Villa Park is a football stadium in the district of Aston, in Birmingham, England with a capacity of 42,788. It has been the home of Aston Villa Football Club since 1897. Villa previously played at Aston Park from 1874 to 1876 and Perry Barr from 1876 to 1897. The ground is less than a mile away from both Witton and Aston railway stations. It has hosted 16 England internationals at senior level, the first in 1899 and the most recent in 2005. It was the first English ground to stage international football in three different centuries. Villa Park has hosted more FA Cup semi-finals than any other stadium, having hosted 55 semi-finals.
In 1897 Aston Villa moved into the Aston Lower Grounds, a sports ground in a Victorian amusement park situated in the former grounds of a Jacobean stately home, Aston Hall. The ground was initially rented for £300 before being purchased freehold in 1911. The ground has seen various stages of renovation and development in its history leading to the current configuration of stands: the Holte End, Trinity Road Stand, North Stand and the Doug Ellis Stand. The club has initial planning permission to extend the North Stand. This will involve the redevelopment of the entire North Stand, increasing the capacity of Villa Park from 42,788 to approximately 50,000.
The 1999 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup Final was held at Villa Park, the last ever final of the European Cup Winners' Cup. Before 1914 Villa Park had a cycling track round the perimeter of the pitch, regularly hosting cycling meetings as well as athletic events. Aside from football-related uses, Villa Park has seen various concerts as well as other sporting events including boxing matches and international rugby league and rugby union matches.
The Aston Lower Grounds, later to be called Villa Park, was not the first home of Aston Villa. Their previous home, the Perry Barr ground, had seen increasing problems including a lack of access and exorbitant rents. In 1894, this led to Villa's committee beginning negotiations with the owners of the Aston Lower Grounds, "the finest sports ground in the district." The Aston Lower Grounds were situated in the former grounds of a Jacobean stately home, Aston Hall. The Lower Grounds site had seen varied uses throughout its history, being a kitchen garden belonging to the owner of Aston Hall, Sir Thomas Holte (the origin of the naming of the stand, the Holte End) then transforming into a Victorian amusement park complete with aquarium and great hall. An ornamental pool on the site, Dovehouse pool, was drained in 1889 in the area that currently constitutes the pitch. In place of the pool the owners of the Lower Grounds built a cycle track and sports ground that opened on 10 June 1889 to an estimated crowd of 15,000 for a combined cycling and athletics event. The Villa committee negotiated with the owner of the site, Edgar Flower, for two years before coming to an agreement to rent the Lower Grounds for £300 per annum, with a 21-year lease and an option to buy the site at any point during the lease. An architect was immediately appointed to plan the new grounds, including the construction of a new cycle track made up of cement, not cinder but to remain 440 yards (400 metres) long. The main stand was to be built on the Witton Lane side (the East) with banking to fully encompass the track and pitch. After negotiations with contractors over the price of the planned work, construction began in the winter of 1896 on the final phases of the work. The stadium opened on 17 April 1897, several months behind schedule and not entirely finished; snagging would continue for several months. As built, the stadium could house 40,000 spectators, most of whom would stand in the open on the banking. The first match at the ground, a friendly against Blackburn Rovers, took place on 17 April 1897, one week after Aston Villa had completed the League and FA Cup 'Double'.
After winning the league championship in 1899 Villa had a record breaking average crowd of 21,000 allowing the club to invest in a two-stage ground improvement programme. The first stage was to extend the terrace covering on the Trinity Road side at a cost of £887. The second stage cost £1,300 and involved the re-laying of all of terracing around the track to remedy a design flaw that had led to poor sightlines for the majority of the crowd. In 1911, Villa bought the land freehold on which the ground is situated for £8,250, the office buildings in the old Aquarium and car park area for £1500 and the carriage drive and bowling green for £2000. The purchase formed the first stage of plans drawn up by the ambitious Villa director Frederick Rinder, who wanted to take the capacity of Villa Park up to 104,000. In June 1914, a new phase of ground improvements began at Villa Park that were needed to compete with the improvements at other grounds around the country including Everton's Goodison Park, recently expanded with a large double-decker stand. The first stage of improvements saw the cycling track removed, new banking at the Holte Hotel End (Holte End) and a re-profiling of all the terracing to bring it closer to the newly squared-off pitch. Frederick Rinder turned to the renowned architect Archibald Leitch for a design of the new Villa Park. Their plans included large banked end stands at the Holte and Witton ends and the incorporation of the original Victorian Lower Grounds buildings including the Aquarium and the newly acquired bowling greens. The start of the First World War severely hampered the design and construction of the new Villa Park.
In 1919 new quotes for the realisation of the construction plans came in at £66,000 compared to the 1914 quote of £27,000 as a result of a worsening economic situation. By March 1922 this price had reduced to £41,775 and the directors pushed ahead with the plans for the new Trinity Road Stand. Construction began in April 1922 with the stand partially opened in August 1922 and construction continuing throughout the 1922–23 season. The stand was officially opened on 26 January 1924 by the then Duke of York, the future King George VI of the United Kingdom. He commented that "a ground so finely equipped in every way—and devoted to football—existed." On completion the Trinity Road Stand was considered to be one of the grandest in Britain, complete with stained glass windows, Italian mosaics, Dutch gables in the style of Aston Hall and a sweeping staircase. Several commentators including Simon Inglis consider it to be architect Archie Leitch's masterpiece, being described in 1960 by a Sunday Times reporter as the "St Pancras of football." The final cost of the stand and associated ground developments that took place between 1922 and 1924 was calculated at £89,000, a sum that enraged the club's directors who ordered an investigation into cost and forced the resignation of Rinder in 1925.
Villa Park was to remain in much the same state for another 30 years with no major developments until the late 1950s. During the 1930s the earth and timber terraces with wooden crash barriers were completely replaced by concrete terracing and metal barriers, a process begun by Fred Rinder. In 1936 Rinder was voted back onto the board at the age of 78 after the club were relegated to the Second Division. Nearly 25 years after he had created the 1914 masterplan, Rinder dusted off the plans and looked to carry out the third phase of his developments. Rinder died in December 1938 with Leitch dying in April 1938, leaving his construction business to his son, Archibald Junior. The complete redevelopment and extension of the Holte End began in early 1939 supervised by Archibald Junior. At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, construction was suspended across the country. Somehow, Villa soon acquired a special permit to continue construction of the Holte End; Simon Inglis notes "How they achieved this is not recorded." Construction was completed by April 1940 and the stand was immediately mothballed as Villa Park became transformed for wartime use. The Trinity Road Stand became an air-raid shelter and ammunition store and the home dressing room became the temporary home of a rifle company from the 9th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. The Witton Lane Stand suffered bomb damage during the war that caused £20,000 worth of damage.
Apart from running repairs and fixing the bomb damage, no major projects were undertaken until 1958–59 when four projects were planned. The old Bowling Green pavilion on the Trinity Road was converted into a medical centre, the basement of the Aquarium building was converted into a gym, four large floodlight pylons were installed and a training ground was purchased 500 yards (460 metres) from Villa Park. The floodlights were first used in November 1958 in a friendly match against Heart of Midlothian. In the summer of 1962 a roof was built over the Holte End at a cost of £40,000, the first covering for the ordinary terrace fans at Villa Park since 1922. The sole remaining feature of the Villa Park of 1897, The old barrel-shaped roof on the Witton Lane Stand, was removed in the summer of 1963. It was replaced with a plain sloping roof in the same style as the Holte End. Villa Park was chosen by FIFA to host three matches for the 1966 World Cup. As a condition of this the Witton Lane Stand became all–seater, the players tunnel had to be covered by a cage and the pitch had to be widened by 3 yards (2.7 metres). There were regular ground developments and innovations starting in the summer of 1969 under the direction of a new chairman, Doug Ellis who set about redeveloping Villa Park for the modern era. Much of the stadium had fallen into various states of disrepair and was in need of modernisation. Ellis updated the infrastructure installing a new public address system, plumbing work including new toilets, resurfacing the terraces and a new ticket office. He also saw the construction of the executive lounges in the Trinity Road Stand in place of old offices.
The redevelopment of the Witton End stand began in the summer of 1976. The End stand had not seen any major developments since 1924: the rear of the stand was still a mound of earth. The initial renovations saw the lopping off of the earthen mound and new concrete terracing being constructed on the lower tier in preparation for the construction of an upper tier. The second stage began in February 1977, being officially opened in late October. The stand's design and fittings were impressive for the time, including novelties such as an 'AV' spelled out in coloured seats and a double row of executive boxes. As well as the new Witton End stand, now called the North Stand, Villa Park went through further renovations across the ground. The total cost of the work had come to a total of £1.3 million. As a result, as with the construction of the Trinity Road Stand 50 years earlier, Villa were burdened with debt. An internal report found that £700,000 of the £1.3 million worth of bills were unaccounted for. A later report by Deloitte Haskins & Sells found that the bills were inflated by only 10% but that there were "serious breaches of recommended codes of practice and poor site supervision."
The Taylor Report was released in August 1989 in response to the Hillsborough disaster. It required all grounds in the top divisions to convert to all-seater stadiums as a safety measure. The summer of 1990 saw the first changes wdesigned to meet the requirements of the report. The North Stand saw the addition of 2,900 seats to the lower tier of the North Stand in place of terracing; the Holte End's roof was extended in preparation for more seats; the Trinity Road Stand had its roof replaced and the Witton Lane Stand had more boxes added. By now, all 4 floodlight pylons had been removed to make way for boxes or in preparation for seating; new floodlights were installed on new gantries on the Trinity and Witton stands. In February 1992, the club apply to the Council for permission to demolish the Holte Hotel but Council planners reject the plans. After several months of negotiations Villa gain permission for a new stand to replace the Witton Lane Stand. As a result of the designs, the club had to realign Witton Lane and as a condition of the planning permission, the club had to pay for it's upgrading from a B road to an A road as well as moving the utilities at a cost of £600,000. The stand was fully open by January 1994 at a cost of £5 million with 4,686 seats bringing Villa Park up to a capacity of 46,005. The stand was renamed the Doug Ellis Stand after an announcement at the 70th birthday gala of chairman Doug Ellis. This caused some controversy amongst Villa fans and some still refer to it as the Witton Lane Stand In the 1993–94 season the name of the newly rebuilt Witton Lane Stand was changed to the Doug Ellis Stand. The Holte End was the only remaining stand that did not meet the Taylor Report requirements. A structural survey revealed that putting seats onto the existing terracing would be uneconomical so the decision was made to build a new stand consisting of two tiers, just 4 years after the construction of the new roof. The demolition of the stand began on the last day of the 1994 season. The stand began to open in August 1994 with 3,000 seats in the lower tier occupied for the first seating-only game at Villa Park. It was fully open in December 1994 with a capacity of 13,501 bringing the Villa Park capacity to 40,310; the Holte was the largest single end stand in Britain upon completion. The next development at Villa Park was the Trinity Road Stand in 2000. The stand had stood since 1922 though it had seen a number of renovations and additions since. The demolition of the old stand began after the last game of the 1999-2000 season and this was met with an
element of sadness from observers such as Simon Inglis who stated that "the landscape of English football will never be the same." The new stand was much larger and more spacious than the old one taking Villa's capacity from 39,399 to its present size of 42,788. It was officially opened in November 2001 by HRH The Prince of Wales, just as the old stand had been opened by his grandfather George VI, 77 years earlier.