It’s not often that I awake before the sun breaks for an Aston Villa match, however that’s exactly what happened yesterday. It’s also not often that I’m the only body on the cross-city line towards Aston at 7.00 AM. Yesterday was an unusual day for many reasons, as it would be the first ever day that I travelled alongside Aston Villa to a different locale, and a different stadium.
My first away game? It’s been too long. What’s my excuse? Meh. It’s costly and I barely thought about it - but there’s also a big problem. Villa have a rabid away following, and tickets are almost always sold out. There’s no room for apathy if you’re thinking about heading across the country for Villa, you’re either first in the line for tickets, or you’re hanging outside the stadium, begging for a spare to buy. It’s in or out. For the first time, I’m glad to say I was on call for Fulham tickets. My scenario for this match was unique, it wasn’t a ‘typical’ away day by any means, but you’ll hear, and see, more of that another day. Just know it involves a 4K camera and a film crew. On that note - quickly - it was a shame that some Villa fans thought I was some kind of Arsenal Fan TV type who’d snuck a Go-Pro in to film my own reaction for ninety minutes (not the case) to bolster my own ‘brand’ - because the reaction to me doing somewhat professional work on this day wasn’t entirely great.
At Villa Park, I met with my Holtecast sibling Dani Raza, and we headed down to Fulham on a fan coach outside Villa Park. I was surprised to note that the average age on our coach was polarising. If you weren’t me or Dani, you’d either be packing a free bus pass, or you’d still be at school. There was barely any middle ground, which sparks a thought - what does that say about the state of, well, everything? The coach trip was about as arduous as you’d have thought. We were flanked by other coaches and the blaring horns of Villa fans. Beep beep, beep-beep-beep, beep-beep-beep-beep, beep-beep.
Craven Cottage is a unique ground, and there are some incredible similarities to Villa Park. The brickwork and ‘traditional aura’ of the ground were clear (they were designed by the same man). It’s almost like a much smaller brother. The unique qualities? Well, the concourse outside the Putney End, is well, outside. It over looks the Thames and isn’t truly built into the stadium. It is as if it’s a smaller park encircling the terraces, ends, and stands. A replica namesake is built into the corner of the Putney End as a bespoke viewing platform, but we must also note the statue of Fulham legend Johnny Haynes, which immortalises West London’s Kentish Town-born flanking blitzkrieg. It stands above the home crowd outside the stadium as they seek to catch a glimpse of their heroes arrive, while encircling an idol of a past legend. It fits like a glove.
The Putney End stand is ideal - it’s a large, sweeping stand that leans towards the pitch. Some views are obstructed by poles, but I’m not sure the standing Villa fans actually minded. There’s also a neutral section at Fulham (which is in general, a very good idea - which Fulham Football Club have earned due to their reputation) which was packed out with Villa fans, so you could possibly say that Villa brought almost 6 thousand fans to a 25,000 capacity stadium, which is a more than decent turnout. Respect.
Villa made a lot of racket during the game, which only naturally died out as the football team gave up the ghost towards the middle of the second half, which was when the Fulham support decided to finally make some noise. They were loud, but there was a bit of a ‘sing when you’re winning’ thing about them. Still, we are all guilty of that - and I’m glad that the Villa support applauded the team, and sang for the vast majority of the match, as loud as they could. Villa’s away support is something to be cherished, and something that the club should do everything in their power to reward and support.
It was harder to be disappointed by Villa having actually been at the game. I feel as though if I’d watched it at Villa Park, or on TV, that I’d have been full of critical notions. There was a newfound appreciation of Aston Villa within myself - did I enjoy the match? No. I did find it easier to respect the circumstances of the loss, though.
I’ll be heading to Sheffield next week to watch Villa play Wednesday on Saturday at Hillsborough, and I’m not sure that I truly care about the result of that coming game, deep down.
That being said, it’s rather difficult to travel from Birmingham to London, only to see your team get dunked on from the half-way line. Despite all that I’ve said, that solitary moment of game play was heartbreaking. It’s not really football if it isn’t, though. Is it?