Same Old Ambition Problems? Have Aston Villa Learnt Anything from 10 Years Ago?

doug ellis randy lerner

 A Deja vu Decade


I was flicking through some old Heroes & Villains fanzines the other day, when I came across the November/December 2003 edition, which featured a picture of a ‘Ellis Out !!!’ placard on the cover. The image summed up the majority of supporters’ feelings at the time of being fed up of Villa’s perpetual state of stagnant ambition.

As well as summing up Deadly Doug’s unpopularity with most of a claret and blue persuasion, it was also not too far away from the time, when the then Villa manager, David O’Leary, would go on to invent the word ‘fickle’. A term that since has been used by some fans to describe any supporter who dares question the club’s position (remember, every time you use it, DOL gets royalties).

A section of Villa fans still backed Ellis vehemently at the time, which shows a lack of solidarity on issues has long been a problem with Villa supporters, rendering them conflicted when concerted action is needed. For example, the fact fans could allow a stand at Villa Park to be named after Doug Ellis, while his ego was still at the club, is an eternal embarrassment and shining example of such weakness. It’s hardly surprising a local journalist recently had to plead to Villans to be more responsible and have a collective voice in terms of their club.

While we’re on the subject, the naming of football stands should be reserved for creators of the club’s footballing legacy – i.e. founders, top managers and legendary players. Modern day naming examples include: The’ Brian Clough stand’ – respect to Nottingham Forest. The ‘Sir Alex Ferguson stand’ – respect to Manchester United.

To name a stand after a man who provided Villa with stunted ambition, false hope and is pretty much responsible for the swift dismantling of a team that were league and European champions (a period during which Ellis was on hiatus from Villa) is dumbfounding.

I have two key Villa-related happenings I want to see while I still walk this earth – Villa lifting the FA Cup (the only thing I haven’t seen them lift) and the renaming of the Doug Ellis stand. I have no grudge against Doug, per se, it’s just the principle of  the matter. Anyway, I digress…

While Randy Lerner doesn’t cause the same vitriol of feeling that Ellis once did, after four consecutive seasons where relegation has been in the equation, some supporter’s disenchantment of him and the current board is growing. There’s also questions over the club’s overall ambition and growing distrust in the ability of the current manager. You’d be forgiven for thinking the club have come full circle a decade on. The common backdrop as per usual is a lack of focused and constructive supporter voice.

So while flicking through this November/December 2003 edition of Heroes & Villians, an article titled ‘Can Fans Play a Role? caught the eye (the following brief excerpts from the  article have been reprinted with the blessing of its author Trevor Fisher).

Can Fans Play a Role (excerpts)

A club in decline whose squad is diminishing and lacks quality even in a poor Premiership should be demanding a response from fans. But that response has to be somewhat sharper than merely calling in traditional fashion for sacking the chair, the board or the manager. It needs to be based on an analysis of what is actually going wrong and seek to build bridges with the mass of apathetic fans who aren’t going to join protests unless there is a crisis. And then it’s too late.

The Hodgson report showed that it is a myth that Villa have not spent money. The problem is that we have spent money badly. Any club which has had Balaban and Crouch on its books cannot be accused of excessive parsimony.

Bad judgement certainly, and ultimately since Ellis appoints the managers that’s his call. But simply splashing out cash is not the answer, if only because the really big players don’t want to come to Villa.

We cannot survive in a situation where the Birmingham Post states rightly that the Villa are three-long injuries away from relegation. And we look to youth to be given its chance, though relegation struggle is not an ideal time to bring them in.

Promoting the kids may not be feasible in the short-term but it must be the case that we sign experienced players in the transfer window, if only on loan. It cannot be the case that the manager is simply told there is no money. There will be even less money if we drop into Division One.


It’s uncanny how the above written at the end of 2003 applies exactly to the present-day Villa. The bad judgement on transfers (see bomb squad), being three long-term injuries away from relegation (imagine if Benteke, Vlaar and Guzan suffered them), the call for experienced players to be signed, relegation pressure stunting the progressive blooding of youth players, apathetic fans and there’s even mention of a Hodgson report (of which, we recently had the second edition).

It seems nothing does change at Villa Park. Are we a club in a hapless limbo? That’s an examination for another time, but certainly, it’s coming up to crunch time for the ‘Lambert Project’ part of the Lerner administration to be accountable to Villa fans. On paper and in its ethos, it has the potential to shift this limbo, but is it actually working?

Patience is a virtue, but the year ahead is a key one in terms getting an answer to the question.  It’s a year that could also establish the mentality of the kind of club the board and supporters want Aston Villa to be.

The relaunch and refocus of the Aston Villa Supporters Trust is a good step, if taken firmly. The club being more forthright in their objections and communication to supporters, would be another one.

The whole point of history is to learn from it. For a change, it’s time as Villans we started to do just that. UTV




  1. I don’t see any similarities between Lerner and Ellis. Or in our recent history. The only limbo Villa have been in in the last ten years is the limbo of persistent premiership participation and I assume we can all agree on the merit of that.

    Lerner bought into the last ambition salesman (as did I) and the result was a spend of over £100million and a wage bill that consumed over 90% of all income.
    Ellis would never sanctioned such excess. AVFC was to him a corner shop in which he would spend a little to make a little more. AVFC was how Ellis made a living, he had nothing else.

    Lerner saw the light when the false messiah walked out and even though they panicked at first I think they have a vision for the future now. I was a Martinez man rather than a Lambert man but now we are here, I can see development in our squad. It may be hard to see but we are better than we were last year. And I hope we will continue to improve.

    It is frustrating to see our team struggling but I think Lambert sees what we do, but he knows the limitations of his budget, as well as the character of the player or players we clamour for. Official channels for fan feedback are vital, but not regarding football matters. They remain the responsibility of professionals and bluster and whinging are for the terraces not the boardroom.

    Another fine article. Thanks MOMS.

  2. I agree with Jon , with a young squad & manager there is hope . And we need to look beyond the mistakes @ what might be if they learn from those mistakes & if greater talent is added to the squad

  3. the problem is, David, that there is no forum for discussion of club issues and no fan group is now willing to try to set up a meeting as they fear no one will turn up. Cyber space is just for hot air.

    Even now while I have asked MOMS to set up a meeting, I get no response. in 2001 AVISA held meetings and got some reaction. But it died and the Trust has not yet got relaunched.

    its up to the fans to show they want it. If all they can do is complain nothing ever changes.

    One blog I saw last night asked about the SCG. This is the supporters consultation group, the body the club set up to channel protests. It only discusses off field matters and this week is doing just that. Most fans don’t even know it exists.

    Up to fans to show they want to work out a strategy and implement it. I gave up after AVISA since the apathy appears to show Villa fans are prepared to watch the club become a side show.

    Trevor Fisher

    • Just to clear up, you state you have asked MOMS to set up a meeting. Did you mean the AVST? As we’ve never had such a conversation.

      Re: The AVST (Villa Trust), a relaunch doesn’t happened over night. This needs due planning & thought, and must be done properly to be purposeful and effective.

      Apathy is a powerful beast and there are certainly no guarantees it can be slain. It may be a thankless task, but lets at least take a real crack at it. UTV

  4. Agree with the general comparison – but agree with comments above too, about the glimmers of hope and different approach that mean we have stabilised now rather than declining – with hopefully an upward turn next on the agenda. Stick with it – and yes next season is a big one to enlighten us, can we turn the corner?

  5. You say that fans let Doug Ellis name the Witton Lane stand after himself. Hardly. How exactly do you think he’d have been stopped?

    This time round I don’t it’s anything close to the despair I felt at the time. Ellis had missed opportunity after opportunity to kick on with the club, refusing to take a ‘gamble’ and go for the safer, cheaper option.

    This situation is different. Lerner was stung by the waste of MON and once the legacy of that excess has been sorted we can push on. The Lambert era is too different from the Dolly era. Lambo is steadying the ship bombing out the deadwood and rebuilding with youth. The real difference is the glimmers of hope the current team shows. At the end of the Dolly era there was only despair. MON came in with Lerner and gave us hope.

    I still have hope with the current set up.

    • While I agree with the majority of what you say, it has to be remembered Lerner naively sanctioned MON’s spending. So he stung himself, in actual fact.

      As for the stopping of the naming of the stand. It’s the very same apathy of thinking ‘how exactly do you think he’d have been stopped?’ , that allows Villa supporters to be walked all over, time and time again.

      Look at Hull City and how their fans have put up a fight against the owner telling them, he’s changing the name of the club. They are fighting a decent battle. Where there is a will, there’s a way.

      Sometimes Villans prefer to feel sorry for themselves, which tends to lead to apathy.

      • I disagree that the Hull and Villa stand situation is the same. Renaming us the Villa Lions for sponsorship reasons would provoke a large backlash because the name of the club is a fundamental part of the club.

        Renaming a stand has nothing like the same sting. Not even close. You’re comparing apples to pears or whatever.

        Lerner sanctioned MON naively, for sure. BUT he was going on what he knew. Perhaps he needed more help in that department than he thought. Easy in hindsight. There wasn’t one Villa fan that didn’t want MON in charge when he arrived. not one.

        Sure Lerner should’ve got a football consultant in BUT no-one thought MON would be so bad managing the money as he was.

        He brought us hope. And as I said I’ve not run out of hope regarding Lerner and Lambo. Steady progress will do.

        Most people would say that Moyes did well at Everton, he nearly got them relegated once or twice, I believe. Didn’t they stay up on GD one season?

        Continuity and steady progress with the right manager is the key. Well it’s the only hope we have…

        • Didn’t say the Hull & Villa situation was the same. I gave that as an example to the notion of where there’s a will, there’s a way. Going back to the original point, when it comes to the crunch, the owners have never really had to worry about what supporters think, because they are not organised as representative voice. There is no will.

          • If the Hull and Villa situation are not the same, it’s an invalid comparison…. no?

            The issue then is how to get the will. My point is that there can never be sufficient will to oppose a stand rebrand. However a name change at club level would very likely produce such a will.

            If the outrage is there, the will can be too. As per the Ellis Out, as you mentioned. I don’t think we’re anywhere near that level of outrage.

          • it is dead right that the owners have never had to worry about the fans because there is not an organized response mechanism. The Trust has some success with internal discussion but does not organize mass meetings- and to be fair, it is very unlikely to get a mass response if it did, Only the pound sign protest got a response – the club signed ANgel – and then everything went quiet again.

            Supporters Consultation Group…. limited I think to 15 people. Discussing the catering this week. Why should the club take us seriously when they can get away with a small unrepresentative group?

            Lets try again. If MOMS called a meeting… maybe we could do what the Independent Supporters Association (AVISA) and others have failed to do, make the club take notice of fans.

            trevor fisher

Comments are closed.