I want to start this by making it very clear that, despite the fact that I declined to renew my personal membership in the Aston Villa Supporters' Trust (AVST) the other day, I am not on a witch hunt against this group. I genuinely hope that they can become an effective agent for much-needed change at the club, and I genuinely would like to see them succeed. With that said, yesterday's statement is not the right way to effect change, nor does it do what the AVST should be doing.
If you haven't read it yet, please take a minute to read the statement before you go further. On its surface, it's hard to disagree with what the Trust have written -- Villa have been junk this season, and that's hardly anything new. If the club would like to remain successful (read: in the Premier League) something has to change. But this statement is not going to create that change, and neither will the Trust if this is how they think change needs to happen.
In the statement, the AVST demonstrate a view of football that simply does not align with reality. They write, "the AVST wishes to remind those involved at all levels of the club that their first duty is to our loyal supporters." That could not be further from the truth. The first duty of the club is to make the club profitable. Football is first and foremost a business enterprise, and as with any business, the first duty is to the books. Is there a necessity to make the supporters happy? Absolutely. Without supporters, you cannot make as much of a profit. Though, quite frankly, given the massive revenues generated by television contracts in the Premier League, the money provided by supporters is less and less important to clubs.
Part of the issue here comes from the fact that football feels as if it's not a business. It feels as if it's a Romantic thing from a bygone era in which eleven men represent the supporters and bring us vicarious and reflected glory. But we should never lose sight of what the game really is. Does the business-first aspect make our love of football any less real? Certainly not. Can a business focus on appeasing supporters (or, let's be honest here, customers)? Absolutely. But that is not the first priority of those at Aston Villa. Winning and making money is. The fact that it will appease supporters is ancillary. To suggest that the duty is to the supporters first and not the books is to live in a rose-tinted world.
In addition to being based on the false premise of "duty to supporters first," the tone of the statement displays a stunning lack of self awareness from the organization. "For two weeks now there have been stories leaking out of Villa Park, seemingly from both the manager and the club, and the AVST demand that this is brought to an end." This sounds like a child stamping their feet, plugging their ears, and getting angry at their parents for fighting. Their demands are not going to change what happens at Villa Park, and putting it in those words only makes them seem petulant.
Speaking on this issue is probably something that the AVST had to do, so I don't begrudge their statement. But speak on the issue in a way that shows you know your place. Don't demand change on an issue of personalities. Instead, say something like "The leaked stories and infighting are making our club a national laughing stock, and we hope that something will change." It's a very small adjustment, but it reflects an understanding of the AVST's position. They cannot expect to demand broad-based club changes and have them happen, but they can certainly express concern and expect that it be heard. Because while the Aston Villa's first duty isn't to its supporters, it certainly is in the club's interest to acknowledge what those supporters have to say.
There is, however, a group who do have a duty to supporters first: the AVST. The very same group who ignored our attempts to raise funds for disabled Aston Villa supporters to play powerchair football. Or the group who would not answer our questions about disabled seating at Villa Park. They have since sent an email that said, basically, "Apologies for not responding, we were on holiday and we've been focusing on emails about renewals." I suppose that's fair. They are a volunteer organization with limited resources. But if the Trust want to be effective, they should focus on issues that directly impact the fans in a less ephemeral way than "Our club stinks and boy does that make us unhappy."
And to their credit, the AVST have done an excellent job of supporting the "Twenty's Plenty" campaign. That is exactly the sort of initiative that the Trust should be undertaking. One that can have an immediate impact on the supporters and one that isn't based on grandiose statements that boil down to "Hey! Be better!" Their work on the ticket pricing issue should be a model for what they do elsewhere. Take that passion and drive and apply it to issues that can make life for supporters better regardless of what happens on the pitch. Because let's face it: regardless of what happens on that pitch, most of us will still support and love the club anyways.
The AVST continue to be an organization who seem to be primarily concerned with ensuring that they remain visible. There is no one at the club who is unaware that things are bad right now, and the statement does nothing other than say "we're angry and you need to fix it." If they wish to be an effective organization, and I truly hope that they do, the AVST need to realize that certain things are beyond their purview. Focus on change that you can actually accomplish, and focus on change that will impact the fans.