What Makes A Club: 21 photos to show the magic of a Villa Park matchday

In Depth

Aston Villa may currently be a Championship club, but a trip to Villa Park is still one of the most special in English football. Here are a selection of photos to help explain why…

If you ask any Villa fan for the most important date in their club’s history, no matter whether they were alive to see it, they will probably say the night in 1982 when they beat Bayern Munich to win the European Cup.

But what about August 19, 2006? It was the day Villa drew 1-1 at Arsenal in the first competitive game at Emirates Stadium and, more importantly for those of a Claret and Blue persuasion, the first game of the Randy Lerner era. After the parsimonious reign of Doug Ellis, here was the money man.

For the first time in a good while, Villa fans had real hope. They were going back to the very top of the game. It was just a matter of time. Surely, that feeling, that expectation, has shaped their perspective on everything that followed.

The Lerner era started well, but as his interest waned, so too did the investment. Albeit even the most pessimistic Villan could not have foreseen that, 10 years after they went to the Emirates baying for blood, they would line up in the second division. I can’t think of a set of fans who have endured in the last few years quite like this lot.

The tide appears to be turning, but whatever happens this season, let’s all be thankful that a trip to Villa Park remains wonderful…

1) Ace up their sleeve

I love this. Tattoos and football kits is a very modern combination. But they’re proper fans round here. All walks of life and real cross-section of society. A grand old football club sat in an area of town that has seen better days.

Alan Green once described the walk to Villa Park in negative terms. The Villa fans let him know how they felt. No matter how modern the tastes of the fans, they know their history.

2) Aston (Villa)

I mean, look at this place! How can you not be taken in by the grandeur of Villa Park? Simon Inglis, my stadia-loving hero is a Villa fan. I can see why. This is Buckingham Palace, this is Lords Cricket Ground. This is Charlie and the bloody chocolate factory. This is Villa Park.

3) This is Aston

To be fair, Alan Green did have a point: Aston is tired and frayed round the edges. But the working class honesty of the area is the perfect backdrop, magnifying the magnificence of Villa Park sitting amongst it.

4) Friends in high places

The other great landmark of Aston is this magnificent church. Visible from the expressway as you make your way into Birmingham, the spire and Villa’s Holte End mosaic are the perfect romantic pair on the landscape. Its a des red indeed when you have God as your neighbour.

5) He sees everything…

And God is a Villa Fan. I met him at an away game once. He goes every week. He says he’s sorry about the relegation.

6) Boulevard of Broken Dreams

I also brought him to task about soaking me through on one of my visits. Great chance for a picture, though….

7) History in the bricks

Alan Green missed this. European Cups and local legends literally falling out of the brickwork…

8) Local Heroes

…with modern fan culture never too far away.

9) Holte End

How could we not mention this wonderful façade? If only its neighbour on the Trinity Road hadn’t been flattened, all in the name of progress. One of my only footballing regrets is that I never sat in the old Trinity Road before its demolition.

Here’s the Holte on a matchday. Not dressed up, photoshopped or any of that fancy business. It looks this good as standard.

10) Tango’d

The wonderful thing about Villa Park is that there are still scruffy corners where you can take atmospheric photos. Try finding this much grub at the Emirates. Go on…

11) Roll up Roll up

There’s always a burger van parked right in front of the picture postcard shots too. Guess I’ll just have to make the best of it.

12) Reality

And on my last visit, as I went into the Holte, I saw the thing I never thought I’d see. For despite the magnificent surroundings. I was at a second division fixture.

The badge on the sleeve says it all. It should inspire the players more than anything else. They should be working every week to ensure that the iconic Villa shirt should no longer have to endure being branded in that way.

13) Under the flag

But then, it’s not second division within the Holte. Go to your seat and you’ll play your part in the flag display…

14) Part of the Pride

…you’ll stand with Lions…..

15) Date night

…and you’ll see life unfold….

16) JT

…among the names of the present…

17) Ugo

…and the legends of the past.

18) Form is temporary…

You’ll pray that this banner is accurate. That the history will carry you forward to a brighter future than a 0-0 against Brentford at home.

19) Do you want to exit?

The signs behind you will tease you? Do you want to exit? Do you want to walk away from the club when it needs you the most? Do you want to leave them in the second division?

20) At the end of the storm?

Of course you don’t, because at the end of the storm, always, is a golden sky.

21) Under the lights

And I leave you with this. Under the floodlights. Big atmosphere. Big ground. Big football club. Big history. Big Future. Class, is indeed, permanent.

By This Is My Love

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