Friday 30 September 2011

Aston Villa - Villa Park

Aston Villa FC
Villa Park
Trinity Road
B6 6HE

0121 327 2299

Matchday Number: 57
Sunday 8th April 2001
Liverpool 2-1 Wycombe Wanderers
FA Cup Semi Final


Aston Villa were founded in 1874 and have been a top division club for most of their history, being founder members of the Premier League and members of the top flight since 1988. On almost every occasion that they have been relegated they have bounced back in convincing fashion with the only extended period away coming between 1967 and 1975 with the club even dropping down to the third tier for a couple of seasons during this time. Ron Saunders was the main to spearhead the recovery bringing Aston Villa their 7th and to date latest league championship in 1981 along with a Charity Shield and 2 League Cups during his 8 year tenure. The 
European Cup and European Super Cup were won a few months after he was sacked for a poor showing in the league. The FA Cup has been won 7 times with the last success coming in in 1957 when they beat Manchester United in the Final.

Aston Villa's main rivals are Birmingham City, though the 'Second City Derby' has not been played as much in recent times owing to the Blues relative lack of success. Instead West Bromwich Albion have replaced them as the main rivalry in the league. Famous supporters include Prince William, Tom Hanks, Lee Child, Ozzy Osbourne, Simon LeBon and when he is not confusing them with West Ham or another claret and blue team - Prime Minister David Cameron. Though the one I like most is fictional - Lennie Godber, Fletcher's cellmate in Porridge.This was revealed in the episode 'A night in' even referring to a 1968 FA Cup 4th Round tie against Rotherham United.

When I was up in court and Villa looked like doing well in the cup, I prayed
But I don't know, it didn't seem to work out
I got probation and Villa lost to Rotherham one nothing.


My first match at Villa Park was Wycombe's famous FA Cup Semi Final against Liverpool. The Chairboys had performed miracles to reach the Semi Final, beating several bigger clubs along the way.

It all started with a first round tie against Isthmian League Harrow Borough. In a routine victory the Blues won 3-0. The main talking point of the match was the appearance of 49 year old Barry Silkman from the bench for the non league visitors. Then manager Lawrie Sanchez saw the obvious, it was a publicity stunt, pure and simple. Silkman took exception to this and said he could have lasted the whole 90 minutes and offered to bet Sanchez that he could race him any distance from 50M to 8 miles and still win. The bet to my knowledge has never been taken up. Silkman also accused his former club of being 'ordinary' but goals from Jamie Bates (2) and Michael Simpson saw them through safely.

Then, a tough test awaited Wycombe. An away tie at Millwall is tough at the best of times and Wycombe were outsiders to win. But they managed to get a 0-0 and despite  a goal in the replay from Joe Dolan, goals from Andy Rammell and a great overhead kick from Paul McCarthy saw Wycombe through. After missing the away leg due to work I was glad to be present in the replay where we triumphed 2-1.

Grimsby at home was the uninspiring 3rd Round draw, though it did give Wycombe their best chance ever of reaching the 4th Round. They must have thought their chances had gone after a 1-1 draw in Bucks, but in the replay at Blundell Park, Wycombe put in a great performance to win 3-1 before a crowd of just 3267. I'd hoped to go to the replay but work meant I wasn't able to make it.

The reward for progressing to the 4th round for the first time ever was a home tie against the other WWFC - Wolverhampton Wanderers. In the first real shock of the run Wycombe triumphed 2-1 after fans had been called upon to clear the snowbound pitch to get the game on. Andy Rammell memorably scoring and then diving in the snow.

Wimbledon at home were next up. This was before they were thrown out of the Football League and reformed as AFC Wimbledon. After an exciting 2-2 draw at Adams Park, we made our way to Selhurst Park for a night that will live long in the memory.  The travelling support from Wycombe almost outnumbered the home side and the reward for the winners was a quarter final game at Leicester.  If the drama of the first 90 minutes was not enough where both sides shared a 1-1 draw and Michael Simpson was sent off after 60 minutes then the injury time certainly was. Wimbledon were awarded a penalty in the very last minute. Step forward Martin Taylor who pulled off an amazing and dramatic save to take the tie to extra time. But moments into the first half, Wimbledon took the lead. Wycombe looked dead on their feet and certain to be going out but in the 119th minute Paul McCarthy popped up with a late equaliser. Cue an even more dramatic penalty shoot out, where after 10 penalties each, Martin Taylor stepped up to score the winner and put us through to Filbert Street.

The quarter final game against Leicester was the most famous victory of them all, I'll leave Sky Sports to tell the story, as they can cover the match better than I could in words. What I do remember is falling down about 7 rows of seats when we scored but not really caring. The back in Wycombe I remember me sitting on my mates shoulders as he carried me round one of Wycombe's many poor pubs, with me not realising that my 'dance' was causing me to knock ceiling tiles down which luckily were soft as they were hitting other revellers. Next thing I know I was on a shoulder that wasn't my mates as the bouncer carried me outside. I got myself a kebab and got a taxi home, still reasonably sober! 

And so onto the memorable day at Villa Park. I actually went up with my Liverpool supporting workmate. Alex. We made Villa Park from Wycombe in 45 minutes as he had a hire car and drove at 140MPH all the way up! Upon arriving at Villa Park and parking up in a nearby street we were cornered by local youths saying they'd "look after our car" for £3. My mate said he wasn't bothered as it was a hire car!. Luckily nothing happened to it, despite the veiled threat After a couple of drinks in the packed pub with some friendly Liverpool fans, we took a walk around the various fanzine and T-Shirt sellers and snapped up a few mementos. In the pub, the Liverpudlians didn't like up to their unfair stereotype. We couldn't get to the the bar - we had to hand our money over about 10 people in the crowd, along with our drinks order. Back came what we had ordered, along with our change, putting to bed the myth that Scousers would nick the wheels off a jumbo jet if it flew too low!

Eventually it was time to go into the ground. The Holte End was a sea of light and Dark blue as 20,000 Wycombe fans made their way to the game. It was deadlocked until 78 minutes. In the time before that Wycombe could have even had a penalty, but the referee missed Marcus Babbel's handball in the area. Then 12 minutes from time Liverpool scored with a great free kick from Robbie Fowler. Minutes later it was 2 when Emile Heskey scored. On 88 minutes though, Wycombe had their moment of glory and it couldn't have fallen to a more appropriate man to deliver it. Club stalwart Keith Ryan had the composure to lob Sander Westerveld to give the scoreline a more fair outlook. It was the end of an amazing story and as the players swapped shirts, applauded by one and all, everyone knew that this was one Wycombe team that would never be forgotten. My only regret was that there were no digital cameras or camera phones back then as it would have been nice to get some pictures of a great day.


I can't even remember why I bothered going to this, as I'd already been and wasn't really a groundhopper at the time. In any case, following a typical crap performance by Wycombe against their bogey team Blackpool, I travelled up to Birmingham on the Saturday night, as he was a student up there. His accommodation was  in a place called Handsworth, one of the most run down areas of Birmingham. The local pub was actually a cracker though, called the Grove. Once you'd got past the unglamorous outside and furnishings, the fare inside was a lot better. I had a fantastic green curry on a freshly cooked naan which at £3 was both a bargain and delicious. All washed down with a pints of Scrumpy Jack for £1.75 each before going back to my brothers gaff to watch 'The Premiership' which was at the time ITV's lamentable replacement for Match Of The Day, after they won the rights for the highlights package.

It speaks volumes for my selective memory that I remember sod all about the following game, apart from that as with the FA Cup Semi Final 3 years previously I was seated in the Holte End. I do remember Arsenal winning 2-0 to carry on an unbeaten run which at that point was 22 games and it went on to 49 games before a defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford. On the day it was 2 Thierry Henry goals that saw them through, one a cleverly taken free kick and the other a penalty. After the game I got the train back home, having work the following morning, back in the happy days when I got weekends off work.  


Having drawn 1-1 at Adams Park in the original tie, Wycombe had done themselves proud and the club had earned a decent amount, what with the gate money and the game being live on BT Sport. Villa were without a win in ages but when they went ahead through a well taken Micah Richards goal and looked to have ended Villa's dud run, but Joe Jacobson had other ideas and equalised with a well taken penalty. Considering we had around 4 players out, including first choice keeper Matt Ingram, who'd been sent off the previous week and was suspended for the game. Not that some of the travelling Villa support agreed, arguing with captain Micah Richards on the touchline and subjecting their under performing players to a torrent of abuse while they boarded the coach and laughed at their own fans.

This must have shocked them into action as in between the 2 games they had remained unbeaten - beating Crystal Palace at home and drawing away at league leaders Leicester City. Wycombe themselves only had a 1-0 defeat to Hartlepool in the ensuing gap but hopes were still high of an upset. So much so that over 4000 fans would be going up for the replay, with the ticket prices of £10 and £15 having a lot to do with it. I'd wanted to go up on the train and have a day in Birmingham and it's many great pubs but the crap service offered by Chiltern Railways put the kybosh on that with the returning trains to Wycombe stopping well before the time supporters would need to be heading for home. Instead I booked on the Independent Supporters Club coaches which always stop at a pub with food en route, while the official supporters club were taking 20 coaches, with the less than glamorous stop being at a motorway service station.

I'd wanted to take my bridge camera to Villa Park to get some decent pictures. I'd emailed Aston Villa and credit to them for their speedy reply but the answer was no, it wasn't allowed in. I'd guessed this would be the case, which is why I prefer the non league game, without it's long list of rules and regulations. I'd had a good night's sleep on the Monday as per usual and did my mandatory Tuesday walk down town. There I got some stuff to take on the coach as well as some fruit. I'd picked up some grapes and cherries at what was supposed to be 2 for £3 but Morrisons refused to honour the deal as they claimed that you couldn't mix and match despite the notice saying that you could. I'd already eaten the cherries by the time I'd noticed my receipt, and would have asked for a refund if I hadn't. Try as I might I couldn't get the difference back and so now I will take it to their online customer services, and if no joy, trading standards. I got back home to a shed load of parcels from 28 games that I'd ordered on CEX with the whole lot costing little more than £15. The postman must have loved me and  he's got more work coming as I still have a third of my order to come!

After coming home I had lunch and chilled until it was time to leave for the coach at 2.30. There was drama before we'd even left Wycombe with indies regular Chris Perrin missing the coach as he was running late. He'd asked us to wait for him, but after 5 minutes delay he'd pushed his luck too far and we were on our way. The menus were handed out and showed much promise with me plumping for the American Craft burger and I was hoping for the cider situation to be the same. We arrived at 4.40 after a small delay on the motorway. The cider situation was better than most, no real ciders but lots of choice. I had my usual Thatchers Gold to start off. I learned that I'd caused some upset to the landlord of the pub we had stopped at Luton after he'd taken umbrage at my honest review on Trip Advisor. The food was great and I even had a new 'cider' though the Bulmers Zesty Orange was disappointing. For the third pint I had Symonds and that left me in a good mood for the game. The journey to Villa Park took longer than expected due to heavy traffic but we made it just in time for kick off. We were not helped by some 'events team' holding us up for 10 minutes then making us walk half a mile to the ground like the oafish bunch of glorified traffic wardens that they are but after getting a 'match scarf' for a fiver I got to my seat a few minutes into the game. The match report from the Daily Star is below.

The night was a good one with a terrific atmosphere from the Wycombe fans with well over 4000 there. The team did us proud too, outplaying Villa in parts. Matt Ingram barely had a save to make and it was us in fact that had the better chances. It wasn't until the 75th minute that we went behind but by that time we were looking very tired. In the end we lost 2-0 which was a bit harsh given the effort put in by the team. We were kept locked in the ground for 10 minutes after the game, either that or the small concourses below struggled to cope. With traffic the coach didn't get going till 10.30, but the journey home was a decent one. After a couple of drop offs in the Wycombe area I was dropped at the end of my road at around 12.20. As usual I was wide awake and it took me ages to drop off. I only got an hours sleep before getting up at 4am for work, meaning the standard nap the following afternoon.

VILLA PARK has a 42,785 capacity and is one of the best in the Premiership, being the largest stadium in the Midlands. Being a modern stadium the views and legroom are excellent. Pride of place goes to the huge Holte End with it's 13500 capacity behind one goal whilst there are also the Doug Ellis and Trinity Road stands along the side. Away fans normally get part of the Doug Ellis Stand although for cup games some of the North Stand is also allocated. This is the oldest stand in the ground and is due to be replaced, despite this it's still pretty impressive.

There are plenty of takeaways and pubs nearby, though it's a long time since I've used any of them. Last time I eat around the ground was not even on a match day, but when I was travelling down from a game up North. I stopped for a curry at a local restaurant which was both cheap and decent, so perhaps that might be an idea if you have time, as they allow you to take your own booze in. Food in the ground as expected is pricey, with £2.80 for a portion of chips being a prime example. The concourses in some stands are tiny, especially the North Upper where it's a really tight squeeze with everyone down there at half time.