Villa Park – Aston Villa
For those 30+ Villa Park is one of the iconic grounds in England. Home to many a cup semi final before the FA got greedy and took the uniqueness out of Wembley.
It’s got history and stands imposing, almost gesturing as we’ve driven past it over the years en route to Southern based games.
There won’t be many more games eagerly awaited by the travelling faithful this season.
Villa Park opened in 1897 at a cost of £16,400. It was officially called the Aston Lower Grounds and it was situated in the former grounds of a Jacobean stately home, Aston Hall. The site had been used in the past as a Victorian amusement park, and also as a fishpond and kitchen garden belonging to the owner of Aston Hall, Sir Thomas Holte (the origin of the naming of the stand, the Holte End).
The pitch was initially surrounded by a 24 feet wide concrete cycle track and a cinder running track. When first built the stadium could house 40,000 fans. The first match at the ground, a friendly against Blackburn Rovers, took place on 17 April 1897, one week after Aston Villa had completed the League and FA Cup ‘Double’.
In 1911, Villa bought the land on which the ground is situated for £8250, the office buildings and car park area for £1500 and the carriage drive and bowling green for £2000. The purchase formed the first stage of plans drawn up by the ambitious Villa director Frederick Rinder, who wanted to take the capacity of Villa Park up to 120,000. However these plans were eventually scaled back, due to the outbreak of the First World War.
Archie Leitch’s 1914 plans incorporated original Byzantine Victorian buildings from the Aston Lower Grounds which were converted into sumptuous offices and a gymnasium and the bowling green remained a feature of Villa Park until 1966.
The running track was removed in 1914 when work started on the Trinity Road Stand and the ground was squared off. Leitch’s Holte End was not completed until the 1940s and plans for an equally vast Witton End were never realised. When it was completed in 1922, the Trinity Road Stand was considered to be one of the grandest in Britain, complete with stained glass windows, Italian mosaics and a sweeping staircase.
Floodlights were installed at the ground in 1958. The Holte End was not covered until 1962, at a cost of £40,000, while the old rounded roof of the Witton Lane Stand was replaced with a plain sloping roof in 1964.
Villa Park was chosen by FIFA to host three matches for the 1966 World Cup. As a condition of this the Witton Lane Stand became all seater, the players tunnel had to be covered by a cage and the pitch had to be widened by three yards. In February 1977, work began on the new North Stand with its distinctive ‘AV’ seating plan and executive boxes. Villa Park became all seater during the 1994/95 season when newly rebuilt Holte End became the last stand to conform to the Taylor Report and was demolished to make way for a new 13,500 all seater structure. The Holte was claimed to be the largest End stand in Europe upon completion.
In June 1996 Under-soil heating was installed. The old Trinity Road Stand was demolished at the end of the 1999-2000 season and replaced by a larger, modern stand, which took Villa’s capacity from 39,399 to its present size of 42,788.
Villa Park has hosted games for several Cup competitions. It is the most used stadium in FA Cup semi-finals history, having hosted 55 semi-finals. The club hosted the League Cup Final in 1980-81 in which Liverpool beat West Ham 2-1 in a replay.
During the construction of the new Wembley Stadium between 2001 and 2005 the FA Trophy Final was held at Villa Park.
We’ll be sat in the Doug Ellis Upper, relatively low numbers of fans despite us selling out, whilst it’s a pity the games midweek and the travelling numbers aren’t 3000 a dark Novembers night should only add to the atmosphere.
How to Get There
M55, M6 South. Now when we went to St Andrews recently, at J6, you literally passed Villa Park, but the consensus seems to be leave at junction 7 and follow the southbound A34 Walsall Road. Take a left towards the University of Central England and then follow the signs for the A4040 to Witton. Taking the first left at the main roundabout and follow the signs towards Villa Park.
Parking around the ground is restricted and expect to pay around a fiver for the pleasure, apparently a nightmare getting away at the end of the game too.
For the sat navvers amongst us – B6 6HE
For the Virgin lovers – The nearest main line station is Birmingham New Street. Get a connection to either Aston or Witton station, the trip taking about 15 minutes. Aston station is about a 10 minute walk from the ground, while Witton is a mere stone’s throw from the away end of Villa Park. On exiting Witton station, turn left and go as far as the first roundabout. On turning left into Witton Lane, the entrance to the away section is at the nearest corner of the ground. There are numerous extra trains to both Aston and Witton stations on match days.
For those flying via Samm Airways – The nearest airport is Birmingham International, and train connections to Birmingham New Street station. Villa Park is a half hour taxi ride from the airport
Where to Drink
Away fans will be directed to the Witton Arms (Cap & Gown), wait for it £3 to get in! Chelsea fans on a recent visit recite: a splendid example of a Victorian pub, with fine dining and attractive bar staff of which Aston is famous for? actually this pub is the pits, crap beer, crap service and the possibility of getting soaked when the youth have had one shandy too many and the drinks start flying. Sounds like fun.
It`s either the city centre and pubs further afield.
Ale is not on sale within the ground.
Plod & Stewards
Reports of stewarding aren’t bad, it’s the West Midlands Force don’t mention John Stalker and you should be ok.
Fear Factor Rating – 3.
Saturday saw us be outplayed for a half and then come in to it more as the game went on. Villa have an awful scoring record for the second half of a game (so far) and when you look at their potential line up, it’s quite frightening. But this is the Pool on the road, fear holds no part in Holloway’s attempt to secure our place amongst the elite. Our last sortie in to the Midlands saw our worse display of the season, anything from Wednesday’s game should be considered a bonus and with a trip to the Boleyn on Saturday to follow here’s hoping that come 10pm it’s a Pool victory that’s left the locals calling us the Villans.
Onwards + Upwards
Villa Ground Guide
Villa Park – Aston Villa