Loathe as I am to say anything good about Aston Villa I have to admit that Villa Park before rebuilding was a very impressive ground, with an equally impressive atmosphere. The most impressive structure was, of course, the Trinity Road stand sacrificed on the altar of money in an unbelievable act of vandalism in2000, The atmosphere came from the Holte End, in its day one of the largest terraced ends of any English football ground. Villa Park was an intimidating place for visiting teams and for visiting supporters, particularly those of a navy blue or royal blue persuasion. A look at Villa’s home record in the late 1970s illustrates what an advantage the Holte End gave them.
But times change, grounds are rebuilt and the Holte End succumbed to the bulldozer in 1994 to be replaced by a two tier all seater stand with architectural motifs taken from nearby Aston Hall. The old atmosphere disappeared and the wording ‘Holte End The Twelfth Man’ along the front of the upper tier is, frankly, wishful thinking. I mention Villa Park not because it is the only ground that has lost a special atmosphere but because it is the largest of such grounds that I know well. Real atmosphere is hard to find anywhere in England these days.
This is not the case in Germany as visitors to Borussia Dortmund’s impressive Westfalenstadion can testify, with its vast and vocal home end, with an atmosphere that would make former regulars of the Holte End, Stretford End and son on weep for what they have lost. The Bundesliga has affordable ticket prices, it has terracing, it has (with three exceptions) supporter owned clubs, and it has at least two teams that are better than the best of the Premier League. This is why the Champions’ League Final for 2013 will be between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
A few years ago it was fashionable for Premier League chairmen to sneer at the German model as outdated, rather quaint in fact. All very well having cheap ticket prices, it was said, all very well being owned by the fans but they won’t be able to compete on the pitch in the long term. The only model in town was the public limited company the plc although that has given way to private ownership by foreign billionaires in several cases. Only Swansea go partly against the grain, being partly owned by a supporters Trust. But even they are a long way from the German position.
Just as German football was mocked so was German industry. With its medium sized companies, the Mittelstand, many of them not publicly quoted and so, we were told by British besserwisser sheltered from the stiff breeze of competition. What they meant by this was that German business too should be at the mercy of footloose institutional investors, prey to private equity asset strippers or be open to takeover by competitors. This last seems to my simple mind to be the opposite of competition but what do I know? The point is that over here the plc was the only game in town, regardless of any objective consideration of its suitability while in Germany, they still largely go a different way, one that promotes long term planning over short term tactical advantage. Guess what? They still make things in Germany, still pay their way in the world by exporting high quality manufactured goods.
Now I am not pretending that all is well in the German economy but have a feeling that in the economic Champions’ League we would be more Manchester City than Borussia Dortmund, more Arsenal than Bayern Munich.
Enjoy the match on 25th May.