For a club the size of Aston Villa, the coverage of their academy at both U23 and U18 level is incredibly poor – raising a number of questions.
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An area of ongoing frustration for ourselves and others for some time. Criticising the club is never an easy thing to do – but we have to ask, what on earth is going on with Aston Villa’s coverage of their youth set-up?
It’s a debate that has been flagged up on social media of late, as supporters struggle to get an ounce of information out of the pitches, halls and corridors of Villa Park and Bodymoor Heath.
Some years ago, the club excelled at the coverage of the Academy. Jack Woodward would provide live commentary via the paid subscription service AVTV, whilst the club would also live tweet, provide minute-by-minute updates on the website, and when playing at home, live streams would be provided for viewers on one of three platforms, AVTV, YouTube, or Facebook.
Nowadays at times, not even a team line-up is shared on social media – leaving supporters who already enjoy following the second string or want to get interested in it scratching their heads at why our club don’t see it as being ‘worthwhile’ to inform supports about the literal future of our football club.
When Aston Villa were relegated from the Premier League in 2016, the media department faced cuts and restructuring took place. Aston Villa went free-to-air on YouTube, following in the footsteps of other clubs, whilst Jack Woodward departed and was replaced on Aston Villa’s own commentary by James Fielden. Members of staff more often known for their journalism and other media-related work, were tasked with running a new look AVTV and YouTube set-up.
Since then, Aston Villa have provided free-to-air Press Conferences, Player Features and New Signing Interviews on their YouTube channel. During this time, the coverage of the Aston Villa Women has improved (the club could provide more funding to improve it further) – but the Academy has been left behind in this regard.
Granted, only a few hundred people turn up to watch the Academy games live. But it is such a big part of a football club, and a big part of our football club. Some of these players will be the future of Aston Villa, like Gabriel Agbonlahor, Gary Cahill and Jack Grealish before them. For Aston Villa to provide no coverage is very poor.
Over the last year, we’ve noticed that other clubs like Swansea City and Sunderland provide top live streams – commentary and video replays included – for their Academy sides. Sometimes we don’t even get a tweet to tell us we’re playing.
Last weekend is a prime example. Aston Villa played away against Sunderland in the Premier League 2, with our boys running out 2-1 winners. Sunderland, now a League One side, managed to provide a live stream with commentary, regular tweets and comprehensive post-match coverage. We, on the other hand, received a solitary tweet telling us what the score was, followed by a single sentence quote from coach Mark Delaney about how pleased he was about the result.
This is Aston Villa. A once-more Premier League club, with all the riches on offer that smaller clubs aren’t fortunate enough to have. Another example comes from just the last weekend, where Academy player Kaine Kesler tweeted to an unofficial Chelsea Twitter account to try and get photographs from the U18 Saturday Lunch Time game. Why are we not providing this kind of thing as a club?
There’s also the severe lack of interest in updating the website for Youth Player Profiles or similar things.
We (Under A Gaslit Lamp) try to bring Academy coverage as and when we can. We’ve provided match reports, information on structural changes, and even broke the news of a certain former player joining the Academy coaching set-up. Most home games are covered with a match report, but away games are notoriously difficult for us to attend – especially as we all have jobs outside of UAGL.
Whilst it is good that ourselves (and others) try to provide fan-led content in regard to the Academy, it would be great for Aston Villa to provide supporters with real, top-level coverage. It’s the least the fans deserve, but more importantly, it’s the least the players deserve as they strive to make a name for themselves for Aston Villa.
Note from the editor:
Just as I was about to publish this, I found that the only ‘announced’ coverage of the U23 side’s EFL Trophy game against the Salford City FC first team tonight is via their own TV service – priced at £10. This is exactly what this article is about.