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Author Topic: Euphoria and despair  (Read 1687 times)

Online dave.woodhall

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Euphoria and despair
« on: November 05, 2020, 12:10:19 PM »
This weekend sees the thirtieth anniversary of the denouement of a cup tie which initially delighted and subsequently scarred a generation of Villa fans and even, at least temporarily, the confidence of a few of the players involved.

In the wake of the re-invention of English football and it’s fans at the Italia 90 World Cup the re-integration of English clubs into European competition was allowed. Due to England’s non-existent UEFA qualifying co-efficient technically only one club would enter each of the three competitions available. However, with Liverpool winning the league title the previous May their N+3 year ban handed down after Heysel precluded their involvement. So it was just the FA Cup winners, Manchester United who competed in the Cup Winners Cup, and the league runners-up would be admitted into the draws. As ever Villa, who had run out of steam in their title charge in the spring to finish second, were at the forefront of footballing change and looked forward to a UEFA Cup campaign.
Unlike other clubs, notably Everton, who missed out on a European Cup place twice, and Coventry and Wimbledon, who were both denied continental competition for the only time, the European ban had not affected Villa at all. The slide since the last minute defeat to Moscow Spartak in early November 1983 and subsequent (and spiteful*) sacking of Tony Barton by Doug Ellis quickened to the point of an avalanche under Graham Turner and Billy McNeil. This was before Graham Taylor put the brakes and dragged us out of division two and towards an unlikely league title win, before the team ran out of steam in the closing stages of 1989-90.

* Apologies by anyone bored of me continually banging on about this episode in Villa's recent(ish) history but like many fans of my vintage forgiving and forgetting Doug Ellis' treatment of Tony Barton and his family is especially difficult.

As has arguably been the case at times in the intervening period Villa had been too successful for their own good, or for the media at least. The difference this time, in the years before Sky Sports, was that the tabloid press were actively pushing for not a player to leave Villa but their manager. Those same tabloids had been ridiculing Bobby Robson for almost his entire eight year as England manager and it was not a surprise for him to be called a traitor to his country when he announced he would be leaving the FA to join PSV Eindhoven after the World Cup. Those same papers soon changed their stance as Robson and England ground out a route to the semi-finals but were also were calling for Sir Graham to be his replacement. In hindsight it was obvious that the cycle of journalistic abuse would repeat itself but Taylor’s patriotism and ambition got the better of him. Villa were left to appoint a manager at the other end of his international career. Fresh from taking Czechoslovakia to the World Cup quarter finals Dr. Joszef Venglos came into Villa Park with an impressive coaching CV and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Bratislava.

Again 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing but it was obvious from early on how Venglos’ methods were at odds with the English game of 1990. What would prove so successful at Arsenal under Arsene Wenger later in the decade arrived in B6 a few years too early. Those years in European isolation had led to coaching in the English game to become very direct and pragmatic in it’s approach borne out the success of Wimbledon and Arsenal in the late 1980s. This in turn saw teams being set up in a more traditional ‘British’ fashion as size and muscle seemed to be preferred to technique, skill and intelligence. Taylor had been criticized for this sort of football when in charge at Watford but at Villa he had left Venglos with such players as David Platt, Paul McGrath, Sid Cowans and a very young Dwight Yorke with no sign of the psychotic midfielder enforcer so prevalent elsewhere.

The coaching ideals employed by Venglos, however, were alien to the Villa players and ultimately failed but not before Villa had re-started English club football's love affair with European competition. The UEFA Cup first round draw paired us with Banik Ostrava representing Venglos’ home nation of the then-Czechoslovakia (Dr. Jo is actually Slovak rather than Czech). Banik, with future Villa anomaly Ivo Stas in their line-up, were a decent enough side but not at Villa’s level and were beaten 3-1 at Villa Park and 2-1 away. This was despite briefly taking the lead at Villa Park and then in Ostrava before Stas created an almost ubiquitous Villa quiz question in the second half when scoring an own goal.

The second round pitted Villa against Internazionale of Milan, a club desperate to compete with their city neighbours and reigning European champions. Inter had recruited well and had three of Germany’s recent World Cup winners in their side; Lothar Mattheus, who as German skipper had lifted the trophy three months earlier, left back and scorer of the only goal in the final, Andreas Brehme and striker Jurgen Klinsmann. Added to these were half the Italian team who had beaten England to the bronze medal including the Azzurri captain Giuseppe Bergomi, goalkeeper Walter Zenga, midfielder Nicola Berti and striker Aldo Serena.

The two legs of this tie have almost entered Villa folklore for the wildly contrasting performances and emotions they conjured up.

The first game, at home, saw the last hurrah of Graham Taylor's team. Paul Birch, oddly wearing the number 9 shirt, snapped at the ankles of the celebrated Mattheus for the entire ninety minutes, negating the influence of the German captain. Klinsmann was kept similarly quiet by the central defensive trio of Derek Mountfield, Kent Neilsen and Andy Comyn, deputising for the injured Paul McGrath. Retrospectively it seems strange that the player considered possibly the greatest to have worn claret and blue should have been replaced in the club’s biggest game in over a decade so seamlessly by an unsung former non-league part-timer. It was Comyn's colleague Neilsen though who contributed the game's best-remembered incident with his twenty five yard piledriver into the bottom left hand corner of Zenga's goal. The Dane followed up his rather muted celebration, in contrast to the mayhem around the ground, by gobbing around a pint of saliva to the turf.

The Cowans/Platt telepathy, perfected the previous season, sliced through the Inter defence in the second half to put Villa two up and a disputed offside decision denied Tony Daley a third. This disallowed goal, almost dismissed at the time, was something which would haunt us in the return. My abiding memory of one of Villa Park's great European nights, however, involved one of the side's less well-known members. At one point in the second half Chris Price picked up the ball on the right around halfway and ran at the Inter full back. Seeing Price tie Brehme up in knots before leaving the German in his wake still ranks as one my favourite Villa moments. A 2-0 win seemed it would set Villa up to see out the tie in the San Siro. Being Villa though the inevitable happened but the manner of the defeat still rankles. The team, with McGrath restored to the line-up, performed abysmally after two early Cascarino headers dropped narrowly wide. Klinsmann got Inter's first after seven minutes and Berti levelled the tie midway through the second half.

With Villa seemingly settling for extra time with fifteen minutes left McGrath shepherded Berti to run the ball over the byline on the left. With the ball clearly a foot out of play Berti swept the ball back into the penalty area where it was met by Alessandro Bianchi to beat Nigel Spink from around eight yards. Villa players and fans looked at the officials in horror as they signalled Inter's winner. I wouldn't feel as cheated by a refereeing decision for another twenty years (I haven't forgiven or forgotten Phil Dowd either) but that one incident was a watershed for that Villa squad. The players, obviously disappointed,  were criticized by some of the travelling fans for both the defeat and not fully acknowledging those who had jumped through restrictive hoops just to attend the game. One of the strange things Villa insisted on was for male fans travelling to Milan ion the club plane to wear a shirt and tie, a policy they had obviously picked up from some city nightclubs of the time.

After that game in Milan Villa’s season fell off a cliff with Venglos' side only guaranteeing survival in late April and the experiment with English top flight football's first overseas manager was over with Dr. Jo making way for Ron Atkinson the following summer. The perceived fallout from that second leg continued for years afterwards as any poor run, including in the pages of H&V, was jokingly suggested as still being a "hangover from the Inter game". This was despite Villa getting their own back by knocking the Italian side out of the UEFA Cup in the first round on penalties four years later. Rarely has a single cup tie impacted so deeply on a club at all levels, players, management and supporters alike, in such extreme ways. The intervening thirty years has done little to dull the euphoria or the despair of those two nights.

Stacy Murphy

Offline CT

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Re: Euphoria and despair
« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2020, 07:21:54 PM »
Good times.

That away game is still one of my favourites, despite the result.

We stayed in the Lakes and had one of the most memorable European trips ever.

I wonder what the R rate would rise to if Kent Nielsen gobbed like that now!

Offline tomd2103

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Re: Euphoria and despair
« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2020, 12:11:43 PM »
Was ten years old at the time and don't think I've ever been more excited looking forward to a game.  Matthaus in particular had been brilliant at the World Cup that summer, so the thought of seeing him and some of the other players they had in the flesh was really exciting.  I remember the footage on Central News in the lead up to the game of them arriving at the airport and of Klinsmann standing alone on an empty Holte End.

I remember the atmosphere on the night being absolutely electric and the sense of drama heightening further when the Inter fans threw a flare on the pitch which delayed the kick off.

As for the 90 minutes that followed, I still find it hard to split that and the Tranmere semi-final as my favourite game at Villa Park.

Offline colin69

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Re: Euphoria and despair
« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2020, 04:15:29 PM »
Me and my brother sat in the Witton Lane stand for the home game. We’d queued for the tickets after a home game and we were allowed 6 tickets, 2 for us, 2 for my Uncle and cousin who for some reason are Manure fans and 2 for their Italian next door neighbours who were Inter fans. It was such a sweet feeling when our second goal went in and me and my brother were really giving it the big un to our Uncles Italian neighbours.
Watched the away game on TV and was totally deflated after the game.
Missed the game against Inter under BFR as I was on holiday in Ibiza and had to wait to buy a paper the following morning to even see the result.

Online Allan C

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Re: Euphoria and despair
« Reply #4 on: November 07, 2020, 04:19:39 PM »
Quite possibly my best night ever at Villa Park. I travelled up from Ipswich with a few of my RAF mates and picked up my Mom from Kingstanding on the way to the ground. She was a Holte End season ticket holder. I’ll never forget Kent Neilson’s opener and my moms face watching it. Absolutely unforgettable memories of football and family

Online Sdwbvf

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Re: Euphoria and despair
« Reply #5 on: November 08, 2020, 07:45:42 AM »
I went to sixth form college the day after the away game unable to speak due to shouting at the TV. The home game was something else. That season was my first being allowed to traipse up from Worcester on my own to watch football. I seem to remember paying 6 quid for the Holte. Did we beat Sunderland 3 0 that season?

Offline dcdavecollett

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Re: Euphoria and despair
« Reply #6 on: November 09, 2020, 02:28:33 AM »
Yes, we did.

Online Exeter 77

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Re: Euphoria and despair
« Reply #7 on: November 15, 2020, 01:16:52 PM »
The Sunderland keeper let a Tony Daley shot slip through his hands after catching above his head if I am remembering it right

Offline dcdavecollett

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Re: Euphoria and despair
« Reply #8 on: November 16, 2020, 02:30:14 AM »
Yes, I think that was the first goal.

Online TonyD

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Re: Euphoria and despair
« Reply #9 on: November 27, 2020, 09:50:25 PM »
We took a group of mates from uni in Liverpool to watch the first leg and what a cracker for them.   I remember we couldn’t find much open for beers in Brum after the game and got loads of stick - “Birmingham was shut” was the subsequent piss take for my former home.

The second leg was a scandal.  In think all 3 goals were suspect. 

Still, a few years later we did Inter.   

Offline frank

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Re: Euphoria and despair
« Reply #10 on: December 04, 2020, 07:05:52 PM »
Thanks for the memories, Stacy. A very good analysis
« Last Edit: December 04, 2020, 07:19:40 PM by frank »


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