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Everybody's least favourite stand


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by OutByEaster?

There has been a fair amount of talk lately about the North Stand and its future. With Randy Lerner describing it as his "least favourite stand". I don't know of anybody that seems to hold a lot of love for it and it seems that change at the very least is imminent for this part of Villa Park.

Earlier this week an American Villatalk member asked why stadia in the UK were such a hotchpotch of buildings compared to the swanky super-stadia of the US. In explaining our strange footballing Arenas, a number of people found themselves resorting to a language of emotion, not architecture.

For an English football ground, the fact that each stand is different means that each stand takes on its own character, we impart upon them a soul and they mean something to all of us.

Villa Park is certainly no different; the obvious example is the famous Holte End. Can any of us say that we don't feel a frisson of excitement as we approach those imposing stairways? The Holte can lift a game, make a career, it has wit, it has scorn, and it has a roar that can raise the hairs on your neck. It's a living-breathing thing.

The Trinity Road Stand too is an emotional subject for Villa fans, for the first few years of its life it's been nothing more than the symbol of commerce overtaking beauty. Its own values ignored in favour of our scorn at what might have been. The old Trinity Road stand was Aston Villa. The new one is only just being forgiven but given time I'm sure it will gain its own character.

As for the Doug Ellis stand, well the stand itself is reasonably non-descript, but the name; mention it, and the reaction you'll get tells you everything you'll ever need to know about how we feel about Villa Park, and what these building mean to us.

Then there's the North Stand, sat at one end of the ground, its cargo a strange mixture of kids and opposition fans. It's not an attractive building, and despite the fact it is still quite young it is now the oldest part of Villa Park. When I look at it, it doesn't particularly inspire any reaction, I don't have great memories of the North Stand, nor has it ever seemed to me to be the part of the ground that inspired or lifted or created. It's just sort of 'there'.

The North Stand was born on January 19th 1977, and opened on August 27th of the same year for a game against Everton that we lost 2-1. Elvis had just died, inflation was at a dangerously high level and denim flares were much more popular than should ever be considered decent.

The offices and suites at the rear of Villa Park didn't open for another three years, and when they opened, they were considered to be at the cutting edge of stadium hospitality design. Two layers of boxes and a lavish interior that rivalled anything football had seen, it is difficult to look at it now and think that it was once considered to be one of the finest most futuristic stands in Britain.

So, the early Eighties, a time to revel in the glories of England's finest team playing in front of England's finest stand? Well, almost.

In the Eighties, the North Stand was to have an impact on Villa Park that was to help shape the clubs history for the next 20 years.

The Chairman at the time the stand was built was William Dugdale, but he'd departed almost as soon as it had been completed to be replaced by Harry Kartz, and then by Ron Bendall, the man who alongside his son Don would preside over some of the greatest years of our history.

A glorious time, but the memories were soured by the influence of the North Stand. It was Ron who oversaw the completion of the suite of offices in the North Stand with stadium manager Terry Rutter overseeing the works.

It seemed there was plenty of work to be done, and no expense was spared as costs spiralled and the club dropped into debt. The stand had cost a million pounds to build; these fittings and alterations came to £1.3 million. An internal audit found that half of this money couldn't be accounted for, and whilst this figure was later found to be incorrect, it soon became clear that all was not well with the running of the football club.

The police became involved, and the Bendall family ended its connection with Aston Villa Football Club as it became clear that Ron Bendall had conspired with members of his own staff to obtain money by deception from the Football trust. Terry Rutter was jailed, a fate that Ron escaped. He died in 1983.

So, from the best team in England playing in front of the best stand, we quickly became a debt ridden company, playing in the shadow of the building that had come to represent our own complicity in our downfall. The true cost of the North Stand it would seem was the collapse of the team and board that had taken us to our greatest successes.

There are many older and wiser than I who can explain more clearly the events of this whirlwind period in our history, my apologies if I've misrepresented any of the players, or if my facts are inaccurate. I was only ten at the time.

What now for the club and the North Stand? Well, both were in new ownership, and the Bentley outside could only mean one thing. Herbert Douglas Ellis was in town.

In the twenty-five years that Doug owned the North Stand, Villa Park undertook enormous changes, with every other stand being rebuilt. The North stand also saw changes, the cavity at its rear was filled in for more suites, the lower tier had seats added following the Taylor report and a hospitality section was added in the centre of the upper tier.

Over that time, and with fresh new siblings now all around it, the North Stand began to appear progressively more grubby, its seventies styling looking out of place, and its size increasingly becoming an issue.

Doug responded by getting planning permission for a grand new stand, although whether he ever intended to complete this project we'll never know, and in many ways the only stand that stayed with him for the whole of his second tenure at Villa Park is a much more fitting monument to his stewardship than the one he named after himself. Once ground breaking and innovative, it had become a fading anachronism, which now looked out of place in the modern football world.

Time for change.

Step forward then Randy Lerner, the latest owner of the club and its least favourite stand, this week Randy spoke about his desire to update the stadium, and to change a number of areas. Of the North Stand he said:

"When we get to the North Stand we may look at something more progressive architecturally - going from the deeply historical to the current."

I guess that means he has in mind something a lot more modern in its design than some of the other aspects of Villa Park. I'm not sure if this means a new stand or an update of the current one.

Let's see what he's got to work with:

    [*:552790b17a]The North Stand holds 7,360 supporters including its boxes. That's less than the 7,750 that can be housed in the lower Holte End.

    [*:552790b17a]Structurally its 'goalpost' style roof support means that it's very difficult to extend the stand around to fill in the corners. These supports will always be in the way, so in order to update what is already there, you'd need to first completely remove the roof and add in an alternative method of support for the new roofs structure.

    [*:552790b17a]The Stand houses many of the clubs offices and a good amount of hospitality facilities.

    [*:552790b17a]Behind the stand is the only real area of space at Villa Park; it allows room for designs to match the loftiest of ambitions.

General Krulak says:

"Redevelopment of the North Stand. The long-range plan (or our current vision) would have a major piece of work done... to include a major restructuring of both inside and out... expanding capacity and functionality. It would be nice to eventually have a brand new store in the stand... a mega-store capability."

Interesting that this suggests a re-structure rather than a re-build, especially difficult if the club plans to house a mega-store within the structure.

From a personal standpoint, I think that Villa Park is a ground with its history in brick, and I'd hope that any new North Stand would take advantage of the space to its rear to reflect the style of the old Trinity Road Stand. I'd like to think that the architectural keys in the Holte Hotel, echoed in the rear of the Holte end, and to a lesser degree at the rear of the Doug Ellis Stand will become the signature of our stadium. It's this that makes us special; I'm not a big fan of glass and steel, and I've never been a fan of brushed concrete, even if it has just been cleaned. I wonder to what extent season ticket sales this summer will influence the changes made to the North Stand, and I'm hoping that the rumoured Olympic games grant will also be able to make a positive impact.

Whatever Mr Lerner decides to do with the North Stand, he's shown a desire to things the right way so I'm sure it will be something we can all look forward to and hopefully something that quickly takes on its own character, something with a soul.

As we approach its final years, I would hope that the North Stand will be remembered, its days are numbered but it has seen good times and bad, seen off two Chairmen, numerous managers and been visited by almost every team in the league. It won't be eulogised for its beauty like the old Trinity Road Stand, nor for the memories of all our childhoods like the old Holte End, but I for one am hoping it will be remembered fondly.

It lived in interesting times.

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Another excellent OBE article.

I've only been in the stand a few times, but it's worth mentioning that while the view is good from the upper part, the legroom is poor, the internal facilities and concourse are very cramped. There's also little sense of atmosphere up there, partly becuase when you are sat up there, you feel disconnected from the rest of the ground.

Inside the stand, it's reasonable well appointed, but definitely dated in places, perhaps like an elderly person's home - clean, tidy, looked after, but not somewhere you'd really recommend. The lift is ancient and slow, the conference rooms a bit cheap and nasty - wooden surrounds bolted round 1980s Black Korean TVs just don't look right.

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I love articles like this... I sit in the North Stand quite often, as its often the cheapest, and the best thing about it is the view. 3 other massive stands all around you. Whenever I take someone to Villa Park for the first time, I always sit them in the North Stand. That way they don't actually see the "worse' stand at Villa Park! Get there early and see the empty holte gradually fill up... brilliant!

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As others have said - a great post.

I have only ever sat in there once, and we won - so from that perspective I have good memories of it, it is however very dated these days and I won't be to sad to see the back of it.

.......if only they could rebuild the Trinity!

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Fantastic piece OBE. You've always got my ear when you start talking about stadia - I'm a bit of a geek in that area.

One thing that's always bothered me though is the lack of plans available for supporters to see of what the remodelling of the North Stand would actually look like. All I've ever seen is that exterior artist's impression which shows a big over-hanging roof. Although by the sound of it the Ellis plans will probably never come to fruition, does anyone have any pictures of what the proposed remodelation would have looked like from the inside?

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I am confused by what the club are saying, personally I would not spend another penny on it, rip it down and start again.

The seats in he upper and lower tier are fair too narrow, the facilities are amongst the worse in the league and there is no space to do much with this.

It has to go ad if randy is prepared to pay and create a stand worthy of what s the main stand at VP, I am all for it.

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Bring back the brick ! Bring back the brick ! Bring back the brick !

Ian,

I couldn't agree more, to update the North Stand you'd have to take away the roof, its supports, re-model the rear which looks poor, and find a way to model the profile to match the seating in the Trinity. Surely it would just make good sense to start again ?

Still, it's a challenge I'm looking forward to seeing Randy and co tackle. The Bendalls fell on it, Doug didn't seem to know quite what to do with it, Randy has a chance to make a statement. The development of the North Stand will be another good sign post as to where the club is headed.

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I thought about filling in the corner, but as the Trinity and the Witton Lane Stand are different sizes, it would make that corner of the stadium look a bit uneven, like Stamford Bridge or St James' Park. If one corner is filled in, the other should be too. That way the ground would look like a 'U' with the trinity, north and witton lane stands being a bowl and the Holte standing separate. The would look wicked, with the advantage that the air can still get in to aid the pitch.

My new Villa Park.

The current ground

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What a great article, thanks for that OBE.

I'm with Ian on this one, rip the thing down and start again. Of course, the financial aspects of such a move are huge so perhaps it's something we need to revisit in the future. For now I can't see much point in a major refit, just give it a lick of paint and be done with it.

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Dave, when the away fans move next season the lower tier needs work donw to bring it up to scratch so I can understand work there (believe there will be a proper entrance ont he corner flag side). But within the fabric of the building there is not much I believe that could be done due to space so is say £2m now well spent against the £20 old mil spent on a brand new stand with new offices, megastore, modern corporate facilities and museum

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I thought about filling in the corner, but as the Trinity and the Witton Lane Stand are different sizes, it would make that corner of the stadium look a bit uneven, like Stamford Bridge or St James' Park. If one corner is filled in, the other should be too. That way the ground would look like a 'U' with the trinity, north and witton lane stands being a bowl and the Holte standing separate. The would look wicked, with the advantage that the air can still get in to aid the pitch.

Interestingly enough, that sounds somewhat like Ohio Stadium, home of The Ohio State University's Buckeyes.

ohio-stadium2.jpg

columbus_ohio2.jpg

2001seating.gif

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Would be quite shit sitting in 31a now wouldnt it :nod:

I'm not advocating that Villa Park be developed into something like that (though if Villa ever get to the point where a 104k capacity can be sold out on a regular basis...). I just found it interesting that the horseshoe (which, near as I can tell is not exactly a standard football architectural form) was proposed and that one of the more notable examples of that stadium shape belongs to Ohio.

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