My trip to the 125th Anniversary of the Montagu Cup this year was a highlight, so too are my memories of Villa Park which this year is also celebrating it’s 125th anniversary. I first went there in 1969 when Villa were in the Second Division and stood on the then Witton End unimaginatively later to be called The North Stand when redeveloped. I was supporting Watford who duly won two nil but what struck me most was the Holte End which was like a cathedral to football.
I did not know that some years later I would return with my son for Villa’s opening game of the season to see them draw 1-1 with Southampton and would start a 15 year period standing and sitting on the Holte and other parts of the ground, some notable away trips and Wembley more than once. But forget the players games and results it was Villa Park that was the star. The ups and downs, wins and losses that created the volume which can be amazing when all is well.
The second game was in the North Stand for a League Cup game and on buying a scarf my son was hooked and I was committed. After this game we then stood on the Holte, paying on the gate and getting in early to make sure we were behind a barrier and away from the more frantic support at the back behind the goal. What was astonishing was that children stood on ‘devices’ bought into the ground by their chaperone. There were wooden boxes, kitchen steps and milk crates and I soon found that in the old Asda car park near the ground there was a supply of milk crates that were used for each game. When I look back I can’t believe that we like many others took into the game items to stand on that could have been used as serious weapons if thrown.
We progressed to a season ticket and were there for the last game in the old Holte before it was demolished and we booed like everyone else when they asked us to sing ‘you’ll never walk alone’. We were moved to the Witton Lane Stand for the start of the next season but in the close season we went to the ground to get some souvenir bricks from the old Holte that the demolition team were happy to give us.
As soon as they could we were moved back into the Holte and sat with an unfinished roof which meant that water was pouring down on us when it rained and we paddled around. A burger van was somehow moved into the back of the building site until it was finished. The new Holte was soon fully adopted by the fans and still emits the best support in the land.
The club moved on and the ground was redeveloped further with the Witton Lane side completed and then on to The Trinity Road (Main Stand) which again we went to see the demolition. On our walk up the road we passed the unloved Holte Hotel which stood in disrepair. In the gutter were two tiles and on the path another from the pathway in front of the entrance. We picked them up and kept the terracotta tiles and now that the building has been refurbished you can see three tiles are newer than the others. Walking on to the demolition site we chatted to the work team and they produced some of the mosaic small tiles that had been saved from the Lion that was the focus of the stand wall. They gave us some but said that they had kept the gold ones. What vandalism that this mosaic was not saved and I have often felt that Villa have lost their way since they threw out their illustrious ancestors architectural heritage and although they are now pushing back to the top I hope that the new stand redevelopment will erase the hurt with a new name, a new lion on the exterior cladding and a nod to the stained glass windows in the new hospitality suites.
My son moved on to playing football on a Saturday which I fully realised when I had tickets for Villa against Coventry for the last game of the season when we relegated them. The tickets were in the new Trinity Road Stand which we had not sat in but there was an empty seat next to me as he chose to play rather than watch. Times have changed and we try to go to a few games each year although it has now become more difficult with Villa’s recent brilliant revival.
I have great memories like so many others that have been involved in the 125 years and wish those in the future feel that same thrill that I have.