BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
While Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill continues to create a side on the pitch capable of breaking into the upper echelons of the Premier League, Villa Park is also well on the way to becoming one of the finest clubs off it with the unveiling of a multi-million pound project to bring the club’s corporate hospitality facilities bang into the 21st century.
From the beginning of the new 2008-9 season fans will be able to watch football, sample fine dining and even eat in the director’s lounge with Villa chairman/owner Randy Lerner with the new top flight facilities being created in the Trinity Road stand.
From the minute referee Rob Styles signalled the final whistle at the last home match of the season with Wigan, builders have been working around the clock to transform the Villa stand and provide matchday hospitality to rival The Emirates, Stamford Bridge and even New Wembley.
The project is the vision of owner-chairman Randy Lerner and his team including his righthand man Paul Faulkner and Villa’s Head of Hospitality and Events, Alison Plant.
But while the innards of the stand have been ripped out to make way for an open, spacious experience for corporate supporters, Villa have, just like the club did with the restoration of the Holte Pub, made sure the heritage of Aston Villa is not lost.
Among the fittings being put into the new lounges for corporate customers will be a series of stained glass windows which were salvaged from the stand when it was last refurbished in 2000.
The round leaded-light windows were squirrelled away by stadium manager Tony Diffley and stored and, with Lerner a big fan of the club’s history and heritage, have now been restored to their former glory.
The ten windows plus some additional replicas will be hung in the corporate lounges as art work - a plan which has brought Diffley the greatest joy in his 12 years in the job.
He said: “When we learned in 2000 that the Trinity Road stand was being rebuilt we literally had 24 hours to clear the building before a
bulldozer and a crane came in.
“The windows from the old McGregor entrance were the first thing I thought of and I got my team to take them out and carefully pack them away.
“It is an absolute delight to know that they are now being re-instated in this way and fans who have been coming to Villa Park for years will instantly recognise them.”
The new hospitality areas will not only create new jobs with chefs and waiting staff amongst those being sought but former players from Villa’s 1982 European Cup winning team, including Gary Shaw and Tony Morley will be employed as hosts and guest speakers.
Plant said: “Last year we used the services of 54 former Aston Villa players from throughout the teams and the generations and there are plans to make even more use of them today.
“We know there is a credit crunch and businesses are tightening their belts but sales of our new corporate packages are going through the roof.
We have tried our best to keep the prices at a minimum, for example a season long seat in the director’s lounge costs from £7,000 plus vat for the year, and that gives the holder the chance to eat with our chairman and the visiting directors before every home game.
“We also have packages for those fans who want an extra special day out but still want it to be relaxed and informal and they might opt for the 82 Lounge where a season ticket costs just £2,700 plus vat.
Faulkner said those taking up the new options were not the so-called “prawn sandwich brigade” as dubbed by Sunderland manager Roy Keane during his days at Manchester United.
He said: “Those who have shown interest are Villa fans through and through but perhaps they have their own business or want to bring clients in to enjoy the matchday experience.”
Plant added: “When the walls came down within the stand to open up the whole area, we all felt it was rather symbolic.
“We feel we are breaking down barriers and offering supporters something new and unique to Aston Villa. No other club invites fans to share their pre-match ritual with the chairman.
It is all about making the club accessible to fans.
Faulkner added: “At the end of the day the funds we generate go directly to Martin to help him strengthen the team. Aston Villa as a team
is growing and it is important Aston Villa as a business also grows with the times.”