In August, I received an email letting me know that it was time to renew my membership in the Aston Villa Supporters' Trust. I've been sitting on it for a while trying to decide what I wanted to do with it. A year and a half ago, I penned a column in support of the AVST. They had just released a statement that said, basically, "Hey, Paul Lambert is pretty awful, but let's not fire him in April because wow that's a bad idea." At the time I wrote:
I've been a bit on the fence about the AVST, mostly because I wasn't really sure what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. If this is any indication of the direction in which that organization is headed, they can count on my support.
It seemed as if the organization was exactly what we needed. With Randy Lerner losing interest in his club and yet another relegation battle on the horizon, we needed a way for the legitimate concerns of supporters to be heard. We needed an organizational voice that, through strength of numbers, could compel the club to actually listen.
We haven't gotten that.
Instead, we have gotten an unresponsive group who do little that actually advances causes that can help fans. I can primarily speak from personal anecdotal evidence, but it's hard for me to find much that contradicts my view elsewhere. Personally, I have had little success in getting the AVST to actually help supporters. In two separate instances I have had emails about supporters issues ignored by the organization.
The first came in May when I was working on our Villa Rockets fundraiser. I had a contact in AVST and I emailed to ask if it would be possible for the organization to promote, feature, or tweet about our efforts. After all, the Rockets are Villa supporters, and every pound we raised was going to help them. We were supporting supporters who needed our help. I heard back with a quick email from Tony Barnes that seemed encouraging: "Let me check with the Exec. I'm sure it will be a yes."
I then heard nothing else. I sent a follow-up email with a link to our kick-off post that included the line "Again, if you guys can't help, I totally understand. But if you can, we'll appreciate any publicity we can get for this." And still nothing. Not even a simple "Sorry, but we can't do anything." Had that been the case because the AVST didn't want to involve themselves in a fundraiser that wasn't selected by the board, I would have understood. (I mean, giving it a tweet wouldn't have been hard, nor necessarily an endorsement, but I'm trying to be understanding here.) But the courtesy of a reply wasn't even extended.
Then, in August, I reached out again (through both email and the contact form on the AVST website). This time I was looking to follow up on the report that Villa Park did not have enough seating for disabled supporters. While the Rockets fundraiser might have had issues with being from a specific site, this was very clearly an issue about supporters. I wanted a comment from AVST as this was exactly the sort of thing I thought they should be dealing with: making life at Villa Park better for supporters.
And again I was ignored. I stalled on the story because I was never able to get any balanced views. I had good interviews, but I wanted more depth, and even having a comment from AVST would have provided that.
But I admit, my perception might be tainted by the fact that I was ignored on two projects that were very important to me. I wanted to check and make sure that I hadn't missed anything, so I went to the AVST page listing "our achievements" to see what the organization had accomplished. Maybe I was overlooking something. Here's what I found:
- A statue
- A gravesite restoration
- Donations for "the War Memorial plague" (I assume [sic] and that they mean plaque, because what's written there would be a bad cause to donate to)
- A "Manifesto for Change" presented to Bruce Langham, who quit as Aston Villa's CEO in 2005
- Attendance at the Supporter Consultation Group
The first three are good causes, and pretty neat to boot. The fourth is something we could sure use now but doesn't help much given that it happened more than a decade ago. And the fifth is attending meetings, which tells us absolutely nothing about what was accomplished. So on a page dedicated to achievements we have nothing substantive that actually helps supporters achieve a better relationship with the club. Elsewhere on the site the most recent news is a combination of supporting the Twenty's Plenty campaign (hey! useful!), preening about new patrons, and a few toothless statements.
We deserve a better organization, one that actually has the supporters' trust and one that will actually work for the supporters. Until that happens, I will not be renewing my membership.