It is no secret that in recent seasons the football at Villa Park has been below par given what fans came to expect during the Martin O’Neill era, when he led us to three consecutive sixth place finishes. It is no surprise that in recent years, when the Villans haven’t been performing well at home, attendances have dropped considerably.
For example, our first home game of the season, against Newcastle United, attracted 30,267 spectators, including the sold out away allocation. This is quite shocking when the capacity of Villa Park is 42, 788. These 12,000 empty seats in an iconic stadium in England’s second city were very noticeable, with the corners and the top tiers of the ground left practically empty.
Given the fact that our home record in recent years has been dire, I can understand why some fans are reluctant to make the trip down to B6, especially those who are based outside Birmingham. However, lower attendances affect the atmosphere of the game. For example, fans seated in certain sections of the Holte will chant no matter what is happening on the pitch but the rest of the stadium seems a little quiet when things aren’t going our way, which obviously has an effect on the players. There have been plans to try and combat this problem.
Take the home game against Hull last year, for example. Andy Bishop’s ‘Get The Holte End Back’ campaign, designed to mark the twentieth anniversary of the demolition of the Holte End terracing, was embraced by individuals and Villa groups such as Brigada 1874, with fans making a real effort to lift the atmosphere at the close of another dire season. Balloons and inflatables bounced around the ground and a giant flag of Vlaar’s shirt was passed around the lower Holte, which energised the whole stadium for what was a ‘must win’ game. And it worked: the Villans went on to win 3-1 and guaranteed the club’s Premier League survival. Was that victory something to do with the atmosphere? I certainly think it helped.
Paul Lambert recently went to Dortmund’s famous stadium, the Westfalenstadion, to watch Arsenal in action before the Gunners made the trip to Villa Park. He, along with Tom Fox, stated that he wished the Holte Enders would some day replicate the famous yellow wall behind one of Dortmund’s goals. This got me thinking: why can’t The Holte Enders and fans in the other stands wave flags and hold up banners before every game? Maybe the club should play the full version of ‘Holte Enders in the Sky’ before games as well. Other clubs have recognisable anthems and when you visit grounds like Anfield or The Boleyn Ground you realise how much belief the playing of an anthem instils in the supporters and how much it pumps everyone around the stadium up, which, in my opinion, can only have a positive impact on the team.
Although it may not always seem like it, as fans we are a huge part of the club. There are many things we cannot control but we can create an atmosphere and will the players to succeed for ninety minutes each match day. I don’t see any reason why the Holte End can’t once again become one of the greatest stands in England or why Villa Park can’t become an intimidating place once more.