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Aston Villa - Birmingham City (5-1)
Premier League, 20 April 2008
Stadium : Villa Park
Attendance : 42.640

At Saturday evening 21.00 we started our journey from the Netherlands to Birmingham.
Not by car, not by plane but by bus. The dutch travel office Gebo offered the trip including ticket and ferry Calais–Dover for 165 euro. The advantage besides the low price is that you are really travelling and can spend some time with fellow football-fanatics. The disvantage is that you are exhausted after 21 hours coach, 3 hours ferry and 8 hours in and around Villa Park.

We arrived at 8.00 at Villa Park, 4 hours before kick-off. Most of us spend the time by wandering around the stadium, others went to the center of Birmingham. Where arena's and big stadiums are arising all over Europe in the middle of nowhere is Villa park still surrounded by houses. The stadium is well maintained and the pearl in this part of Birmingham.

Especially the Holte End is worth mentioning, recently they created a beautiful mosaic on the outer wall basis the old design of the beginning of the 20th century. Also the entrance of the Holte Suite shows the feeling Villa has for tradition.

The fanshop Villa Store has an average size compared to other shops I visited. Some replica shirts and scarfs are refering to the biggest succes of the club : European Champion in 1982 : Proud history – Bright future.
I am wearing a 27 years old League championship scarf from 1981 and decide to buy some new scarfs after the match.

Because it is the Second City derby, there are many policemen around the stadium but there is not an aggressive atmosphere.

After passing the gates and entering the stadium, I was surprised to see the Ladbroke betting office where supporters can place a bet, never seen this in a football stadium on the continent.

It is always impressive to see pitch and stands of a stadium for the first time. Claret and blue are the dominating colours and the Holte End is without supporters a mountain side.

Other remarkable things : Villa Park is non smoking and if you want you can have dinner at the Cornerflag restaurant with a view on the pitch. The Americans are not only buying the English clubs they are also introducing their commercial baseball idea's. Watching a match behind glass is apparently not the limit ... having dinner has been added to the party ... what’s next ?

During the warming-up (two goals at each side) the fans were climbing the stands and the fans started to challenge each other. The Birmingham players did a last running exercise in the corner where their fans were seated. This was trickering the fans to cheer the players and sing their songs. The reaction from the Villa fans was loud and clear : ‘Who are you ?’ and ‘you are going down’ because Birmingham is close to relegation.

When the game started , all seats were occupied, you could feel the tension around you. A big match for both clubs : it means so much more than three points, it’s about walking round the office and working places with your chin held high, it’s about city supremacy.

But this year the difference in quality between the two teams is enormous, where Villa is pushing for a UEFA cup spot is Birmimgham City fighting against relegation. Especially Carew, Young and Barry are in a magnificent form and the Villa defence with dutchy Bouma stands like a rock. Half-time is 2-0 and when Villa scores 4-0 after 63 minutes Birmingham fans are queuing for the exits. The game ends with 5-1 : the heaviest loss in the Second city derby in 48 years ...
The Villa fans are not stopping singing and are celebrating their victory.

After the match I am visiting the Villa Store again and adding some scarfs to my collection. Our bus will return to the Netherlands at 17.00, I decided to stay near the stadium and an hour after the match the Villa players are taking time to put their signature on shirts, programms and balls when they are leaving the stadium. It gives me the chance to share some words with Wilfred Bouma.

12 hours later after traffic jams, crossing the Channel, France and Belgium I am happy to stretch my legs in my own bed again having no regrets.

Later that evening I am googling for news about the match, I am reading the match report on the Guardian site but I was taken back by the news on the Birmingham post site :

‘Villa fan’s death overshadows Second city derby match’.
Chris Priest, a 26 years old Villa fan was struck by a car a few miles from Villa park. He died shortly after arriving at the hospital. A Villa spokesman said: "All at Aston Villa were saddened by the tragic incident on Sunday and we send our condolences to the family for this tragic loss. A spokesman for Birmingham City said: "Birmingham City Football Club send their condolences to the family and friends of Christopher. "Everyone connected to the club was extremely saddened to hear of his death. Our thoughts are with everyone who knew him."

Hundreds of supporters from both sides of the city, united in their sympathy for mum and dad Barbara and Lee Priest and Chris's younger sister Natalie, filled websites and forums with messages of solidarity and heartfelt tributes...

Victories in city derbies are important for football fans from all over the world and rivalry between clubs is part of life but it is good to see that the dead of Christopher Priest is uniting clubs and fans.

Report added : 26 April 2008
Report by : Rob Vonk
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