How the Villa Park Pitch Celebrations Have Been Wrongly Scandalised.

‘Villa supporters were on the pitch before the final whistle because they thought it was all over.’


“Some people are on the pitch…they think it’s all over…it is now!” The immortal words from the BBC’s Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary of the 1966 World Cup lives long as one of the most fondly remembered lines in English sporting media history.

Wolstenholme was describing scenes of England supporters prematurely running onto the Wembley pitch with England leading 3-2, before Geoff Hurst completed his hat-trick and made it 4-2.

The perception was the England supporters were simply wrapped up in the excitement of the moment and thought the full-time whistle had gone. They were not considered hooligans.

Contrast it to the BBC’s commentary team’s remarks describing the Aston Villa supporters running on the pitch before the final whistle of their FA Cup quarter-final against West Brom:

‘Why would you do this, you’re winning?’ Asked Mark Lawrenson, before he and the main commentator Jonathan Pearce sparked the sensationalism that was later copycatted by the nation’s press.

“Absolute madness. Could you imagine if the referee abandoned the whole game now?” added Lawrenson

“This could ruin the whole day for Villa, the FA Cup… it could tarnish the tournament,” warned Jonathan Pearce.

Imagine if Wolstenholme had followed that tact: “This could ruin the whole day for England, the World Cup…it could tarnish the tournament.”

Pearce was also quick to vilify supporters, adding:  “All those faces will be on CCTV.” Basically, implying all the fans on the pitch were hooligans and thugs.

Then supporters were mocked…

“Loads of villages have lost their idiots tonight,” quipped Lawrenson.

Disappointingly, Pearce even had the gaul to blame Villa supporters for sabotaging their manager’s day, in what was his most ill-judged comment of his commentary.

“His face tells the story, his day has been ruined, his day has been completely ruined,” claimed the BBC commentator of Sherwood.


Avoiding the Issue

Lawrenson’s attempt at answering his own question of ‘why would you do this?’ was to label Villa fans ‘idiots’. Instead of actually considering why the fans were indeed on the pitch.

The late Kenneth Wolstenholme would have known the answer. Villa supporters were on the pitch before the final whistle because they thought it was all over. Nothing more than that.

The moment that first triggered Villa fans

As the game entered the 93rd minute the whistles of Villa supporters could be heard around Villa Park, as they willed on the final whistle. In the corner of the Doug Ellis and Holte End, many supporters patiently waited on the side of the pitch for the ref to blow for time, having earlier spilled on the pitch to celebrate Sinclair’s second goal that killed off the tie.

When referee Anthony Taylor blew the whistle for a throw-in on the 93 minute 27 second mark, at the same moment, Matthew Lowton threw his arms in the air to contest the decision with the linesman, who had given the throw West Brom’s way.

Upon hearing both the whistle and seeing Lowton’s arms go up in the air as if he was celebrating (see picture below), the fans thought the game was over. Naturally, this caused a knock-on effect of other fans following, just as a sprinter who false starts triggers his rival sprinters to set off.

aston villa fans run on the pitch
The ref’s whistle goes and it looks to fans in the other side of the ground that Lowton is celebrating

Back in 1966 at Wembley, the crowd were further from the pitch, so the supporters on the pitch, didn’t create the snowball effect of other fans following so quickly to swell the numbers. At Villa Park though, fans were waiting on tenterhooks, en mass, pitchside, and without stewards to calm their excitement.

“Some people are on the pitch…they think it’s all over” – World Cup Final 1966

A steward monitoring another section in the Holte End had visibly given fans a two-minute signal to tell them when it was ok to come on the pitch to celebrate. The section in the Doug Ellis/Holte corner needed a similar timekeeper.

Fellow Villa fans rectify mistake

In the delirium that followed, supporters were simply celebrating the fact they’d beaten their local rivals twice in a week and they were off to Wembley.

They were NOT ‘hooligans’, ‘mindless idiots’ or ‘morons’, as the press made out. They just made a simple mistake, like fans celebrating an offside goal when they haven’t seen the linesman’s flag yet.

What you notice from the footage of the game is as soon as some Villa fans on the pitch register the whistle wasn’t for full-time, they start to wave each other back to the pitch side. Obviously, with the adrenaline pumping (and the day’s alcohol) some fans are quicker to react than others, but the premature celebration was over within a minute.

Also, no actual harm was done. Another fact conveniently overlooked by the press coverage.

The Blame Game


Increasingly over the years in football it’s a big no-no to encroach the field of play. Yet, when it comes to celebratory pitch invasions, clubs thankfully turn a blind eye to the ‘official line’.

Every time Villa have gone through to Wembley in the past at Villa Park, supporters have celebrated on the hallowed turf of Villa Park; most recently in 1994, 1996 and 2010. When Tony Pulis’s Stoke beat West Ham at the Britannia to claim a FA Cup semi-final spot, there was a pitch invasion (which Pulis seems to have conveniently forgotten now), just as there was a pitch invasion by West Brom fans at the Hawthorns when they survived relegation on the last day of the season in 2005.

The way Villa’s weekend celebration was reported (especially by the BBC’s Phil McNulty), it was as if such scenes had never happened before.

Questionable TV Slot

For this celebration the club are under FA investigation. There’s no greater irony that the FA are once again investigating something they initially laid the foundations for. Of all the FA Cup ties chosen for a Saturday 5.30pm TV slot, a fierce local derby is perhaps is not the wisest of choices, if safety and crowd control is your number one concern.

A lot of Villa and Albion fans were surprised their game was chosen for that time slot, but nobody was complaining as it was the least inconvenient of the four TV slots available. The fact that no quarter-final fixture took place at 3.00pm on a Saturday, tells you all you need to know about Television’s influence on the game. In this case TV has reaped what it has sown.

With the extra drinking time, the BBC in turn benefitted from a heighten atmosphere from the crowd for their viewers, yet were quick to turn on the fans when their over enthusiasm causing an error of judgement.

You could argue that it was from the judgemental coverage from the BBC pundits and commentators, that encouraged newspaper editors to spin fans celebrations into a Villa Park ‘Carnage’ as the Sun slapped on it’s front page.

The Club

At the moment Scott Sinclair scored to make it 2-0, effectively winning the game for Villa, there was barely a steward in sight in the corner of the Doug Ellis stand and Holte End, where the aforementioned premature celebratory pitch invasion started less than 10 minutes later.

Villa scored no stewards in Witton corner

Fans had spilled onto the pitch to celebrate Sinclair’s goal with the goalscorer and other Villa players. It was all good-natured and the kind of passion the TV companies sell the game on.

The important thing though this moment was a warning for Villa stadium security. Even if their forward-planning hadn’t been up to scratch, they now knew there was supporters standing at the side of the pitch who could potentially come on to the field of play again. Surely a thin line of stewards would be despatched?

But no. In the picture below, it can be seen that after the 91th minute, along the bottom of the Doug Ellis stand, where supporters waited for the final whistle, sitting and standing on the advertising hoardings, there isn’t a steward in sight until the corner joins the Holte.

where are the stewards

The club obviously weren’t planning to prevent the anticipated post-match celebration by fans, but at the same time, they haven’t taken any precautions against the possibility of any encroachment caused over excitement halting play.

Over at the North Stand, a line of stewards was already in line to keep in check the Villa fans until the final whistle. This is all that was needed at what had already proved to be a weak spot in the Doug Ellis stand.

north stand stewards

Back to the moment that triggered what some fans thought was the final whistle, credit must go to the Villa fans who frantically waved others back to the touchlines since there were no stewards deployed in that area to make an real impact.

fans returning after first run

Once back on the touchline, the fans waited unaided for the actual full-time whistle. What these pictures show is there was a general demographic mix of fans and not a bunch of thugs as the media later portrayed.

women &kids 9450

Why would supporters run on a pitch to purposely endanger their team going through to the Wembley semi-final of an FA Cup? Well Mr Lawrenson, the answer is they wouldn’t. They simply thought the game was over.


The club will no doubt have to front up some fine by the FA (hopefully for the sanity of the game, no more than that). But yet again football fans have been shamelessly victimised by the press.

Back in 1982, the Sun newspaper ran the following cartoon, after Villa fans had got into scrapes while away at Anderlecht in the European Cup semi-finals.

falkland islands aston villa sun 1982

The Sun was implying that the best way for the Foreign Secretary of the time Francis Pym to win back the Falkland Islands from Argentina was to drop a bunch of Villa supporters on them.

Yes, The Sun were giving Villa supporters grief even before their disgusting treatment of Liverpool fans at Hillsborough. Villa fans were no saints at the time in Belgium, but they didn’t exactly carry axes or maces.

33-years later the newspaper’s attitude to Villa supporters (and football fans in general) hasn’t changed, even after being exposed for making up their slanderous reporting on Hillsborough in the late eighties. Apparently, Villa supporters are now thugs that go around biting their own players.

aston villa pitch invasion Sun

Delph’s light-hearted comment in his post-match BBC interview about supporters trying to kiss and bite him was twisted into the Sun’s appalling front page headline: ‘Villa hero bitten by thug’, while the front page picture of police threatening fans taking pictures with their mobiles while winding-up the few Albion fans that remained, shows you how desperate the paper was to make something out of nothing.

Delph himself later clarified: “It’s wasn’t a bite, it was a kiss. I wasn’t worried at all. The fans love me and I love them. I was jumping about with them.”

What must the Sun think of his statement? Maybe tomorrow’s headline will read ‘Delph deserves Villa Park ban for joining in thuggish behaviour’.

If the club bans anyone, it should be Sun journalists from darkening the door of B6. I would also propose that Villa fans abstain from purchasing the newspaper or clicking on any of their website links.

Most of the national press were no better (we’ll deal with them elsewhere) and they remain unaccountable in the football world for their false reporting and sensationalising of events.

Mark Lawrenson proclaimed during his commentary that events at Villa Park were taking football back to the eighties. He was wrong about the Villa supporters, who were merely celebrating in the ground, but he was unwittingly spot on about the national press’s coverage of the game.

Follow MOMS on Twitter – @oldmansaid

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  1. See below my reply from the BBC;

    Dear Mr Smith

    Thanks for getting in touch with us about the Aston Villa v West Bromwich Albion match on FA Cup Match of the Day.

    We appreciate that football is subjective and that fans will hold a hugely diverse range of opinions, especially during a tense local derby such as this.

    In this case, Mark Lawrenson and Jonathan Pearce were simply expressing their own views on what they could see at that moment in time. As the incident was unfolding, Mark expressed his criticism for those who ran onto the pitch, but shortly after he pointed out that the majority of the Villa fans who remained in the stands were booing the fans on the pitch as they felt they were ruining the win for everyone else. Mark and Jonathan didn’t state that those on the pitch were only Villa fans, they simply expressed their concerns as the pitch invasion occurred when the game was still in play meaning the referee could still have abandoned the game.

    We’re sorry to learn that you’re unhappy with the commentary and we can assure you that our Football production teams are aware of the issues that have been raised.

    Thanks again for contacting us.

    Kind Regards

    BBC Complaints

    NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.

  2. They shouldn’t have been on the pitch during the game at all, that was a disgrace and the fans that ran on during the match are mindless and do not represent the majority of Aston Villa fans as they were booed by the rest of the fans in the stadium, they deserved to be called “Mindless Idiots” and they also deserve to be punished. However the outpour of emotion on the pitch at the end of the game, to me, was fantastic and completely harmless and is being blown up into something it wasn’t.

    • The thing is – as the article explains – those who ran on at the 93.27 minute mark thought the game was over. So there motivation is exactly the same as those who came on after the final whistle.

      You’ve been taken in by this ‘mindless idiot’ media labelling. Not once, has anybody in the media asked, ‘Why, did they come on then?’

      Do you really think any fans would purposely threaten their team going through to the semi-finals by running on the pitch and pretending to celebrate with a minute or so to go?

      They were triggered by the ref’s whistle for that throw-in and the player’s reaction.

      Encroachment on the pitch by the letter of the law is wrong full-stop, but these fans made a mistake in the heat of the moment, not because they were mindless idiots. Their motivation is the same as the fans a couple of minutes later.

      If they did anything out of order once they were on the pitch, that’s another matter.

      • The idiots I’m referring to are the fans who ran on earlier in the game, not mistakenly in the last minute. I have no problem with that at all, the morons who ran on after Sinclair’s goal should know better.

  3. Sadly I bought the sun – put aside their sensationalism and cheap headline hunting and their quality editorial really stands out- a whole paragraph describing the wrong Albion striker and match report that had Marc Albrighton giving the ball away instead of lowton – were they even at the game or writing a report from the tv ???

  4. I don’t condone the pre final whistle pitch invasion by any means but I don’t think the 5 minutes of added time should of been played in the first place.
    I was in North lowers on Saturday as I am every home match, it was raining seats, coins and beer bottles filled with urine on us fans below yet nothing was been done to help us fans escape that bombardment by the albion fans above the stewards and police were there keeping us in the stand.
    Parents with young kids just wanted to get out of harms way yet we were forced to stand there and take the bombardment from above.
    I have never attended and I hope I never have to attend another match where I have had to help shield young children some only 4 or 5 years old from seats, coins and bottles of urine thrown from the fans above us.
    It was truly sickening to see such young children terrified on what should of been a special day for them seeing their villa hero’s secure a place at Wembley.
    Yet the media citrus turn on us villa fans like we were wild animals.
    The only animals in the stadium that day were wearing West Bromwich albion shirts yet West Bromwich albion only acknowledge there may have been some trouble and have not issued an apology to the club or us fans subjected to that bombardment.
    I directly emailed West Bromwich albion on Sunday demanding an apology from the club and public condemning it’s fans actions but they haven’t had the decency to reply to me.

  5. There is a Watford fan in a coma following a cowardly attack after the wolves game last Saturday. He may never be the same man again. I fail to understand how anyone could possibly think that Delph losing an armband is somehow more important than that

  6. It truly saddens me that this is being dramatised as if it were the beginning of WW3 when there is a Watford fan in hospital fighting for his life after a cowardly post match attack at wolves last Saturday. You people need to get a fucking grip

  7. The fences are the reason people died at Hillsborough, but standing terraces was a major reason it became a problem, hence the move towards all-seater stadia. Personally, I’m all for safe-standing and the club have made it known that they are too, but my point was that it is all about perceptions. The majority of the decision makers still see safe-standing as a return to the terraces that are associated with those darker days of the game. So how do Villa now go to meetings to press for safe standing, having seen their own support demonstrate such a lack of self-control (along with a few morons from Albion as well). The idea of losing control is what the authorities are scared of not the reality, or we’d have safe-standing already as it’s been working overseas for years.

    In regards to the media, we’re on the same page as the coverage has been so over the top it’s ridiculous. Unfortunately though, public opinion often generally follows what the media reports and tells people they should feel. Sad but true. How else can the Kardashians be explained?!

    You write that fans aren’t taking to the pitch to taunt fans and I agree that that is the case for the majority, but even in the 80’s hay-day of football hooliganism, it was the minority doing the fighting. I too look at the pictures and videos online and whether that’s why they went on the pitch or not, some Villa fans couldn’t resist getting up in the faces of the Baggies players. Take a look at the pictures on this article on the Daily Mail (not my paper of choice, but the pictures tell a thousand words as they say)…
    Top picture, Villa fans taunting Baggies fans from the pitch.
    Second picture, Villa fans being beaten back by police to keep them away from Baggies fans.
    Third picture, 1 mindless idiot taunting Boaz Myhill (who everyone seems to have forgotten was in our youth team) after Sinclair’s goal. While it doesn’t excuse it, this kind of picture perhaps explains why the Baggies players were so wound up and reacted the way they did in the video you linked.

    Those images don’t tie in with the scenes of pure celebration that you seem to be trying to make them out to be. It’s one thing to tell the keeper he’s rubbish from the stands, it’s a totally different thing to do it 10cm from his face. I’d link the camera phone video that’s doing the rounds that shows some of our boys getting in the faces of the Albion players on the pitch, but I think I’ve made my point. I know that for every picture there’s 20+ of fans hugging each other, singing for joy and taking pictures of their kids holding their fists in the air, but its human nature to focus on the negative (unless your name is Paul Lambert, then everything is fantastic). Unfortunately it’s this negative that sticks, regardless of if it’s been blown out of proportion or not.

  8. Let’s face it, we know the media likes to over sensationalise things and that is painting a far worse picture of what was in the majority a genuine outpouring of excitement from a set of fans who have been deprived of it for so long. I can say that, cause I was jumping around my living room in NZ having woken myself up early doors to watch it on a ‘questionably-legal’ internet stream.

    BUT…. when excitement leads to fans running on the pitch to celebrate goals, it becomes stupidity. When fans celebrations on the pitch turn to taunting and man-handling of the opposition, it becomes indefensible. Albion fans were as bad, if not worse, with the chair throwing, but none of the reasons you’ve listed in that article excuse the villa fan’s being on the pitch at any time. The reason the fences went up around pitches in the 70s was that the players safety couldn’t be guaranteed. It only takes 1 idiot to throw a punch and the whole situation explode from celebration to a riot and the players obviously didn’t feel safe. Even Delph said it was scary, imagine being an Albion player seeing hundreds of Villa running at you.

    Given that MOMS is such an advocate of ‘safe-standing’ I’d love to hear your views on how Villa as a club can now possibly keep up its campaign of support for the scheme after this. Considering that what happened after the quarter final is exactly why the authorities are resistant to a return to standing terraces, I’d say that the Villa fans running onto the pitch have just moved the idea of safe-standing from the “maybe” pile, to the “not a cat in hell’s chance” pile for most people who can make the decision.

    I will be disappointed if Villa face any kind of fine or sanctions, after all, the many lower league sides that flood the pitch after big results don’t get fined. But the content of this article is a basically an attempt to defend the indefensible (let’s not forget that it is technically against the law to encroach onto the pitch) and if your view is that Villa fans as a group did nothing wrong here, then frankly you’re delusional.

    My advice – don’t schedule games on a Saturday evening between fierce rivals, don’t think that a handful of stewards and police will be sufficient to handle it, but most of all, if you’re at a football match and your team is doing well, enjoy it, relish it, sing your bloody hearts out, but STAY BY YOUR SEATS. If we all do this, we wont ever see the fences back up, cause lets be honest, nobody wants that again.

    VTID! UTV!

    • Before the game, if you asked any senior staff at Villa Park the question, if Villa win do you think there will be a celebration by fans on the pitch and they would have answered you, ‘yes’.

      If they didn’t want one, then they could have taken measures to prevent it, as this article alludes to. As you say, there was a literally a handful of stewards manning the Holte/Doug Ellis. But the club and the fans have experienced many a on-pitch celebration with no incident. Wrong or right, they are a tradition since the beginning of the game, but suddenly they have become frowned upon, dangerous and illegal since this Saturday?

      Now in the age of knee-jerk Twitter opinion, the media has become even more desperate for readers because the internet provides them with ad revenue per click, and in turn it has become even more irresponsible.

      Some of their coverage is scandalous and quite frankly insulting to people.

      If the players safety is the main concern, why are the WBA players provoking fans by kicking/tripping them and elbowing and shoulder charging them?

      Taunting of players and opposition fans isn’t the reason fans take to the pitch (they’ve been doing those things for 90 minutes through the game), the focus of fans is to celebrate, until they start to get assaulted by players!

      I have zero sympathy for the players if they behave like this.

      Safe standing is all about the rail seat, which ironically has more of a barrier to stop mass rapid encroachment on the pitch.

      Mentioning the fences has you going down the road of the English press! They won’t come back as they are directly responsible for Hillsborough (standing wasn’t).

  9. Just looked at the video above of the West Brom players tripping up Villa fans, The kid in the blue coat looks quite young, What if he’d got trodden on and injured because of the Baggie’s player’s mindless behaviour? Shouldn’t someone be suing the b*****d? Now I know who should have gotten the red card.

    • Good point, the kid does go flying into someone and if there were more people behind him, it could have lead to some injuries. The kid could press charges and get an out of court settlement. Also, McManaman is being a total idiot here attacking anybody around him, he’s lucky the fans are too busy celebrating, as he could have been turned on.

  10. Also, the FA should factor in the fact, if they hadn’t introduced the playing of semi-finals at Wembley, there probably wouldn’t have been a pitch celebration. Derby win + Wembley trip is enough to make a quarter-final win a reason to celebrate.

  11. Yeah Macca, when the whole stadium applauded for Jeff the commentator used the word “class”.

  12. If you watch the TV coverage back, at the end of the game as the fans cascade from the North Stand to run on to the pitch two of the Albion players kick out at Villa fans as they run past them. Rightly or wrongly these fans only intention was to celebrate a famous win over their rivals. As the final whistle goes and in the top left hand corner of the screen you can see the fans running onto the pitch and as they do James Morrison (7) sticks out a foot to trip up a fan as he’s running past him and then Calum McManaman (19) almost reverses back to stretch out his leg to also trip up another fan as he also is just running onto the pitch. And we’re supposed to believe that Villa fans kicked out at Albion players…
    Believe me, some of the idiots who ran onto the pitch before the final whistle need a good kicking for their stupidity, but at the end of the game the fans intentions were to celebrate a famous win and Aston Villa Football Club does not deserve the slating in the media they have been given.
    From where I sat in the Trinity Road Stand, you could see the seats flying down from the Albion section in the North Stand along with beer bottles, one of which was very close to Shay Given and coins with young kids in the section below. Why haven’t the media highlighted that, instead choosing to show crowds of people on a pitch celebrating, but making out that football has “gone back to the dark ages”. And where is the apology from West Brom for the numerous people who were hurt from the missiles being thrown from their fans….

  13. Equating England winning the World Cup to the excitement of beating West Brom for the second time in a week in an Fa Cup quarter final?! Are things really that bad?

    The media have gone over the top subsequently but the reaction of the villa fans was also completely over the top, what will the reaction be if you win the semi?

    • It’s not comparing the actual game or teams, but the incident of thinking the full whistle was gone. I chose not to celebrate on the pitch as yes, it was only a quarter-final. But each to their own, and after the last few seasons Villa have had, it’s understandable!

  14. @daveyb – They thought the final whistle had gone, as explained in the article. The fact that they returned back to behind the hoardings peacefully and in good nature shows us there was nothing remotely sinister behind it.

    Another point that has been glossed over by the media – for not meeting their hysterical narrative, no doubt – is the entire crowd’s ovation of appreciation for Jeff Astle. No point in mentioning it if it ruins a juicy, made-up story.

  15. they should not have gone on the pitch during the game,,, that is wrong and stupid
    most of them looked drunk,,,
    but after the final whistle there was an outpouring of sheer joy,,, and i loved it,,

    and as for the papers ,,, dont buy them

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