Tensions were already running high at Aston Villa Football Club. A point above the relegation zone. Knocked out of the League Cup by a League Two side. The announcement that no one new would join in January. Frustrated fans, demanding their money back, their club back, the manager out, the chairman out, everyone out.
After Villa's FA Cup defeat at the hands of Championship side Millwall, those tensions reached the boiling point. Rory Smith, writing about Friday's game, had this to say about Paul Lambert's approach to the post-match press conference:
"Lambert refused to answer questions from the man from the Birmingham Mail last night, prompting five awkward silences during a strained press conference. It was an unnecessary, petulant act, and not one that will endear him to his supporters, whom he needs now more than ever."
We here at 7500 to Holte, and pretty much every Villa supporter who ever bothers to read a news report, knows that Smith is referencing Mat Kendrick, who covers the club for the Birmingham Mail. Kendrick is great at what he does, giving a good view inside the club and accurate reports on its dealings. For supporters, his Twitter presence is invaluable, his live updates on matches peppered with bad puns. While his lips are sealed on confidential information, Kendrick is still willing to interact with fans, answering questions when he's able and making jokes when he can't. In other words, he's a journalist we Villa fans trust - and that's invaluable when it feels as though the club is crumbling.
And now there's this, the Villa manager making a point of singling out Kendrick and refusing to answer his questions. Where does that leave us supporters? Forced to turn to other sources, ones we perhaps don't like or don't trust. If we have to get our news from the Rory Smiths* of the world, we're relying on reporters that are not as in sync with the club, and could easily examine a situation from the wrong angle, leading to inaccurate news reporting.
A generation ago, supporters had to rely solely on football journalists for coverage of their team. Now, we've got Twitter, and forums, and blogs, all trying to find a scoop and get to the bottom of the story. But most of us still can't get into the press room, still can't get behind the security guards. It's still necessary to get the majority of our news from the people with the press passes. Now, Lambert is taking away one of our most invaluable resources by refusing to answer a local reporter's questions. What next? All other West Midlands reporters being shut out? Reporters having their questions screened before asking the manager? Or will our only news come straight from the Villa press office?
Smith had it right when he said Lambert's actions won't endear him to supporters. Right now, our faith in the club is at rock bottom - it may even be lower than when Alex McLeish had Villa hovering near the drop. We want explanations from our beloved Aston Villa. We want to hear the manager explain his decisions, to comment on the transfer policy, to apologize for mistakes he may have made.
But ignoring reporters, playing childish games...well, that's not going to help Villa fans grow their confidence in the club. Obviously, the best means would be to actually win a few games. However, with this possibility seemingly out of Villa's grasp, the next best way to keep us believing that the club is on the right track is to keep the lines of communication open. Hiding only reinforces the belief that nothing will lift the gloom enshrouding the club.
*Please note: I'm not trying to diminish Rory Smith in any way - I think he's quality. But he, and others writing briefly on the Villa Saga, are not Aston Villa journalists, and their perspective is not the same as someone who is constantly engaged with the club.