We take a look at the few days in which the Villa faithful took over Minnesota.
Words by Mark Jirobe | @VillaMarkPGH
Aston Villa traveled to the United States this past week for a pre-season friendly against Minnesota United and the storied travelling Villa supporters did not disappoint in numbers or passion.
Villa supporters descended upon Minneapolis, Minnesota earlier in the week to take in the atmosphere at Brit’s Pub, not too far from Allianz Field where the match was to be played. Brit’s Pub became the premier location for all of the travelling faithful and believe me when I say Aston Villa took over this great and magnificent facility. The pub itself is an absolutely gorgeous place, massive in size and was perfect for the massive following of Aston Villa loving crazies.
Minnesota Aston Villa Lions Club Chairman Darren Tibbets, with the help of other Lions Club Chairs such as Simon Tissington, Simon Leach and Rick Leong, worked very hard to make sure the travelling support for Aston Villa had a marvellous place to enjoy themselves and an even more marvellous experience. Darren also made certain that Villa supporters had an easy way to and from the game via rented coaches. An incredible four busses were packed en route to Allianz Field and that is something to be mightily proud about. The Minnesota Lions were amazing hosts and have left an indelible imprint on many Villa supporters. Needless to say, if anyone who attended this game finds themselves in Minneapolis in the future, Brit’s Pub will be the first stop.
Supporters traveled from all corners of the globe to see this pre-season friendly, many of them trekking a long way via car and airlines. For a large percentage of traveling North American Aston Villa supporters this would be the very first time they would be able to watch the club they love, live and in the flesh.
Pending Winnipeg Lions Club Chairwoman Brittany Klein was quoted as saying:
“It can be very challenging for North American supporters to get to Villa Park.
This match was extremely important in that it allowed people to travel to an easily accessible city to watch our beloved club. There were people from all corners of the US and Canada who were able to drive or fly and share the experience and passion with their family and friends.
There were many families there and it was so wonderful to witness passionate Villa supporters passing down their love of the Villa to their children and creating the next generation of supporters.
It was a great way to reunite with old friends and to network and connect with other supporters that may not have had a large Villa experience before.”
Lions Clubs Chairs that were in Minnesota on Monday were invited to an exclusive training session where they were able to watch Villa players train and meet some of their heroes.
This was a massive moment for those who work tirelessly to promote the good name of Aston Villa in North America and beyond. Every player and member of the coaching staff took time to pose for photographs with everyone who wanted one, and who wouldn’t have wanted one?
It was also massive that Aston Villa allowed players to sign Villa apparel, which some will be auctioned off to donate to Acorns. More information on the link between the auction and the relationship with Acorns a little bit later.
Singing well into the night on Monday, Villa supporters who stuck around were treated to none other than Aston Villa manager Dean Smith, who popped into Brit’s Pub for a pint and to speak with the traveling fans. This is a great credit to the man that Dean Smith is.
He was under no obligation to venture out and meet with supporters in that kind of casual setting, but he did anyways.
Smith talked with supporters about a bevy of club matters, past and present, and everyone who was fortunate enough to be a part of this spoke at length how amazing of a moment it was.
On Tuesday, Villa supporters that belong to a Lions Club were treated by invitation to a private tour of Allianz Field, the brand new stadium of Minnesota United. Allianz Field was modelled after the stadium of the same vein where Bayern Munich play in Germany. Allianz Field in Minneapolis is truly a beautifully put together stadium that is state of the art, where the architecture mirrors something you would see at a massive European football club and does not look out of place in Minneapolis whatsoever. The Minnesota United supporters must be awfully proud of the place in which they call home and for good reason.
Aston Villa Lions Club Chairwoman Lindsay Williams was very complimentary of the experience of touring the two-hundred million dollar facility:
“Allianz Field is a lovely stadium.
The design was very well thought out with the fans in mind.
There’s not a bad seat in the house which gives a feeling of connection with the players; while the sweeping lines of itss roof nod to the grandiosity of the sport.”
The fun intensified on Tuesday night at Brit’s Pub. As the Villa faithful were rapidly settling into hotels and other lodgings, Brit’s became a cauldron of Claret & Blue. There was boisterous singing, there was bountiful amounts of beer and there were hugs to be had. A touch of class, on the television in the main bar, Brit’s Pub showed Villa games from yesteryear and even played a few of our friends in The Villa View’s podcast.
The camaraderie on display was a sight to behold. Domestic North American Aston Villa supporters are a tight-knit bunch and it showed throughout the entire experience. Once per year, North American Lions Clubs decide on where to host a ‘meet-up’ in a city in North America. Over the years, the attendance has grown just as much as the friendships and love for each other. It is a testament to how much Aston Villa means to people. It matters not how much time has passed between seeing each other, there was definitely family feeling among the supporters throughout the entirety of the few days in Minneapolis.
With groggy minds, yet very full hearts, Villa fans had to get just a few hours of shut-eye before getting back up on Wednesday morning and returning to Brit’s Pub at 9:30am local time for the launch of the 2019/2020 away kit. If you ever had a doubt to just how important this kit launch was for the traveling Aston Villa faithful, have a look below… that’s 175 Villans waiting to be let into Brit’s Pub to take in the kit launch.
Aston Villa’s media team were on hand to host a kit reveal video upstairs at Brit’s Pub, which was helped on by Chicago Lions Club Chairman Simon Leach. As soon as the video was over, Simon revealed that he would be shaving off his magnificent beard live at the pub.
He urged all Villans in attendance to donate whatever funds they could afford to help Acorns Children’s Hospice in England. Maryland Lions Club Chairwoman Lindsay Williams was up for the task of walking around with a donation pitcher, and the Villa faithful dug deep into their pockets for such a worthy cause. The relationship between Acorns and Aston Villa is storied and very well respected by those who feel close to the Midlands club.
Some of the apparel that was signed at the meet-and-greet on Monday will be auctioned off when North American Lions Club members meet in San Francisco, with every single cent gained by the auction being donated to Acorns. For the meet-up auction, there is a boot signed by Jack Grealish, a boot signed by John McGinn and two gloves (that will be auctioned separately) signed by all three keepers. All these were graciously donated by Simon Tissington, the Chairman of the San Diego Lions Club (@avfcsandiego). Massive respect to Simon for donating these items!
For more information about the 7th Annual North American Lion Meet-Up (September 13th through the 16th), please head over to the group Facebook page: 7th Annual North American Lions Club Meet-Up. I personally attended my first meet-up last year in New York City, and I can say without a sliver of doubt that if you’re a Villa supporter and able to go, you should 100% do so!
California Lions Club Chairman Rick Leong (@avfccalifornia) is incredibly excited to be hosting the meet-up in September and had this to say about the storied relationship between Acorns and the North American Lions: “Acorns is a charity close to the heart of every North American Villan.
People can participate by, of course, buying raffle tickets/participating in the live auction at the San Francisco meet-up, but they can also participate by donating a raffle or auction item.
Most items are Villa-related gift items and memorabilia. This year there will be signed items that were collected at the pre-season training session in Minneapolis.
So if you have a great Villa-themed item to donate – contact me to let me know!”
Simon Leach then also revealed that none other than Christian Purslow, the Chief Executive Officer of Aston Villa, would be on hand for a question-and-answer interview. The excitement of Wednesday was building at this point, barely before 11 in the morning. As Villa supporters queued to purchase the new home kit, most stuck around for an early lunch, an early pint, or in the case of the traveling Worcester Lions, a lot of early pints. Fabulous support shown by the Worcester Lions and they should be applauded by all!
As the time towards kick-off crawled closer and closer, more and more Villans were showing up to Brit’s Pub. At one point, it seemed like you were just slowly wading through an ocean of Claret & Blue. All of the classic Aston Villa songs were sung at maximum volume and even some of the people who were merely at Brit’s Pub for lunch seemed to get in on the action. It is a great compliment to the staff at Brit’s Pub that they were able to efficiently serve the mass of Villa supporters and their commitment to making sure we were taken care of is very, very appreciated.
It wasn’t long after the away kit reveal that Christian Purslow sat down with Villa supporters and current Minnesota United broadcaster Callum Williams. Villa supporters packed into the clubhouse portion of Brit’s Pub to listen to fan-submitted questions for Aston Villa’s CEO. We at Under A Gaslit Lamp were the only outlet to record the audio of the entire question and answer portion with Mr. Purslow and you can listen to the audio here.
Simon Leach stuck to his word and his viking-like beard was shaved completely off, all in the name of raising money for Acorns Children’s Hospice. And just when you thought that was outrageous enough, he told the mass of Villa supporters watching it happen that he would shave his eyebrows off if he received even more donations. At final tally, $2,000 was raised, including $350 more from renting the coaches and just like that… the eyebrow ceased to exist.
This money will be held until after the aforementioned auction that’s happening in San Francisco. If you’d like to donate funds to be donated to Acorns, please donate to Simon Leach via PayPal or Venmo at email@example.com.
This is around the time where the cheerfulness and the songs really started to get ramped up. A massive collection of Villa supporters gathered downstairs at Brit’s to stretch their lungs in the name of Aston Villa while they awaited the four coaches to take them to Allianz Field.
In true Aston Villa fashion, flocks of supporters quickly finished their beverages and walked across the street with pride in their hearts.
Upon arriving to Allianz Field, all four busloads slowly started making their way towards the entrance in full song. I wish I could replicate or try to explain the looks on the faces of the Minnesota United supporters when The Villa arrived on their doorstep. It is not a slight on them in saying that, it is understandable that they have never witnessed a passionate and large fan base such as Aston Villa. They were incredible hosts for such an occasion, even if it was a pre-season friendly for Villa as they prepare for life back in the Premier League. The looks of total bewilderment on the faces of the United supporters will forever be ingrained into my brain, and I still don’t know how in the world I kept Villa supporter Kevin Hunter on my shoulder for so long as we marched on towards the ground. The power of passion will always be a force to be reckoned with.
Once corralled inside of the ground, Villa supporters were sure to grab a beer or two and quickly make their way to their seats in Sections 108 and 109. Simon Leach knows for fact that the two sections given to Villa supporters added up to 340, with another estimated 400 scattered across the ground. It was a truly unique sound to hear Villa supporters in full song leading up to kickoff, and you could really feel just how much this meant to every single person wearing Claret & Blue.
With Villa fielding two different teams during each half, there was quite a bit of excitement over seeing new signings such as Wesley, Matt Targett, Ezri Konsa, Frederic Guilbert and Jota. But as usual, Villa talisman Jack Grealish made an impact in the 36th minute. Grealish slotted a beautiful curling effort past the hand of the Minnesota United goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
The line of sight from the Villa supporters section was perfect, and you could get a very good look at just how much bend Grealish put on the strike. There was a moment of split-second static-like silence before the ball dipped into the net. At least that’s how I remember it. And then…eruption. If you would have told myself and select others in January that they would see a Jack Grealish goal in the flesh before the end of the year, they may have had a laugh.
Yet, there we were… jumping, screaming, hugging the closest body next to us, spilling beer all over the shop. It was a sound that will not soon be forgotten by those who have never made it over to Villa Park to take in a game. The scorer being our very own Jack Grealish made it all the more sweeter.
The start of the second half brought on rejuvenated energy by the Villa faithful, but they would have to wait a while to see another goal. Villa newboy Frederic Guilbert assisted on a Henri Lansbury effort in the 82nd minute. The delivery from Guilbert was good enough to be surprising to a large percentage of Villa supporters in attendance. While only preseason, it was a joy to see live that a new acquisition has that kind of skill in his locker. The Frenchman’s blistering pace was also noted by supporters in the crowd as well.
With the victory in the preseason game in the bag, Birkir Bjarnason put away an Andre Green cross to make it 3-0 to the Villans in the 86th minute. Bjarnason actually had quite the performance, even though he only featured for 45 minutes in the second half.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Icelandic midfielder fill the gap left behind by the release of Mile Jedinak and Glenn Whelan if he can continue to work hard in a central defensive midfield role.
At the full-time whistle, Aston Villa fans cheered for their team and yet again broke out into verse. They asked Dean Smith for a wave, and they received one. They asked John Terry for a wave, they received one as well. The entire team walked over to the far side of the pitch to clap the traveling support.
Dean Smith was blown away at just how many Aston Villa supporters showed up to Minnesota:
“When I first came out, there were just claret and blue shirts all around the ground.
It’s great to see they travelled so far.
I’m sure they’ll have enjoyed themselves after being at the pub for so long.”
But the full-time whistle didn’t stop the festivities for the Villa fans. They were not going to quietly walk out of the ground with their heads down. Not after what they have been through in the past year or so. You could feel the pain they have been carrying around flow from the depths of their souls and into the air via singing on the concourse immediately after the game.
After losing in the 2018 Championship Play-Off Final, wind-up notices, new owners, new coaching staff and then winning the next seasons Playoff Final.. .there was a little bit of angst that needed and deserved to be released.
Once more, all of the classics were sung. Someone threw an entire box of popcorn into the air to “Birmingham Is Full Of Fun” (refuse to name the culprit), shirts were off and being waved around heads (have a bit of that!), and the Villa die-hards were proving yet again why they are known for some of the best away support the world has ever seen.
Once security had enough of what one called “shenanigans”, Villa supporters burst out into “We’ll leave when we want, we’re Aston Villa, we’ll leave when we want.” It was all in good fun and even the Minnesota security staff seemed to get a laugh out of it. It was in fact time to get back on the bus and return to Brit’s Pub, but not before clapping the exiting Minnesota United supporters. They clapped back in respect of what they had witnessed and it was a moving show of appreciation for both sets of supporters outside of Allianz Field. Fair play to all involved.
The bus ride back to the pub was much more quiet. Everyone’s voice was hoarse from singing, sunburn was starting to set-in… but, we knew the sanctity of The Brit would cure those ails. Slowly but surely, supporters of the claret and blue came in to have one more pint and bid their farewells to their friends and family that they will see again at some point. Moments like these are vital for a football club moving forward, and that is exactly what Aston Villa are doing at the moment.
Darren Tibbets, the host Chairmen of these three days of Villa paradise said:
“Moments I won’t forget? The whole affair.
The training session, the flood of Villans in Brits Pub, the flags, the everpresent singing, and the camaraderie.
Three days of claret and blue bliss.”
If you happen to find yourself reading this in North America, I strongly urge you to join a Lions Club. If there isn’t one close to you, join the closest one. If there isn’t one close enough for your liking, create one. You can do this on the official Aston Villa website under the Lions Club tab, or go to this link.
The North American Lions have been fighting for a long time to show Aston Villa that we are here, we are proud, we are loud and we are passionate. Gaining numbers within our Lions Clubs will ensure that we are given more chances to see Villa on this side of the world, invited to more things such as the training sessions, kit reveals, Q&A’s with executives such as Christian Purslow.
If you should still find yourself lost with finding/creating a Lions Club, do not panic. If you have Facebook, you can go to the Aston Villa America group. Any of us there can point you in the right direction.
This whole experience was fantastic and I cannot say enough about it, as Cincinatti Lions Club Chairman Matthew Long put it:
“It was a Villa match moved 4,000 miles west, 40 degrees warmer, the pre-match party lasted 2 days and I think everyone in Birmingham would be very proud of us!”
I think so too, Matt.
Yeah, I think so too.
You can view more pictures here: