficult path and one made even more treacherous by the sad fact that the British press is a child that will never reach maturity. No matter how much attention is lavished on them it will never be enough.

Mr Lerner is far from being niaïve in this matter, and I would imagine he has put careful thought into his strategy for dealing with the British press. Stories like Sundays are sadly something that we might have to put up with while the press adjust to that.

I’m sure they’ll all be looking for a shot of Mr Lerner wearing his poppy on 9th November. I’ll be wearing mine and I’m sure that thousands of Villa fans will be too. We are none of us in the business of forgetting the sacrifices of those that got us here, nor should we.

It is shameful to suggest that the colour of a football shirt might denote our feelings in that regard.

In finishing, I think it’s right to remind Mr Evans that the freedom of the press was won on the blood of those soldiers he so willingly manipulates to his ends, I would hope that he might think about that in future before using the emotion of their suffering to sell his tawdry newspaper.

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I last visited England over 12 years ago and whilst there I was horrified by the level to which the British media had descended.I found them to be completely immoral, gutless and totally disinterested in either truth or a good story.

I am delighted that the Club responded to that paper which only appeals to the brain dead.

Great letter.


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Great piece, but on the reasons why this story was written in the first place - I suspect nothing more than it's an easy story for a lazy, fact-dodging journalist to write.

And that's speaking as a former journalist myself (maybe lazy but hopefully not fact-dodging).

I'm sure the journalist was aware of at least some of the other details that have emerged but why let that ruin a 'good' story?

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Great article. As a member of the Armed Forces and a season ticket holder, I emailed the 'reporter' and pointed out the great work that the club does for us military types (which other clubs and indeed companies do this?) and suggested that, if he had any decency, he would issue an apology and make a large donation to the Poppy Appeal AND Acorns.

Good point re the freedom of press by the way. I cannot stand the fact the vast majority of people in this country now blindly believe anything they read in 'newspapers' or see on tv.

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A great article... Shame the British press can't put out such articles. I have always hated the british press and felt I was doing my intellect a disservice by reading the tabloid trash. But like so many I give into the titilation it serves up. Following sundays "poppy" article the NOTW is now banned from my house.

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A great article... Following sundays "poppy" article the NOTW is now banned from my house.

That's the way to go. That kind of reporting is a disgrace.

I wonder though whether the reporter spoke to the club to check his "facts". I guess if he did, then he'd not have had an article to write that would suit that type of rag.

Don't give 'em your money, they're a disgrace.

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A great article... Following sundays "poppy" article the NOTW is now banned from my house.

That's the way to go. That kind of reporting is a disgrace.

I wonder though whether the reporter spoke to the club to check his "facts". I guess if he did, then he'd not have had an article to write that would suit that type of rag.

Don't give 'em your money, they're a disgrace.

I must protest, and speak up in defence of the journalist concerned.

He was acting entirely in keeping with a tradition laid down over the last hundred years or more, and endorsed week in and week out by the Great British Public. His upbringing, his training, his management, and the feedback he gets from people continuing to buy the paper he writes for, is almost exclusively pointing in one direction: it's ok to make up stories composed entirely of lies, if it sells papers and entertains the public, or gives them cause to feel self-satisfied while reinforcing their existing irrational prejudices.

There are many stories like this. Refugees living in the lap of luxury (00s). Immigrants taking our jobs (90s, but pretty well every decade before that as well). Flying pickets (80s). Black muggers (70s). Dole claimants who get tvs provided via furniture grants if the tv sets have doors (60s).

What can poor Dan do, but continue a long tradition which far predates him and will long outlive him?

We complain about one story which falsely puts our club in a bad light, but this is like a grain of sand in the Sahara. It's entirely representative of how papers like this act all the time, in every respect. Expecting them to take the slightest notice of complaints is completely futile.

So little Dan, so intent on climbing the greasy pole of equally brain-dead incompetents, will not and cannot change his conditioning at our bidding. He'll continue to churn out siimilar stuff until he dies or is pensioned off, because the popular press in this country will continue to provide a market for his limited abilities and even more constrained moral values.

What to do? Don't buy the paper. Encourage the club to go to the Press Commission (pretty toothless, but it's a gesture). But as for numpties like little Dan, I suspect they are far removed from the capacity to understand and accept responsibility for what they do, so perhaps we should just feel sorry for him. Or maybe hold a collection.

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