Loyal to Their Soccer Team, and to Their Burger Van

Surveying his territory, Tony Aujla is pleased. His business, after all, is all about location, and he has a prime one. Like a general surveying a battlefield, he points to his right: a short walk that way is Aston train station. Over to the left is Villa Park, with its grand, brick-lined facade, home of the city’s Premier League soccer team, Aston Villa.

On game days, hundreds of fans disembark trains at the former every few minutes and scurry — or, in some cases, amble — in the general direction of the latter. That is what makes Mr. Aujla’s patch so perfect. All of them have to walk past this precise spot. Should any of them require sustenance to complete their (not especially arduous) trek, he is there, spatula in hand, to sell them a burger. Possibly with cheese.

Mr. Aujla has been a fixture outside Villa Park, in one place or another, for more than four decades, but Tony’s Burger Bar has been here, on this enviable and specific real estate, for three years — one of a handful of vans, all of them occupying much the same space, all of them offering roughly the same menu, all of them wreathed in the steam from their fryers.

Recently, though, they have had to contend with the arrival of a rival on a slightly larger scale: an official fan area intended to lure customers, and some of the money in their pockets, away from the vans and straight to the club itself.

Like most traditional British stadiums, Villa Park resides at the heart of the community it has occupied for more than a century.Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

In March 2022, Aston Villa repurposed Lions Square, a trapezoid of land in the shadow of Villa Park, into a “fan zone” — a sort of officially sanctioned tailgate — complete with a stage for live music, interviews with beloved former players, a couple of bars and a smattering of food trucks.

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