The atmosphere at Villa Park of late is suffering – and with plans to expand, the stadium needs to become a fortress once again.
Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy
The atmosphere at Villa Park is not as it once was. In the past, the ground has been referred to as a fortress and fans in B6 have been lauded and applauded for the atmosphere they were creating at matches. However, this season especially, fans have been questioning why things seem a little more damp and a little more dreary – and that’s not talking about the weather.
Social media can be polarising at the best of times, but when fans are disagreeing about atmosphere, that’s not going to create a positive one at games. It’s a moot starting point. But those who have questioned why the atmosphere is faltering are well within their rights – because they’re certainly not wrong.
As Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens lay down plans for the expansion of Villa Park, the atmosphere at home games is something that needs to be addressed. If there’s quiet fans now, is that only going to get worse with a bigger stadium? There’s always the argument of more fans equalling more atmosphere, possibly.
There are, it seems, a number of reasons for the poor home atmosphere at Villa Park this season. We’ve spoken to a range of fans, from season ticket holders to those who attend once in a blue moon to gain a deeper understanding of these.
What’s wrong with Villa Park?
First and foremost, there is the gatekeeping of other fans. A TikTok shared to Twitter went viral this past week, in which what seems to be two teenage girls (or a teenage girl and her mother) record directly in front of them, in an attempt to capture a young boy signing “Allez, Allez, Allez“. The boy is singing alone, perhaps in an attempt to get others to join him, while the girl(s) laugh at him and mutter under their breath. The video was posted with the text to speech caption of “This kid at the ground wouldn’t be quiet, nobody was even singing with him”. Other fans have shared their experiences about those around them making comments about clapping, singing or even cheering for a specific player. Judgement, or fear of it, is having an impact.
One comment that continually crops up is that the atmosphere certainly isn’t toxic – but flat. Fans feel like it hasn’t worsened too much from last season, but it has become poorer. There are comments about the Holte End “doing their thing” but that being the be all and end all much of the time, with fans saying if it’s only the Holte singing, that the stadium may as well be empty. Perhaps when the stadium is updated, the North Stand may find their voice again?
A common mention is the pre-game. The sound system in the stadium is of fine quality, but does nothing but fire loud, obnoxious music into the crowd. Fans state that the pre-game needs to be improved, acting like the kindling for a roaring fire.
One thing that is continually mentioned too is that many fans feel like the atmosphere is too reliant on the game in font of them, stating that there’s displeasure in having little to play for in mid table mediocrity, that some fans have a chip on their shoulder, and that some are too jaded by the “same old Aston Villa” to sing for a full 90 minutes. Most who mentioned this seemed to feel like the atmosphere should dictate the performance on the pitch, not the other way around.
There is also the issue of fans leaving their seats for various reasons during the game. While going to the toilet or taking little ones out of the stands is a given, some fans feel that swathes take to the concourse during the game for a drink instead of backing the side – while others are unhappy with those who attempt to leave early to beat traffic, stating that the stadium is sometimes half empty by the time the final whistle is blown.
How do we fix the Villa Park atmosphere?
While we quizzed fans on the issues currently surrounding the atmosphere, we also asked them for their thoughts on improving it.
Some suggestions are outside the realms of possibility for fans, with exciting signings and exciting football both listed as potential solutions, however other suggestions are more than feasible for fans to play a hand in.
Pre-game should see a shift from what is currently is. Hi Ho Silver Lining has a welcome place here, but obnoxious music as the stands fill needs to be replaced, and more needs to be done from Aston Villa to amp up those who are there to watch. Displays are also possible – we’ve seen pyrotechnics, light shows and even huge banners unfurled in the past. Sides like West Ham and Sheffield United have pre-game anthems – which is a suggestion thrown in by fans here too.
Other suggestions state that the tired and boring songbook is an issue, and that fans should be more receptive to change and newer anthems. There is mention of dedicated fan groups making a visual and audible presence at Villa Park to facilitate and encourage the growth of atmosphere and enhance the matchday experience. Assigned “singing sections” which have been seen at other clubs should be encouraged, and drums even picked up a mention.
Fans can be forgiven for a dreary atmosphere against lower league opposition in the FA Cup, but the home game before that, against local rivals Wolves, saw a subdued atmosphere. Fans applauded World Cup winner Emiliano Martinez before breaking into song for a few minutes, and then, silence. And then, Wolves score and there’s an air of unease in the stands. Any noise that does come, comes from the Holte End. Boos ring out at half-time, which many don’t agree with, but others will state their right to express an opinion. (Perhaps find better ways to express it?)
The second half was better, and that can be directly linked to the improvement on the pitch. While it was better though, a solid fifteen minutes of “Unai Emery’s Claret and Blue army” isn’t the most imaginative. It’s not the Blues or the Baggies, but Wolves have been a fiery affair in the past – and it just didn’t feel like there was any teeth or grit to the game, in the stands or on the pitch.
The fact that the above has been stated from fans that we’ve surveyed shows that there is an issue. But there needs to be a proactive approach from fan groups and the club in an attempt to improve things, before the fortress that was Villa Park becomes little more than a theatre.