Despite another dismal season, Aston Villa supporters’ club chairmen have been given strict orders not to use social media to criticise the current management. On Monday night, Villa host high-flying Southampton. How will fans react to another defeat? And what does this mean in the long-run for the club’s US ownership? Tony Dawber reports.
There will be more than three points at stake for Monday’s showdown fixture between underachieving Aston Villa and high-flying Southampton at Villa Park.
For American-owned Villa, a decent start to the season has well and truly evaporated. A point at West Ham in their last fixture may have halted a five-game losing streak – but all is far from well for Paul Lambert’s men.
As Bob Moore, a branch chairman of the Villa Independent Supporters’ Club, put it: ‘There’s a growing disquiet and this is a big, big game’.
The disquiet started as early as the beginning of the season – and for reasons beyond poor pre-season results.
In a controversial move, chairmen of the club’s 200 supporters’ clubs around the world were instructed to sign a 20-point declaration. Point seven demanded that these chairmen not criticise club officials, in any public forum. This included any social media bearing the particular chairman’s name, even their own personal facebook and twitter accounts.
As Moore himself said at the time, ‘the club are treating us like children and forgetting that we are volunteers, not employees of Aston Villa’.
Another branch chairman was similarly outraged. ‘They should be welcoming us with open arms. We support the club because we love it and it’s a way of life.’
The mood has hardly lifted in the three months since. Villa currently stand just above the relegation zone, without a victory since a shock win at Anfield on September 13.
‘The team are under more and more pressure as the games go by,’ Moore declared. ‘And the West Ham game was even more disappointing for the supporters than the recent defeats because we were well on top but then in the later stages we settled for what we had instead of going for it.’
New chief executive Tom Fox has intimated US owner Randy Lerner no longer wants to sell the club, but there has been no official announcement and as the weeks go by and fortunes on the field lurch downhill, unease among the supporters at the famous old ground is palpable.
Some Villa fans have drawn parallels between Monday’s clash and a home game against Bolton Wanderers in April 2012, when defeat effectively ended the tenure of Lambert’s predecessor Alex McLeish.
Given that Monday’s visitors are second-placed Southampton, in vibrant mood under new boss Ronald Koeman, any slip and Lions Club disquiet may spill over into rebellion.
What that means for the future of Lambert – and, indeed, Lerner – is anyone’s guess.
Other US businessmen considering involvement in the Premier League must surely be observing Lerner’s travails with concern. What develops could have a major bearing on any future investment from across the Atlantic.