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Dave Woodhall’s Villa Blog

HULL, HELL AND HAPPINESS

01-05-2009

Imagine you’re a Villa fan based in Hull. Tough enough you might think. But as Dave Woodhall observes, it’s even tougher when kick-off times are being constantly mucked around.

I could talk about how our unwinning streak continued last week. I could say we surely to God have got to beat Hull on Monday, whatever good it might do to help Albion and Newcastle. I could touch on Martin O’Neill’s comments about how he’d not object to Celtic and Rangers joining the Premier League.

But I’d like to concentrate on something that affects all supporters of every league club in the country, by telling you about a friend of mine.

Chris grew up in Yorkshire, in a family of Hull fans. I think his granddad was on their books at one time. He, for some reason, decided he wanted to support the Villa. He moved down here, working for a time in the music business. He moved back to Yorkshire and now has two children, a son who supports the Villa and a Hull-supporting daughter.

Never mind Arsenal and Manchester United rolling into town, they were delighted at the thought of being able to watch their teams play each other. Shifting the game up there at Christmas was bad enough, but at least it was school holidays so the kids were able to stay up late and anyway, there was the trip to Villa Park to look forward to.

Match tickets were purchased, train tickets booked and the family awaited their big day out. Then, three weeks before the game, the kick-off time was altered again. This wasn’t just a few hours, it was from Saturday afternoon to Monday night.

Train tickets aren’t valid, and there are no trains back home that late. Chris, who’s not long back at work after a long time unemployed, had the choice of either paying for another set of train tickets and a hotel room, or telling two young children that the outing they’d been looking forward to for almost a year was off.

Nice choice, eh?

Chris did what most parents in the circumstances would do. He’s lost money he can ill-afford twice over, but at least the family can get to the match.

Kick-offs being moved is usually a pain in the arse, but supporters put up with it. At a Bank Holiday, and especially at such short notice, it’s a disgrace. Season tickets are up for renewal at the moment and I’m sure there’s a few people at all our major clubs who are starting to wonder if it’s worth the bother of shelling out upfront when you don’t know if you can get to the match when it’s played.

Over the past three years Villa’s customer relations have been hard to beat. But a lot of this good work is being undone by something over which they have little control. Ever since the Premier League was founded, its over-riding ethos has been the accumulation of wealth. The Football League didn’t take long in doing whatever it could not to be left behind.

The people who run English football are perfectly happy, and they’ll dance to the tune of the television companies as long as the money continues to flow. I’ve no doubt they’ll mouth platitudes about how they sympathise, but what can they do?

They’ve signed these contracts and football’s so much better for the TV money. Which it is, if you’re an armchair Manchester United fan, or a players agent, or a highly-paid employee of the Premier League. If you’re Chris, or one of the many thousands who have their plans ruined every week, you might think differently.

There was a time when football was a sport, and although we had to put up with some pretty diabolical conditions at times, at least supporters were regarded as the lifeblood of the game rather than the afterthought we’ve become.

The Premier League call it business. I call it abject, gutless surrender.

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