Up the Villa!
This may come as a surprise to people who know me, but I thoroughly enjoyed my tour around Aston Villa’s stadium, the wonderful Villa Park. You see, I know as much about football as I do keyhole surgery, but you don’t need to be a fan of the sport or the team to appreciate the history of this magnificent venue and its club. I can only imagine how exciting this tour would be for those that are fans though.
My colleague Will and I rolled up and considering ourselves ‘men about town’ we naturally headed straight for the ‘Players’ entrance – we quickly realised we had misinterpreted the meaning of this and it was an entrance for the guys who play football.
A short time later and we had joined the rest of the tour party. On this occasion this included a dad and his son – both big fans and some supporters from Holland who had made the pilgrimage to see where their heroes play. Excitement in the room was palpable – I must admit even I felt a twinge of excitement to see behind the scenes.
Mick our guide for the day is one of the friendliest people you could ever hope to meet – a massive Villa fan – my colleague Will said if you were to cut him in half (God forbid) he would be claret and blue inside.
He was the perfect host, but was especially great with the young lad who was visiting for a birthday treat. I reckon Mick knows every score line from every match the Villa has ever played - he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the club, and I can imagine him acing the subject on Mastermind.
Villa Park has been the club's home since 1897 and it is a magnificent, grand place. The insides of this building are all wood pannelled with tiled floors and stained glass windows, it really is very auspicious. We got taken around the executive boxes and through the corridors that are littered with trinkets, memorabilia and paintings that all tell the story of the rich heritage here.
We got some fantastic views of the stadium from various vantage points – Villa has the biggest behind the goal stand in Europe and it is quite a magnificent sight. Far below us the groundsmen were busy preparing the pitch for the first match of the season, mowing and such like - some guy was performing an experiment with some machine on the goal line, (which I later found out was the Goal Decision System).
The day of our visit was the day before the season started (probably for the best eh?) and in the first team dressing rooms were hanging the team's new kit – a coup for us.
This was one of my favourite parts of the tour - Mick knows where all the players’ seats are and if you have a favourite - as many on our tour did, you can sit in the seat of your hero/es.
I found it interesting that the visitors' amenities are sparser (not terrible – just not as opulent). It’s all about the psychology Mick explained – mind games. Apparently this is common knowledge, but being a layman to the world of football it was news to me.
I took this opportunity for a toilet break, the urinals in the changing rooms had a Villa motif on the porcelain - so, I literally did something that sounds like a chant from a rival club!
My favourite part of the day had to be walking out of the tunnel to a match day anthem – I must say this was a very euphoric experience. And as I stepped out pitch side I get a real sense of what it must be like to step out in front of thousands of people, some 43 thousand of them! We were led out by the birthday boy, another nice little touch courtesy of the generous Mick.
Housed in the tunnel are the European Cup, FA Cup and Division One Trophy, and at this point you have the opportunity to have your photo taken with them - these can be purchased at the club shop. Everyone jumped at the chance.
A trip to the players lounge, gym and medical room are all included - at the end of the tour Mick squeezed in a trip to the matchday media room – it’s much pokier than you would think from the television broadcasts.
The tour was fantastic; Mick was the perfect guide, generous and knowledgeable. I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone, fans and those who are interested in heritage. If you take a tour on Sunday a 3 course lunch is also available, this is served in a restaurant overlooking the pitch. Excellent!
Tours are available throughout the week. However if any of these coincide with a matchday then tours will not be held on that day (plus the afternoon before and the morning after).
The cost for the tour is £15 for adults and £10 for Under 18's. Family tickets are also available. The cost of the tour plus Sunday lunch is; Adults £30 and Under 18's £20.
Tours can be booked on 0333 323 5353 or can be booked online here
Here's some more info on our wonderful guide Mick Dale, one of our Birmingham stories.
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