Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Our day at Villa Park

It was a reasonably comfortable time to start our journey to Villa Park with all of us jumping into the car for a 10 O'clock start from Redhill. The journey would mean weaving a path around the M25, but for once it was not too busy and we were soon on the M40 heading towards Birmingham. Robert and Stephen were keen on seeing another new ground and I also could not wait to see the Holt End to see if it was as impressive as everyone had been telling me. 

To our delight we found ourselves on the A38M Expressway by 12.30pm and had an excellent view of the red bricked stadium as we past it on the road. I knew there were a good many streets not far from the stadium where we could park up without annoying the local residents or having to shell out on parking fees, and we were in plenty of time to take a gentle stroll through Aston Park and to take in the local setting.

We soon found ourselves walking along a pathway and down through a couple of subways before emerging at the the park gates and an avenue of trees that lined the way. Aston Hall was on our left and we took some time to learn a little about it before heading on down to the stadium.
Villa Park is a great place to walk about.
Aston Hall.
One of the Villa lions on the gates.
The first port of call was to find something to eat and the mobile burger vans looked perfect for a pit stop, but we wanted to have more of a look around first. While marvelling at the lions on top of the gates at the Holt End and then taking in the large red bricked walls, we could feel that the atmosphere was already building. 

We then started to walk down some steps to take in all sides of the ground from the outside. The Doug Ellis stand was next on our travels and we soon found lots of fans meandering up and down and rather a large amount of them were AFCB fans. We managed to keep to the pavement but as we reached the North stand and saw the line of Bournemouth coaches stacking up we thought we had better visit the club shop before the area was swamped with fans.
Stephen stands outside the Holt End terrace.
Not sure these big screens would quite fit in at Dean Court, but Eddie looks good on screen.
First though, I picked up a programme at one of the little seller booths. The programme seller said they had had Liverpool last week but felt that there were more FACB fans here today than Liverpool brought. He tried to offer me a bag with a couple of previous matches but I was only interested in the Villa v AFCB programme. The club shop looked very large from the outside but was no bigger than the AFCB shop when you got inside. The boys picked out a couple of their favourite items for sale like the flip flops and the dart board that you had to be 20ft tall to play on.
Do they have a beach in Aston? I think we could see
some AFCB flip flops in our shop next year.
I might have a problem retrieving a dart from double top!
Okay, history lesson. His name is William McGregor founder of
that little things called the Football League in 1888. You knew didn't you?
Our hunger was soon satisfied with a hot snack from one of the burger vans and we were all wondering how we could get one of the outside digital screens on the top of our car to take back to Dean Court.

I started to look for people to interview when I was approached by a couple of eager AFCB fans who had seen me with the camera and asked me if I would speak to them on camera - that was a first. cherry Chimes is getting recognised too easily these days, which is nice. I also needed to talk to some Villa fans and while many of them felt a bit nervy I did speak to a great young lad called Roy who knew rather more than the adults around him. 
It's nice to know we are in good company.
Aston Villa's crest.
Business was brisk at the club store.
Hello Fletch! Fancy meeting you here.
We had enough time to retrace our steps a bit and we bumped into Michael Dunne of All Departments along with two of my other friends, Damien Hill and Duncan Graham and their families. While we chatted away about the season so far and the match to come, it was not until 50 minutes before kick off that we made our way back to the Upper North stand. On the way we saw Steve Fletcher and Kelly Sommers with a multitude of young AFCB fans around them with the camera rolling.
Having climbed the couple of stairways to the vantage point of the stand we could take in the enormity of the pitch and the big screen. While the Villa mascots were busy at work there were only the keepers out on the pitch at first. It was also strange seeing 5800 AFCB fans already in place and yet hardly any Villa fans in the stadium. That situation soon changed though as the players were warming up and the atmosphere really started to build.
Looking down at the Holt End.
Super Fletch managed the stairs then.
AFCB start their warm up.
Aston Villa's players.
Villa try and make their big announcement.
Is everything bigger in the Premier League. Do the flags need to be that big? 
The teams are lead out onto the pitch.

Bournemouth fans were going through the multitude of songs and the volume certainly rose when Aston villa tried to make their special announcement on the big screen that Fabien Delph had signed a 4.5 year contract and was going nowhere. I was listening to the commentators on BBC WM radio who were struggling to work out what was happening as they could not hear over the AFCB chanting. Radio isn't good when you don't know what to say, apart from aren't the opposition making a lot of noise!

The noise got even louder when the teams came out and I felt it was like being at the Cup Final itself with the long walk to the half way line that both teams had to walk in two lines next to each other.  With flags waving and hearts beating faster, it was good to see Tommy Elphick do his customary pre-match routine and before we knew it we were eyes down for 90 minutes of football.

A Villa mascot on the move.
Tommy Elphick on his run to the goal posts.
I suppose the game went pretty much as I expected with AFCB having some chances and Villa looking to swat our players like annoying flies buzzing around their box, while always looking to make a killer strike themselves at our end. At 0-0 at half time I felt that the Cherries more than deserved to be going in even and were perhaps a shade unlucky not to be ahead. Could I see Villa scoring? Not really.

Sadly, the second half saw a different side of Aston Villa with Carles Gil moving out to the right wing and soon unleashing an unstoppable shot. If that wasn't bad enough the lead was doubled on 70 minutes and it looked like once again the big teams had too much for AFCB. The consolation goal that Callum Wilson did score was pleasing but annoying that it hadn't come sooner. I hope not too many of our fans missed AFCB's goal by leaving early. Villa had controlled the game well and deserved the win.

What was a little disappointing was the lack of support from the Villa fans. It would have been more fun if they had sang during the game and got behind their team. They have a great new signing in Carles Gil and whether they like Lambert or not he had got them through a good FA Cup tie. I expect they were content enough though that they had won.


Getting out of Villa Park was always going to be difficult with the road closures. Indeed, it took us the best part of an hour to get through the traffic jams and on to the open road, and when we did I got quite a warm feeling in seeing the 28 AFCB convoy of coaches being passed one by one. I think I was still overtaking the one leading the way at 6.40pm! I am sure that most AFCB fans had some good memories of the day even if the result was not what we wanted. I came away thinking, well there wasn't much between those two sides and had AFCB scored first it could have been a very different day.

Ranti Watch
Sadly the Africa Cup of Nations is over for South Africa and Tokelo Rantie after a 2-1 defeat to Ghana. TK came off on 70 minutes when the score was 1-0 to South Africa, but two goal in the last 20 minutes knocked Bafana Bafana out. We should see TK back at Dean Court soon. 

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