Dave Woodhall on a disturbing development at Villa Park.
After the successful launch of Villa in the Community on Monday it was disappointing to see that the club’s name was potentially harmed less than 24 hours later, when a group of ex-stars based around the 1982 European-Cup winning squad became engaged in a war of words with the Former Players Association after forming a breakaway group known as the Lions & Legends.
The row has been brewing for several months, with both groups taking legal advice, but became public knowledge on Tuesday after a message from the Aston Villa FPA and the associated Old Stars football team was posted on Facebook, accusing someone connected to the Lions & Legends group of smearing their reputation.
This prompted a response from the Lions & Legends Association, written by former Villa defender Steve Staunton and posted on several supporters messageboards, criticising the FPA and its founder and chief executive, former player Neil Rioch.
Lions & Legends who were formed last year by European Cup winner Ken McNaught, himself a former FPA employee, and contain his team-mates from the period, responded to the FPA’s statement by demanding that all images and references to themselves be removed from FPA publicity material.
The FPA management team which includes amongst others such names as Tony Daley, Mark Draper and Charlie Aitken, said “We are fully aware that a very small group of disaffected former players has set up a Lions & Legends organisation to rival the Aston Villa FPA and the Aston Villa Old Stars football team that have been doing great work for 20 and 54 years respectively.
“The Aston Villa FPA continues to enjoy the support of Aston Villa former players from the 1940s to 2000s, bar the very small number that comprise the core of Lions & Legends.
“The Aston Villa FPA is an open and transparent organisation whose core purpose has always been to provide essential health & welfare support to former players in need, whilst the Aston Villa Old Stars football team has to date raised well over £5 million for charities.
“The Aston Villa FPA will maintain its integrity at all times and rise above the smear tactics employed by misguided and misinformed opponents. However, we cannot allow serious allegations that are potentially libellous to continue unchecked and we will take necessary action where appropriate.”
On behalf of the Lions & Legends, who were established by former players concerned at the lack of transparency from FPA officials and have since taken part in charity matches and organised fund-raising events for several charities, former team captain Steve Staunton replied, “It is not the wish of Lions & Legends to have bought our disagreement with the AVFPA into the public domain in this way, but now have no choice but to respond.
“Lions & Legends were formed, along with my own foundation, because a number of high profile players had become deeply disillusioned with the AVFPA and the way it operated. To be clear, it is a company and not a charity and has never been so, with one shareholder, Neil Rioch. The AVFPA claims it is run for the health and welfare of former players. It has only the ex-players as its vehicle to achieve this, yet when the players wanted a say and asked for the detail of what moneys came in and what went out, it was ignored. This was not acceptable to many who gave their time and reputations to that association.”
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the fallout, there can be no winners from the situation as it stands, but Aston Villa and the charities who have benefited from the efforts of both groups will certainly be the losers.