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Official Review by Anluan Hennigan, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Villa Park is home to one of English football's great institutions. Aston Villa were present at the genesis of the modern game in England as a founder of the Football League which has now evolved into the Premier League you see today.
Villa Park is intoxicated by history. Seven league championships and the 1982 European Cup have entered its doors. As far back as 1966, it was hosting World Cup matches in the midst of England's lone triumph. A statue of William McGregor (pictured above), creator of the Football League, graces the gates. Even the musical talents of Bruce Springsteen, Barry White and Duran Duran have played here. Well, two out of three isn't bad.
Nor are Aston Villa resting on their history. Plans were mooted last year for a redevelopment of the North Stand within the next four years. This would bring the stadium's capacity to 50,000, placing it in the top bracket of Premier League stadia.
The club may hold particular interest for fans of the NFL Cleveland Browns as they are owned by the same man - Randy Lerner. He has proved to be an antithesis to the stereotypical foreign owner. Much emphasis has been placed on community values and his commitment to drive his own money into the club has provided a stark contrast with the Glazers' mistreatment of Manchester United.
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It may be a completely different ground, in a completely different part of the country, but what is offered at Villa Park is depressingly familiar to every other Premier League ground you are likely to encounter. Plenty of vans are lined up outside the ground, serving variations on a theme, and redefining many people's idea of meat in the process.
A bacon roll felt like the safe option, even at the extortionate price of £3.50. Pies and chips are about the extent of things on the concourses. A lager is £3.30. On this bitterly cold night however, it was tea all the way at £1.80 a pop.
There is a fine sense of occasion as you approach the ground, the lines of supporters strewn across the roads in their weekly pilgrimage. It is only heightened as you get nearer and the decades upon decades of top-flight football played here resonate with you.
Inside the ground, the fans were particularly boisterous, whipped up into a frenzy by the news that cross-town rivals Birmingham City had been roundly thrashed in their game earlier in the day. This was only accentuated by the debut of new £24m signing Darren Bent (a refreshment of Lerner's commitment). Although Villa currently sit near the relegation zone, there was a cautious sense of a new beginning.
The ground is amongst a rather plain, built-up part of Birmingham. There are minimal options if you are looking for an alternative to your usual burger van (a Tesco supermarket was all I could see).
There are however, plenty of pubs for a pre-match refreshment. The Holte pub is situated in front of the ground as you approach it from the station side, suitably football themed.
In the face of Villa's current predicament and the deep chill in the air, the fans gave admirably unstinting support to their side. The giant banner depicting the club crest, unravelled in the stands just before the start of the match, is a sight to behold. It more than made up for the lack of intimacy that such a large ground provides.
As it is situated in the middle of England's second city, you can expect a certain level of transport in Aston. If approaching by bus, you should take the No 7 to Witton (departing from the city centre).
Travelling by rail is a doddle, at least on the outward journey. Most will travel from Birmingham New Street station in the city centre. Take any train that lists its end destination as Lichfield Trent Valley. These trains stop at Aston station.
Once there, it is a simple 15 minute walk to the ground. Simply follow the trail of fans bedecked in claret and blue, police vans and ambulances. Unless the pope is visiting, there should be no confusion.
It is also worth noting that a traffic exclusion zone is placed around the ground on matchdays. Therefore, public transport would most likely be the most effective option. Parking will be at a premium.
Villa Park resides somewhere in the middle ground of Premier League pricing. To see Aston Villa in action against one of the better sides, you are looking at a cost of over £40 for an adult. However, there are excellent concessions for young people and senior citizens. Tickets for cup games are often offered for as little as £10.
All in all, Villa Park offers a decent return provided that you are not too bothered about seeing one of the top teams. You can be safe in the knowledge at least, that you are visiting a bona fide bedrock of English football.
As usual, stadium tours are offered throughout the year - particularly worth it when visiting such a historic club. Tickets will cost you £9.95 for an adult, £6.95 for a child and £29.95 for a family pass.
Half-time entertainment is admittedly dull but alas, this is a ground that can speak for itself a little bit.
Member Review by FuriousShepherd on Jan 24, 2012
My trip to Villa Park was very special. We had VIP tickets that got us access to the locker rooms, dinner before the game, drinks at the intermission and at the end of the game. This was a Monday night game and we also got to see player interviews with some of the team's past stars. I even won a football signed by all of Aston Villa's players. Amazing visit but I grant that it may not be typical.
Birmingham, England B6 6HE
0800 612 0940
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