Modern football. Grr

Middle-aged man Lee Marshall shouts at clouds.`

There are a number of factors currently playing on my mind as to whether to renew next season. What? You must be mad, say the masses. We have the best manager we’ve had in generations and a team competing in the Champions League after finishing fourth with likeable players.

Lets start with VAR, the soulless technology which has destroyed the physical sport we all see before us. I knew early on that I would detest it. A Liverpool v Albion cup match where they trialled the system, and shock horror, delays aplenty, but the real kick in the nads was soon to follow.

W can all point to a dozen decisions that have made us rage, but mine was the 2-1 win against Brighton in the league. A Conor Hourihane goal was being celebrated and the players re-set for the kick-off. Even the announcer had done his bit. We waited, and waited. There had been no appeals from the visitors and they were ready to kick off, but somewhere deep in a bunker in Stockley Park, others had different ideas.

They decided that Wesley had impeded the goalkeeper much earlier in the build up to the goal. So from nowhere, it’s a free kick to Brighton. Minutes later Jack Grealish slid in to score, but the response from the fans was completely different, as if everyone assumed he was offside and that it wouldn’t count, despite no flag from the linesman. The goal stood, but we’d had a muted celebration.

The celebration of a goal. Surely one of the main reasons we go to a football match in the first place. Over the following VAR years, this has been slowly eroded as we now see the joy of scoring last a few seconds before everyone looks at the referee. Has he got his hand to his ear? Is he staying well away from the centre circle? Oh great, another delay while they forensically look for a way to chalk a goal off. Our goal against Sheffield United was another example – not even in the same phase of the game, but chalked off anyway. Literally just killing the sport.

Tyrone Mings’ equaliser at Old Trafford a few years back – the flag stayed down, but he looked yards offside. The normal wild scenes of a goal against them were replaced by muted celebrations as everyone now assumed VAR would step in. But it WAS a goal, and we lost that one chance to celebrate it properly.

The news of the pause on the North Stand redevelopment also dampened my mood, not only for the actual news, but the timing and way it was announced. I’m not a fan of this Chris Heck guy and this seemed such negative news at a time when matters on the pitch couldn’t be going much better. Naseef and Wes have done so much good but I can’t help feeling that the appointment of this guy is a spectacular own goal, particularly with his previous track record for greatly annoying a loyal fanbase.

With seats disappearing to the corporate add-ons, it’s become clear that we’re starting to head down the route of the Sky 6. Tourist fans, once a season, spending big money on their day out at the Villa. Not a season ticket holder like me who spends nothing inside Villa Park on a match day, partly because I have no desire to stop watching the game after 30 minutes just to get food or drink. It’s been noticeable that as the prices continue to shoot up, the atmosphere has been getting steadily worse. Not every game, but a lot of them. We’ve had tourists at cup matches and even a fairly new regular who not only have no desire help create an atmosphere, but actively moan about those that do.

Of course, if you don’t want to shout, sing, abuse Bruno Fernandes & co that’s fine. But don’t stare and moan at those that do. Because more and more, during the quiet spells of a game, you’ll see supporters trying to start a song, or join in with the few in the Upper Holte being stared at like they’ve just dropped out of the sky. Check out a home game at one of the Sky favourites – the atmosphere is abysmal at every one. You Tubers and ‘Influencers’ getting prime seats for big games – that’s where we’re heading, although I’m careful not to include our own normal vlogging fans (who would go anyway) who happen to document games on video.

The new episodes of Sunderland Till I Die are a stark reminder that football is about passion, and passionate supporters. Football means the world, it carries you from one week until the next. If that passion is eroded, then attending games will be pointless. The thought of moving to some bowl on the side of a motorway makes me shudder. We’ll end up just like all the others with exactly the same set up, and with just as much chance of finishing seventh or eighth as we would now, except we’d have thrown away the thing that makes us so special.

I recently watched a guy from Scotland who visits grounds all over Europe and he made his first visit to Villa Park. The reaction said it all. He was genuinely excited and kept saying “Wow”. Once that magic is gone, it’s gone. I hope it doesn’t happen, ever and that Heck is true to his word as per his recent interview.

While I understand the need to generate more commercial income, the fleecing of fans is a mere drop in the ocean at the end of the day. Is it really worth abandoning those who stood by the club when we couldn’t give tickets away? I note that Newcastle, West Ham, Spurs and especially Wolves are having similar and worse issues right now. Kids tickets going through the roof in the hope an adult replaces them – that’s the future, and when our club (or especially one like Wolves) goes through a bad time again, they’ll want you back.

A Manchester City mate of mine used to be a season ticket holder and went all through their yo-yo years, including League One. He was at a Champions League home game against Bayern Munich and it was level at half-time. Fans booed – they weren’t happy. That’s Bayern at home. He decided he’d seen and heard enough of the Etihad atmosphere and now goes just once a season.

I hope that’s never us. I’ll take Stoke at home, thanks.