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Author Topic: When I was thirty-five  (Read 975 times)

Online dave.woodhall

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When I was thirty-five
« on: December 03, 2020, 09:02:57 PM »
It was a very good year, it was a very good year for claret and blue bloodied guys of independent means.

1974 being our centenary year – though still nobody had managed to find out for certain the real date of origin – we thought we would invite league champions Leeds United and Don Revie to a Wednesday night friendly. This was a proper pre-season game, so different from Colours v Whites or Walsall (sorry Walsall). Except no game against Leeds United was ever likely to be particularly friendly and they showed we still had a long way to go by putting us in our place 1-2.

Our place was of course the second division for our eighth season in the wilderness. After finishing third two seasons earlier when third did not count for anything manager Vic Crowe had failed spectacularly to build on this finish and incurred the wrath of Doug by slipping into the bottom half. In his place arrived the irascible Ron Saunders. Feathers were bound to fly. Expecting Sir Alf Ramsey or better still Brian Clough, expectations were not high although Saunders had managed more than a modicum of success at Norwich City and Manchester City.

A whole season of expectation set me back £22.05 for privilege of watching 21 games, whereas for a mere £10 it was now possible to buy a standing season ticket for either end of the ground. This at a time when I was earning £89 per week

Come my birthday in December – hence the theme behind this article – we were in seventh place, ten points behind runaway leaders Manchester United, unexpectedly relegated the previous season when Denis Law, then with Manchester City, had the ‘pleasure’ of supplying the coup de grace when he turned round and backheeled the City winner into an untenanted net at Old Trafford.

But we had already seen off Everton over two legs then Crewe Alexandra and Hartlepools United in League Cup ties, the last two requiring replays. Notoriously when, even though we could now famously hear men talking to us from the moon, the BBC had been unable to establish a link with County Durham so shorn of any alternative fans at home had to wait until next morning to find out the result. A 6-1 win in the replay set up a rare visit to Essex and a not altogether convincing 2-1 win over Colchester United.

Next we were drawn against Newcastle United or Chester in the semi final and nobody expected it to be Chester.  Two defeats, including a 0-2 at the Hawthorns who were above in the league at the time, plus also at Cardiff meant it was not altogether a happy new year. Then it happened.

Managed by ex-Villain Ken Roberts, Chester had overcome the Geordies (0-0 & 1-0) and at Sealand Road did their dandiest to become the first fourth division side to reach the League Cup final.  2-2, phew. 3-2 at Villa Park after they had come back from 0-2 down. More phew.

Meanwhile we had overcome Oldham Athletic 3-0 in the FA Cup then Sheffield United 4-1 The Blades were challenging for the first division title so we were starting to believe we too were top flight material.

The wins continued into February and we were starting to believe in a Wembley cup final double when we were sent to play at Russell Road in the fifth round of the FA cup. Okay, so the ground at Ipswich Town is known as Portland Road but Russell Road is the name of the road along the other side of the ground and I’m composing this tale.

Those who have stood or sat by me at Villa Park know that I am not one to get overly excited at what is happening on the field but 2-0 up on the hour I began to get quite agitated that afternoon, to the annoyance of a handful of Ipswich supporters in the days before segregation.  Be warned, because with three goals in the last twenty minutes I had my comeuppance and had to skulk out into Russelll Road as discretely as I could.

League leaders Manchester United were next up at Villa Park and mercifully there was no cup hangover. 2-0 is as good as it gets and we were now only one point adrift of Sunderland and Norwich City. Who were to be our next opponents, at Wembley.

I had a front row seat at Wembley and can advise you that the front row was not an ideal place from which to watch at game at Wembley. With about fifteen minutes to go a posse of policemen come and plonk themselves on the turf, completely obstructing your view of the game. But not entirely so because I was able to spot that our former custodian Kevin Keelan had just got his finger tips to a late penalty from Ray Graydon and from the rebound off the post the cup was ours. Barring that merest touch (the referee did well to spot it) Graydon would have been penalised for kicking the ball twice.

After Bolton Wanderers had erected an Iron Curtain at Villa Park (0-0) we virtually could not stop winning except on a visit to Leyton Orient minus the Leyton (0-1). Revenge over the Baggies (3-1) and we were almost starting to believe that not only was promotion on the cards but we might even end up winning the whole shooting match.

Sunderland lost their way a little and we had the joy of seeing them clap us onto the field at Villa Park for our last home game of the campaign, promotion assured. Norwich City too had fallen behind and a visit to Carrow Road was especially satisfying for Ron Saunders and saw an end of the season celebration like no other.

It matters not that we only finished runners-up in the league, three points behind Manchester United. After eight years in the wilderness we had finally regained our birthright, and what’s more, unlike United, we were going to get to play in Europe.

John Russell
« Last Edit: December 29, 2020, 02:22:36 PM by dave.woodhall »

Offline frankmosswasmyuncle

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Re: When I was thirty-five
« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2020, 09:41:34 PM »
A wonderful reminder of happy, happy days!!!
Thanks for posting Dave.
Thanks for writing Mr Russell.

Offline West Derby Villan

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Re: When I was thirty-five
« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2020, 11:01:00 PM »
Thanks for the reminders, what an eventful season that turned out to be, wonderful

Offline montague

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Re: When I was thirty-five
« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2020, 11:44:31 PM »
Very happy memory of the trip to Blackpool near the end of that season, Villa fans everywhere

Online dcdavecollett

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Re: When I was thirty-five
« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2020, 12:26:08 AM »
Ray Graydon went goal-happy before Xmas, and Brian Little took over in the New Year!!

Online Andy_Lochhead_in_the_air

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Re: When I was thirty-five
« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2020, 03:41:54 PM »
Ray Graydon went goal-happy before Xmas, and Brian Little took over in the New Year!!

When we beat Norwich 4-1 in that last game to dent their promotion celebrations, they were both sat in the stand.

Online JD

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Re: When I was thirty-five
« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2020, 07:38:13 PM »
Brilliant Mr Russell. My first season going to see Villa live and what a season it turned out to be.


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