Way back last year we discovered that Villa don't even provide half the amount of seats for disabled fans as they should be providing. Following a BBC investigation and pressure from the Government of the United Kingdom, the Premier League was forced to make serious moves to ensure disabled fans could watch the teams they love.
Yesterday, season ticket holders in Aston Villa's North Stand received a letter from the club informing them that they would no longer be able to sit in the same seat next year, in the Championship, due to the addition of disabled seating in the lower North Stand.
This was met with vocal anger by a small portion of Villa fans and questioned by a number of others. Below is the letter that was sent to fans with season tickets in the Lower North Stand:
Rows L to R of the lower North Stand spanning from block R1 to R7 will be torn out and replaced with a disabled viewing platform. This affects the entirety of the lower North Stand and links the current disabled seating section in the Trinity stand to the coming one in the North Stand.
The only real issue that stems from the relocation is this:
I have no issues relocating, my issue is we still don't have prices of these & we could easily be priced out into not renewing #avfc— Villa Till I Die (@VillaTill) 19 April 2016
What we do not know is the prices of the 'held back' areas. This could mean that the people who are forced to move because of the North Stand renovation might end up paying more. It might not happen, but still this is a problem.
But it's nowhere near as much of a problem as the issue behind these renovations. Villa was letting down its disabled fans long before this relegation. It simply wasn't acceptable that there were only 74 seats for disabled supporters. Out of 42,000 seats for able-bodied fans, only a measly 74 wheelchair bound Villans could attend a game at Villa Park on any given Saturday.
That's not even 1 percent of the capacity of the stadium. Not even 0.5 percent.
Villa Park itself presents an issue in any discussion regarding accessibility. The age and structure of the stadium is an easy excuse to get out of a difficult conversation but the fact remains that Villa Park isn't the easiest ground in England to remodel. That leads us to back to the North Stand.
A large criticism of the move is that it is happening in an area that is full of 'atmosphere'. Whilst it is true, that the North Stand can be loud in the face of the opposition seated adjacently why is no-one considering that the disabled supporters sitting in that section can be just as, if not louder than the current able-bodied fans standing there? A further, logical rebuttal is also held within the fact that home fans have only been seated in this section of the North Stand since 2007, away support was previously contained in the lower North Stand. Was Villa Park devoid of atmosphere nine years ago? Did vocal support of the club just happen to surface in 2008?
Of course, it did not.
Another point in opposition to the renovation is that the disabled section will be seated extremely close to the where away fans are seated at Villa Park. This is only a problem if you believe in the fallacy that football fans are knuckle dragging hooligans that need to coin every single fan in close proximity in order to fulfill the blood sacrifice needed to see their team win a game. If you think the location is an issue, you don't have faith in those football fans to not attack disabled people, it's that simple. If you feel the need to 'protect' disabled fans from away support, then we're suddenly back to the dark ages. That's without mentioning that those less-able bodied may be completely capable of defending themselves!
The entire North Stand will be affected, not just the 'loud part'. A shop for tickets for the coming Southampton home game on Villa's own website reveals the availability of tickets in almost all blocks of the North Stand, meaning fans may simply be relocated closer than they think. In fact, there's a swath of empty seats in blocks R6, R7 and R4.
Moving might be a hassle, but it will only be a hassle if you let it be a hassle. The club could certainly have given more notice, there's no question about that. You see, the entire opposition to this move is based on 'what ifs' and not the hard facts. What if the price changes? As annoying as it is to move and possibly pay more, if you're shelling out £500 for a season ticket, £510 won't kill you. It won't price you out of supporting the club you love, but hey - at least it's only something as fluid as money that's an obstacle to you supporting the team. At least there's enough seats for you.
Let's not forget the disabled supporters of the teams who visit Villa Park. There are currently eight seats for disabled away fans, meaning you'd need four more seats just seat the writers of this blog. Disabled away fans should be allowed to sit with away support and I certainly hope the club can solve this within the next three years. I can't imagine what it must be like to follow the away team and have to sit amongst home fans because there's no other option.
And that's what it's all about. Options. People who are wheelchair bound don't get a lot of options. There's plenty of room elsewhere, but why shouldn't wheelchair bound Villans get to experience the atmosphere of the North Stand? With two more stages of disabled access redevelopments coming, it's likely that more disabled seating will be based in both the Holte End and Doug Ellis stands. This means that disabled supporters of Villa might be able to choose which stand they sit in!
Disabled people have a rough deal and the benefits system of my country hardly helps. To escape from that, you'd think they could enjoy a football match? There's no argument against this move. Villa fall way short of providing for disabled fans and even with this development, they won't meet the recommended quota. It's the right thing to do, but it's also legally required.
The most depressing thing about all of this? No-one is speaking up. There's protests against the ownership of Aston Villa and yet no-one has said a damn thing about this. There's a three-year waiting list for season tickets for disabled fans at Villa Park and I don't think they will meet the requirements to end the existence of that waiting list with these few stages. That's not good enough. Disability is a barrier to everything else in life and if there's people who actually want to go to Villa games, but can't, well Villa should do their damned hardest to find a way to solve that issue.
There's a saying amongst Villa fans, 'you don't choose, you're chosen.' Well, Villa fans in wheelchairs have as much right to support the football club as you and I. Let's make that happen.