Villa Park is one of my favorite grounds in England. It’s what you’d call a proper stadium; home to an established club and accompanied by a set of knowledgeable, passionate supporters.
The home of Aston Villa has preserved so much of it’s illustrious history. From the stylish, classical decoration on the outside of the stadium, to the long-standing banner that recites Brian Moore’s famous commentary from Villa’s European Cup winning goal. It reads:
“Shaw, Williams… prepared to venture down the left. There’s a good ball in for Tony Morley. Oh, it must be and it is! It’s Peter Withe.”
The Holte End towers over one of the goalmouths and the off-centre tunnel is another aesthetic feature that makes the stadium unique.
Whilst the rigors of the modern game demands contemporary stadiums, the vast majority of new build grounds are soulless, concrete bowls. They don’t have character and they don’t have tradition. Grounds like Villa Park are fast becoming a rare commodity, so it’s always a real pleasure to visit.
I was lucky enough to do exactly that this past weekend as Everton made the trip to Birmingham to take on Paul Lambert’s progressive young side. It’s a game I always look forward to, as contests between the Toffees and the Villains are typically thrilling encounters.
I think back to last season, when the two sides drew 3-3 at Goodison Park and a little less fondly to five years previous when Ashley Young canceled out a 93rd minute equalizer from Joleon Lescott with a 94th minute winner (still to this date, the lowest I’ve ever felt coming out of Goodison Park).
The recent history of games between the teams is littered with 3-2’s, 2-2’s and 3-3’s. But on Saturday, much of the focus was on the longevity of both teams. In accordance with the FA’s recent 150th anniversary celebrations, much was of made of the fact that Everton vs. Villa is the most played fixture in English football history. This was the 215th meeting between the two sides.
Going into the ground, supporters were warned about the consequences of setting off pyro. It is something Everton supporters have embraced this season (as per my previous article from Manchester City), but I suspect there will be an unyielding clampdown on these smoke bombs after a linesman was struck by a stray one when Villa hosted Tottenham. It’s a shame, because they do look brilliant. But safety comes first, I suppose.
The leaflets handed out warned of potential imprisonment (!) if you were caught, and resultantly there was no pyro from the Everton supporters. Initially it didn’t look as though the team were going to have much to celebrate anyway as Christian Benteke won an early penalty. But Tim Howard made a superb stop, and that was followed by a couple more later on in the first half. The American kept a lackluster Everton side in the contest, truth be told.
The second half saw the Toffees benefit from yet another proactive substitution from their boss Roberto Martinez. The Spaniard hauled off Ross Barkley, who had a poor game by his standards, and introduced the veteran Leon Osman. Playing in the hole, Osman thrived against a tiring Villa midfield, finding space and linking the play to great effect. He set up Romelu Lukaku to put Everton 1-0 up, before slotting home himself to give Everton a comfortable 2-0 victory.