North Stand Narrative: Return of Protests, Bacuna’s Blunder and Hard Tackling Toner

Villa’s penultimate home game of the season saw the visit of Southampton, who standing at eighth in the league, were in a position Villa fans can only nostalgically look back at when the likes of Ashley Young romantically nourished Randy Lerner.

A second ‘Bannersouton74’ protest was to be held inside Villa Park and again every Villa fan had some actual entertainment to look forward to; the making and propelling of paper airplanes. With our relegation already sealed, some strong rumours of a takeover on the horizon, the disappointment of season ticket prices and the insensitivity of Randy Lerner’s long overdue letter to the fans, this was the perfect time to protest.

Prematch Fan Thoughts

Eric Black consistently decides to ruin Villa fans’ weekends even more and he did so again as he recalled the likes of Leandro Bacuna, Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards to the side. That bit of this column is repetitive of late isn’t it? Fans have been crying out for young blood on the pitch and Eric Black is slowly being marked into most supporters’ bad books.

As I walked up to the North Stand turnstiles around five minutes late to the game, I was completely isolated on the walkway past the park. Instead of rushing into the stadium to watch the game, I took my time and appreciated the magnificent structure of our club’s home. Even in the darkest times of our history, no one can deny that our grand old Villa Park is one of the most famous venues that this country should cherish. The intricate brickwork, the tall standing claret and blue gates and the beautiful stained glass windows are all small features that you can’t help but be in awe of. One day we’ll be back, I’m sure of that.

The Match

I bundled into Villa Park and was greeted by what the Lower North has offered all year; cracking humour. Despite our relegation and the misery surrounding our club, someone in good Villa fan spirit had brought a few giant inflatable beach balls that entertained us for a while until the real fun started on the 74th minute. Before long, we eventually conceded and just as MOMS Tips predicted, the first Goalscorer was that little Irish lad that always gets on Villa fans nerves in recent history. Shane Long wheeled away and even after the numbing desensitisation of all emotion that this season has drawn out of me, seeing him score hurt me a little bit. Like a splash of vinegar on a deep wound.

The game offered little in the way of entertainment, which was a shock with so many jokers on the pitch. One of those jokers that tried his hardest to get a reaction from the Villa Park faithful was Leandro Bacuna. His back pass to Joleon Lescott, which enabled us to really see how Lescott would struggle to beat a snail in race, eventually led to Brad Guzan messing up in some way and then a goal went in. It was all a blur to me, but for some it was simply too much to take as a few fans leaked out of the door in complete anger.

However, there were two notable elements in the match that I can give you whilst I try my absolute hardest to be positive. Number one came in the shape of another Irish lad but this one was a lot bigger, donned the claret and blue strip and has showed in recent weeks that he’s as hard as nails. Kevin Toner made his debut off the bench replacing Micah Richards at half-time and looked fairly comfortable in the backline.

The second of my two positives was Ashley Westwood. The Englishman from Crewe is a little bit like marmite and some doubt whether he has enough Premier League ability. However, one thing you cannot doubt in any capacity is his desire and willingness to show some effort. The midfielder was the only one to shed a tear on the Old Trafford pitch when we were finally relegated last week and the brace he earned himself this week certainly drew a smile on my face, as it probably did for a few others too.

The Atmosphere

Like before, the talking point was within the atmosphere and came on that all famous 74th minute. The protest looked excellent as the Holte End’s banners sprung up like a fresh flower in spring. All around the ground read a bold message that even some of the Saints fans joined in with the preaching of, so credit to them.

The atmosphere overall was a hostile one as it usually is after the criticism has been finally aimed at some of the main culprits. Bacuna and Lescott were both bombarded by abuse and booing all game, but temperatures were raised even higher after Bacuna’s accidental blunder. A blunder you certainly wouldn’t see a Champions League quality footballer making.

The North Stand was in good voice again and the best songs that came out of the afternoon’s game were; “Randy Lerner! He’s taken our seats…”, “It’s just a weight off your shoulders, weight off your shoulders!” and obviously the classic “I’m Villa till I die…” which was met with a rapturous applause from the Southampton away following.

Post-Match Fan Thoughts

After the next game, my seat is being taken away from me in the Lower North with a wheelchair viewing platform cannibalising the back seven of the 16 rows of the Lower North stand. Is it a coincidence that the wheelchair access has been extended to an area where there is standing and hosts the cheapest tickets?

The Lower North has provided a brilliant atmosphere all season and if the club were actually intelligent enough to work with more proactive fans, then maybe we’d be able to have particular sections for fans who want to make noise, displays and back the team throughout the 90-minutes.

Unless we have a hardcore Villa wheelchair ultra group that I don’t know about, that fire pyro out of drainpipes mounted on their chairs, it is very naive to think 20 to 50 wheelchair fans will create the same noise as the hundreds of Lower North fans they are replacing.

Next season, the North Stand executive boxes will be largely empty, why not convert a few of them to provide the needed wheelchair spaces, with an access ramp from the concourse on Trinity Road side? Wheelchair bound Villa fans would then be able to enjoy and add to a bigger atmosphere?

Better still why not extend the concourse on the Doug Ellis stand to accommodate wheelchair vantage points ala the Trinity. Long-term, if the North Stand ever gets its much-needed redevelopment then the planned wheelchair conversion would be destroyed anyway. If done to the Doug Ellis stand, then it’s a longer-term investment.

The issue is cheaper seats have been removed which will marginalise the lower-waged and younger fans, plus it is indirect (or direct) further gentrification of the stadium, when Villa Park needs more atmosphere for a promotion push.

Away Fans Score – 8/10

The Southampton fans were very respectable, funny, filled both tiers and even joined in with our ‘Bannersouton74’ protests, which was great. However, they were fairly slow to get into voice and didn’t sing throughout, which was a shame. Although, as a whole they were a good set of away fans and I’m sure they enjoyed their day out.


Follow Chad on Twitter – @ChadBillyWrenn

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