Switch in North Stand Rebuild Strategy, Villa Communication Pledge and Fixtures Insight
Trust you are well and welcome to your latest dose of behind-the-scenes Villa alpha info into your inbox.
Preseason is upon us. Lower league teams have already started their friendly games and some Villa players (including Matty Cash, Tyronne Mings and Ollie Watkins) have been seen in recent weeks with their personal trainers around Bodymoor Heath and at overseas facilities, sharpening up for their return.
It’s a big season for Villa. The Gerrard revolution begins in earnest and the club have to make-up for underperforming over the past couple of seasons, when they had budgeted for a top-half finish.
The players return for pre-season this week and play their first preseason fixture in a week’s time against Walsall.
In the meantime, lets catch-up with a few things…
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Wrecking Ball Returns
You may remember the wrecking ball picture below used in the first edition of the astonvilla.wtf newsletter, referencing what former Villa CEO Paul Faulkner had told me, that ultimately, the North Stand needed a wrecking ball put through it and to be rebuilt from scratch.
In the Villa Fan Consultation Group (FCG) meeting with Christian Purslow back in April, it had been explained that in terms of building a new North Stand, Villa were planning to take a similar approach to Liverpool’s recent stand rebuilding.
In that, the new North Stand would be developed behind the existing one and built over it. This would allow the club to pretty much continue to operate at full capacity on matchdays, while the building work was undertaken.
Fast forward to the FCG North Stand consultation meeting that I attended this week, and it was confirmed that there had been a change of heart and the North Stand will be levelled and rebuilt from scratch.
While the ‘build over’ approach offers the short-term win of not losing a percentage of matchday revenue due to maintaining capacity, there is the potential for the actual stand to become something of a Frankenstein monster.
Potential compromises mean new infrastructure is connected to old, and there’s also the issue of creating a bigger footprint in terms of the actual building site.
In their assessment, the club’s architects and estate development team have concluded that building a new stand from scratch offers the best solution and also better future proofs it for decades to come.
The main concern here for supporters is of course the reality of a reduced Villa Park capacity. Potentially, it could be lower than 35,000, across two seasons (an exact timeline isn’t known yet).
The current North Stand season tickets holders would obviously have to be migrated to other parts of the ground.
Villa Park hasn’t exactly been a stranger to compromised attendances recently, with Covid forcing the club to play over a season behind closed doors. Then, let’s not forget, during the Championship seasons, Villa closed the Upper Trinity due to a drop in ticket demand at the time.
During the seasons of rebuilding the North Stand, Villa are expected to be running a largely ‘season ticket only’ policy for match days. With very few individual tickets expected to be up for grabs, if any.
With 95% of season ticket holders renewing this summer, the club is likely to take the step of increasing the number of overall season tickets holders, tapping into the waiting list of of circa 25,000, with a view to the increased capacity the new North Stand will ultimately offer.
While season tickets have gone up in price considerably for the upcoming season, holders should at least reap the benefit of actually being able to see Villa play, when it comes to the 2023/24 season onwards.
You will recall that the final home game of last season against Burnley, was rearranged from its original December 2021 date due to Covid.
At the time of the postponement, the club stated that they would be contacting every season ticket holder who had sold their tickets on, regarding reinstating the tickets back onto the season ticket.
Fans (like myself) who had ‘officially’ passed on their season tickets to friends/family for the game via the club's box office (who raise a pdf ticket for another fan to use), due to being unable to attend over the Christmas period, assumed we were in the same boat and would receive a direct communication from the club.
None was forthcoming. That said, after five months, you'd expect the ticket to revert back to the season card holder, since they're the people who actually paid for it.
It's obviously what hundreds of fans thought, but their season tickets didn't work at the Burnley game and they were left stranded outside the ground, when the match kicked off.
When you've got hundreds of fans stranded and queuing across all the various ticket offices at the ground (with very slow-moving queues), you know it's a club caused problem, rather than a fan one.
After initially receiving a disappointing response from the club about the issue, I flagged the situation to senior staff at the recent Villa FCG meeting.
The good news is the club has now given an assurance to put a more extensive communication plan in place for future rearranged fixtures. The communication plan for any rearranged fixture will now need to be approved by both Villa’s Commercial and Communication Directors to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
This welcome move will hopefully make sure such supporter inconvenience and frustration doesn’t happen again at Villa Park.
Fixture List Formation
I’ve already written an article on MOMS regarding why Aston Villa begin the upcoming season once again with an away game - in short, it’s because of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham are happening on the opening weekend of the Premier League season.
The perception that generating the season’s Premier League fixtures is an entirely random process is a bit of a falsehood. So for your information, here’s a little insight into the actual process.
When setting a season’s fixtures - which is actually done by a contractor employed by the Premier League - all clubs are asked around March time, whether they have any requests to accommodate any local circumstances or events.
Carnivals and festivals are one of the main such requests - (Pride events and the Notting Hill Carnival are obvious examples), and other requests include Political Party Conferences and other sporting commitments (the Rugby League final at Old Trafford or the aforementioned Commonwealth Games in Birmingham).
Clubs may also make a request if they have work to be done on their stadium, at the start or end of the season. The fixture scheduler will usually allocate an away match for that weekend, but they could also designate a day other than Saturday.
Unless a club makes too many requests, they are almost always accommodated, if advised at that time - the police, who are also consulted on the fixtures, will also have an interest in these as it impacts on their policing capacity.
There is a confidential final meeting review, a couple of days before the fixtures are announced, that a Football Supporter Association representative, as well as the police, attends.
So, if there is an issue because of a major event happening at the same time of a big game, it’s normally because the home club didn’t have the foresight to flag it up to the Premier League.
Obviously, in the case of the Commonwealth Games there was no such issue, as both Villa and Wolves requested to play away from home on the opening weekend of the football season.