Aston Villa may have lost their place at the top table of English football, but a trip to Villa Park is still one of the most special in English football.
It might not be new, it might not be shiny, it might not even host FA Cup semi-finals any more, but the Villa Park matchday experience can still make your hairs stand on end.
Here are a selection of photos to help explain why…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I also brought him to task about soaking me through on one of my visits. Great chance for a picture, though….
Alan Green missed this. European Cups and local legends literally falling out of the brickwork…
…with modern fan culture never too far away.
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.
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…
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.
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.
But then, it’s not second division within the Holte. Go to your seat and you’ll play your part in the flag display…
…you’ll stand with Lions…..
…and you’ll see life unfold….
…among the names of the present…
…and the legends of the past.
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.
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?
Of course you don’t, because at the end of the storm, always, is a golden sky.
And I leave you with this. Under the floodlights. Big atmosphere. Big ground. Big football club. Big history. Big Future. Class, is indeed, permanent.