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Author Topic: A modern fairy tale  (Read 1471 times)

Online dave.woodhall

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A modern fairy tale
« on: March 26, 2021, 01:56:48 PM »
On the principle that if you can’t beat them, join them production of the Villa News was handed over to Sports Projects, who had master minded the award winning Norwich City programme last campaign. Their first act in taking over the Villa programme was to bring it down to terrace-manageable size.  But even more oddly the first programme of the season was a six page fold-out version for a friendly against VFL Bochum (2-1), a city in Germany that is hard to find on the map. 

Leeds United were to play a big part in our early season and a 2-1 opening day win at Elland Road hinted at great things to come even if that was not immediately obvious at the time

Then the aforementioned men of Norwich got to see the results of their and a 1-0 had everybody going home happy, totally unaware that we had just seen what was virtually to remain our chosen eleven for the whole of the upcoming season. But this was certainly not obvious to most supporters as our attendances only hovered around the 25,000 mark.

Leeds came for a League Cup tie (1-0) followed a week later by another trip to Yorkshire for the second leg and a double up t’north (3-1). A one-nil loss at leaders Ipswich seemed of no major consequence at the time but it was to have major repercussions as the season progressed. Even so, looking back its appears inconceivable that our now regular eleven had then succumbed to Cambridge United who we had despatched so easily the season before. 1-2 and only 7,608, mainly locals were able to boast about having been there for their team's historic triumph.

But then suddenly a revival and led by Peter Withe we couldn’t stop winning so much, so that October 22nd 1981 was a date that will live long in my memory. Not least because early in the afternoon the powers that be had decided that in future my services were to be required far away from Villa Park. I would no longer be able to pass the ground twice daily en route to my employment. Even getting there at all was destined to become a fraught train journey. With Villa fans now starting to believe that something unusual was happening 27,367 turned up at Villa Park knowing that if we defeated Brighton we would go top of the tree above Ipswich Town.

A 4-1 win meant that joy was unrestrained in the Russell household and if Villa were going to win the league as a thank you present before I left the city I was going to make sure I would be there to see each and every minute of the march into history.

After defeating Leeds United three times already this season we couldn’t quite make it four but a 1-1 meant we still maintained a healthy lead at the head of affairs, games in hand and goal difference excepted. Then our historic autumn blip D L D L W LW D L saw us trailing Liverpool when the Merseysiders came to B6, made far worse by the fact that that final “L” had been a third round FA Cup defeat at Ipswich Town. So no double for us this season, if indeed any trophy.

The team that leads the league on New Year's Day ends up winning it – or so the saying goes so just for the record things stood:
      1st    Liverpool    P25   Pts 34   Gd +19
      2nd   Aston Villa   P25   Pts 34   Gd +19
      3rd    Ipswich Town   P23   Pts 33   Gd +19

Probably the biggest turning point in our fortunes came with the sensational 2-0 victory over Liverpool in front of almost 48,000, who afterwards were starting to really believe. Keen not to lose our momentum we risked overkill by inviting Rapid Vienna for a Monday night friendly in lieu of a fourth round FA Cup match. Another unusual six page fold out programme and a good 4-0 work out which came amidst a sequence of seven consecutive league victories. Aided in particular by Tony Morley and Gordon Cowans, Peter Withe and Gary Shaw were scoring goals for fun.

On any other day 3-3 at home to Manchester United might have been thought of as a point gained but there was no hiding the disappointment that the winning sequence ended, despite the famous 110% effort and this time around it was a point lost especially as we were now starting to trail Ipswich on goal difference. This was seemingly made worse when we suffered a 0-2 reverse at White Hart Lane but the misery of being locked in the ground until the Spurs fans had cleared the area was tempered when news came while we were waiting that Manchester United had done us an unexpected favour by beating Ipswich 2-1, their first defeat since Christmas as they had set their sights on a treble – league, FA Cup and UEFA Cup.

A 2-1 home win over Southampton saw us go back to the top of the tree allowing the Baggies to play an important part in what was to happen next. Villa Park played host to a League Cup final replay Liverpoolv  West Ham United and the Villa Leisure Centre saw Gordon Ferris beat Billy Aird for the British Heavyweight Championship.

Then a real Wednesday night bonus, Leeds United 3 Ipswich Town 1 and while we were thrashing Leicester City at Filbert Street 4-2 things went from best to better. West Bromwich Albion 3 Ipswich Town 1 Problem was the Baggies were the next visitors at which point the table then read   
1st   Aston Vllla    P36    Pts 53   GD+29
2nd   Ipswich Town   P36   Pts 52   GD+37
3rd   West Brom   P37   Pts 47           GD+17

It was obviously Albion's last hope of glory either in winning the whole shooting match themselves or denying us the prize.  As a consequence night matches at B6 were never more electric than this. Tense from start to finish and what a finish. With two minutes to go Jimmy Rimmer got an ‘assist’.  His long clearance, more in desperation at clearing the ball upfield out of harm's way than with any intent found Brendon Batson with similar defensive things in mind but Peter Withe anticipated his back pass to Tony Godden and in a flash Villa Park erupted as never before.

Ipswich Town had missed out on their trip to Villa Park in March due to their progress in the FA Cup. The game against the Baggies had also been brought forward to accommodate Ipswich because they were due here again only this time for an FA Cup semi-final. Some Villa supporters resented their being given the opportunity to suss out our ground ahead of our meeting four days hence but at least we had the satisfaction of knowing they would not be doing the double because Manchester City beat them 1-0 and as it went to extra time, hopefully they would be more exhausted. Ahead of the kick off the league table read:
1st    Aston Villa      P37   Pts 55   GD+30
2nd   Ipswich Town   P36   Pts 52   GD+37

All we had to do was beat Ipswich and glory was virtually ours. The atmosphere and anticipation was high inside Villa Park and was even more electric than the previous Wednesday. But with expectations so high sadly Villa were even more nervous than their fans and after barely four minutes Ken McNaught uncharacteristically gifted a chance to Brazil which he accepted with glee. It might be wrong to say that it was then all Villa but it was not much Ipswich. Until in the 79th minute Bremner reprised what McNaught had done and to all intents and purposes it was game over as Gates stepped in. Three minutes later Gary Shaw brought hope but despite a furious final eight minutes ‘hope’ was as good as it got.

The silence at the end as we trooped out of the stadium almost matched that of fifteen years earlier when we had been relegated on losing to Everton. I doubt whether at that moment there was a single Villa supporter who believed that we would still win the league.
Sorry, there was one. Ron Saunders.  Whether it was bravado or not or just trying cheer himself up but next day he was full of "It aint over yet”.  And of course that was quite true.

Three days later, on Easter Saturday, it certainly ‘aint over yet’.  While Villa were recovering to beat Nottingham Forest 2-0 Ipswich were losing 0-2 at home to Arsenal. Nobody expected that! Then two days later on Easter Monday the bottom fell out of Ipswich’s world. While we had ventured to the Victoria Ground and were a mite disappointed to only draw 1-1 they were losing 0-1 at of all places, Norwich. The table now read:
1st   Aston Villa    P40   Pts 58   GD+31
2nd   Ipswich Town   P39   Pts 54   GD+35

Ipswich then made progress in the UEFA Cup at Cologne. Villa expected a big crowd for the visit of Middlesbrough and opened the gates early. But were massively disappointed with an attendance of only 38,018. Perhaps the fans were beginning to doubt the words of Ron Saunders. The team was buoyant and rewarded the faithful with convincing 3-0 scoreline but Ipswich beat Manchester City 1-0 so there was still all to play for next week at Highbury.

Fearing that the ground would be taken over entirely Arsenal made the game all ticket for Villa supporters. I was the only person in the queue on the Monday morning accompanied by a bicycle. I was able to set it aside when my moment came to step forwards safe in the knowledge that no Villa supporter would contemplate stealing it.

Somehow I had a premonition that no matter what Villa achieved Middlesbrough would overcome Ipswich and the crown would be ours. Bosco Jankovic had not been in the Middlesbrough team defeated at Villa Park but he was in their team at Ayrsome Park. It is a matter of record that for the second time when on the verge of glory the Villa froze and the 0-2 at Highbury was a fair result. But meanwhile Villa supporters had been getting increasingly excited at the news from up’t’north where Bosco was writing his name in to Villa folklore (but no statue!). Middlesbrough 2 Ipswich Town 1

We stopped at a pub on the Coventry Road to celebrate our triumph. Needless to say I was outside the Council House next day.

It did not matter one jot that Ipswich went on to lose their game in hand 2-3 at home to Southampton, the one where they expected to repeat their 1962 triumph or that they almost threw away the UEFA Cup, going down in the second leg-4-2 after winning the first leg of the final 3-0. They weren’t in our league!

John Russell

Offline West Derby Villan

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Re: A modern fairy tale
« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2021, 05:23:26 PM »
Brilliant, got a bit of dust in my eye methinks

Offline Villan For Life

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Re: A modern fairy tale
« Reply #2 on: March 26, 2021, 06:20:09 PM »
January 10th 1981 was the day that I thought that we could actually win it. The Ipswich defeat at home made me feel like we’d thrown it away but there were so many more twists and turns to come. And Bosco, Bosco Jankovic,  may he rest in peace, safe in the knowledge that he played a part in our glorious history.

We don’t do things the easy way do we?

Offline ldavfc4eva

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Re: A modern fairy tale
« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2021, 08:13:52 AM »
Great article, I love reading about the glory years as I wasn’t born until 86.

Well written, thanks for posting it.

Offline TopDeck113

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Re: A modern fairy tale
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2021, 09:05:14 AM »
Even allowing for the economic bleakness of the early 80s and the appalling weather on the day, I still can't comprehend why only 38,000 turned up for the last home game against Boro.  That should have been a day when the gates were locked and 2pm and stories to this day of thousands standing on the hill up to Aston Hall trying to catch a glimpse of the action through the gap between the Trinity Road and the Holte.

Online dave.woodhall

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Re: A modern fairy tale
« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2021, 09:07:16 AM »
Even allowing for the economic bleakness of the early 80s and the appalling weather on the day, I still can't comprehend why only 38,000 turned up for the last home game against Boro.  That should have been a day when the gates were locked and 2pm and stories to this day of thousands standing on the hill up to Aston Hall trying to catch a glimpse of the action through the gap between the Trinity Road and the Holte.

It was hammering down with rain. And also, we only got the same number for the Anderlecht match and the 43,000 against Juventus included about 8,000 Italians.

Offline TopDeck113

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Re: A modern fairy tale
« Reply #6 on: March 27, 2021, 09:14:42 AM »
I remember the weather well!  There was even sleety snow when my school mates and I were standing soaked waiting for the bus home. But on an afternoon when the club could have actually clinched their first title in seven decades, 10,000 short of capacity still beggars belief. 

Online Rico

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Re: A modern fairy tale
« Reply #7 on: March 27, 2021, 09:57:48 AM »
I went to every single home league match that season, but cannot for the life of me remember us playing Rapid Vienna. The Villa team of that season were relentless and not short of skill.  As for the attendances I always remember the official figures were a bit on the low side, but attending a football match back in the eighties was a whole different experience to the one that we enjoy these days. I was surprised though at the attendance of 38000 for the final home game, especially if you consider how many we took to Highbury. Incidentally the official attendance against Ipswich was wrong because me and my brother and mate all crawled under the turnstile in the Holte End.

Like many others I believed Aston Villa were on the verge of world dominance. Typical Villa, they cocked it up and got  relegated a few years later. Here's hoping that the new owners have more of a long term plan than Messrs Bendal, Ellis, Lerner and Xia.

Offline ADVILLAFAN

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Re: A modern fairy tale
« Reply #8 on: March 27, 2021, 11:09:10 AM »
I always think that Ipswich bleat about 1981 toio much. Weren't they closer to the title in 1982?
Finished about 5 points behind us, or 7 if it's 3 points for a win.

Also, they had one local derby and lost one of the games (to a poor Norwich team), we had about 7-8 other Midlands teams and didn't lose a single derby

Offline Luffbralion

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Re: A modern fairy tale
« Reply #9 on: March 27, 2021, 08:05:16 PM »
Great article, John; it brings it all back. The home game against Ipswich was my "stag do". I managed to get tickets for four of us in the Trinity Road expecting the mother of all celebrations. What a let down it was! Another mate couldn't get in the ground and watched from Aston Hall Park.
I agree Ron Saunders' words were seminal.

I was nervous before the Middlesborough game but the performance was excellent. I knew then we would do it. I went with a mate who was flying off  the next day to work abroad. We had been watching Villa together since the early 1960s. What a send off!

 


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