The group was formed back in the summer of 2010 having been inspired by the likes of Holmesdale Fanatics at Palace and the Green Brigade at Celtic. We had two main aims when we set out, firstly we wanted to bring back some colour and noise to what had become quite a sterile Villa Park. As anyone who follows football will know the atmosphere at home games is something that has really suffered over the last decade or two. All seater stadiums, inflated ticket prices, banning orders and a feeling of alienation from the club fans support have all contributed to the quietening of many grounds, especially in the top tier (where we were at the time).
Additionally we made it known from the start that we wouldn’t tolerate anyone who discriminates based upon race, religion or nationality. We wanted the group to reflect the diverse make up of our city and stand against groups like the EDL who were trying to recruit amongst fans at the time. This got us a bit of stick from some who accused us of bringing politics into football. We weren’t the type to bring Che Guevara two-sticks to games, but what you’ll often find with people who issue this charge is that they’d quite happily stand behind a “no surrender” flag or make excuses for the EDL. What they really meant when they said they didn’t like politics in football is that they didn’t like left wingers organising at football. Our stance on this also got us in one or two scrapes with a tiny minority of idiots in our support over the years but it was something we were happy to deal with.
On forming we set about making two sticks, flags and banners and spent hours putting paint to fabric. All of the displays we put on were made from scratch, one thing you learn pretty quickly being in an ultra group is how to paint! From the outset we had problems with stewards who insisted on trying to enforce the no standing policy in certain sections of the ground, over-zealous stewarding is something that would cause friction at various times throughout the groups existence and is something that many football fans will have had to deal with at some point.
Most of the displays we produced over the years celebrated the players and the club, from commemorating our finest hour in Europe in the 82 European Cup Final to saluting Stan Petrov in his battle against Leukaemia. Others attacked the rivals and the opposition, most notably the “Your granddad didn’t play for fascists he shot them” banner that was based on a King Blues lyric and directed at Di-Canio’s Sunderland players back in 2013. We also produced banners calling for the re-introduction of standing sections at football, railing against unsociable kick off times and attacking the Sky Sports driven commodification of the game.
The always days we had with the lads were always something to remember. There’s not much better than a day out with your mates, getting off your mash on a mini bus and letting off a few smokes at someone else’s ground. We’d have the occasional run in with knuckledraggers in our own support. One that sticks in the mind was Fulham away when for some inexplicable reason a fan in front of us started chanting “e e edl”. We called him out and he turned round, saw us and then apologised to two mixed race lads who were with us. This didn’t help his situation and we asked him why the fuck he’d singled them out for an apology. He didn’t return for the second half.
The group grew slowly over the years and by 2014 we had a core of about 30 members. For the most part we were based on the periphery of the Holte End but during the early stages of the FA Cup run in 2014/15 we were able relocate to empty seats in a more central area. This allowed us to get around 100 people in a section and meant we could dictate the atmosphere at a level we’d not really been able to achieve up till that point. The latter part of the 2014/15 season saw a warming of relations between ourselves and the club. We were invited to meetings with the club and other supporters to discuss how best to rally the team during yet another battle with relegation. During these meetings it was agreed that the club would trial a “singing section” on the left of the Holte. It’s not a title that we really liked but as it was agreed that stewards in this area would be told to operate a hands off policy it was something we supported. The rest of the season saw much of the left hand side of the Holte standing and it improved the atmosphere no end and contributed in a small part to us staying in the division.
Inspired by the development of a “singing section” we moved the group to the front of the left hand side of the Holte for the 2015/16 season. With other fans relocating to join us we hoped we could really establish ourselves in this area of the ground. Our hopes were short lived though as it became apparent during the first home match that the club had abandoned the idea of a “singing section” and failed to tell anyone. Stewards tried to enforce seating and fans who wanted to sit became annoyed with those standing. Tensions persisted at a number of home games until it came to a head at the game against Man City where on entering the ground we were met with a phalanx of stewards positioned in the front of our section and an increased number of police watching from the gantry. We were told by a sympathetic steward that they were after us and just 2 minutes into the game they moved in to eject a fan who had been persistently standing for all of 20 seconds. Refusing to leave, stewards called the police in and a total of 12 fans had their details taken under Section 60 and issued with 3 match bans, others left in protest. Despite attempts to come to an agreement with the club and a 2,000 strong petition supporting the group the club were intransigent. Some fans had their season tickets moved to other areas of the ground and as we were quite a small group we weren’t really able to operate after this.
Like many other ultra groups in England that have burst on to the scene only to then disappear within a short time our experience shows how hard it can be to organise like this at modern football clubs in the UK. Eventually the endless battles with stewards and the police and club banning orders will take there toll unless you are able to keep growing. There are some bright lights of hope though, against all the odds Holmesdale Fanatics continue to impress and have made Selhurst Park an intimidating place for away teams to visit. The Green Brigade at Celtic have helped pioneer the first safe standing section in the UK. Further down the leagues Lincoln’s 617 Squadron have also made great strides and there are things happening at Exeter, Swindon and Oxford to name a few. For the time being at Villa things are quiet, a club endorsed flag purchasing venture has recently taken off but at the moment it’s little more than a token gesture by a club that’s eager to be seen as accommodating a restless fan base.
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