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Author Topic: Aston Villa and the FA Cup - The Good, the Bad and the Buttock-Clenchingly Poor  (Read 1693 times)

Online dave.woodhall

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1967: Preston North End and Liverpool

For a struggling top-drawer team, an away draw against a second division side for the third round of the cup offers the chance of a run that might inspire an improvement in the team’s league form. Preston North End were drawn out first, so off to the north-west we went. For those with a good working idea of football history, this was a clash of the two greats of the early years of football. ‘Proud Preston’ had been the boast, when the Lilywhites had become the first team to win the league, a concept gifted to the football world by one William McGregor. Some labelled them The Invincibles after their memorable feat of winning the league and cup in the same season. More than this, they had been unbeaten in their league campaign, and did not concede a single goal in their cup run, hence the well-merited moniker.

Alas, things certainly weren’t what they used to be in this part of the world. Having been relegated from the top division in 1961, they had rarely looked like getting back there, and were well-entrenched in mid-table mediocrity. The last time these two sides had met had been in the quarter-final of the competition in 1960. A Villa Park crowd of 69,000 saw Villa through to the semis against a Preston side hoping for glory as a parting gift for the soon to be retiring Tom Finney. They didn’t get it. A recent memorable cup final appearance in 1964 had been a reminder of the Lancashire club’s former glories, and 1967 gave them an inviting chance to have another go.

Not that any Villa fan would have dared to crow about ‘fallen giants’ at this particular time. The limited vision and energy of the people who ran their club meant that every season had become a ritual relegation battle, one which, to be fair, they usually managed to win. This flagrant absence of ambition meant, of course, that any player of a high standard soon realised that he would have to move on to make the best of himself and his career. Only a few months before this tie, Tony Hateley, whose goals saved Villa from the drop for three seasons, had finally got his big-money move to Chelsea. For younger Villains, think Christian Benteke in 2015. The outcome, predictably, was only too familiar.

To further boost doubts as to how this would play out, Villa had a few selection problems on their plate; new signing, Willie Anderson, George Best’s old team-mate at Old Trafford, was unavailable. So was redoubtable centre-half John ‘Slogger’ Sleeuwenhoek, one of the more reliable performers, and a real 100%-er. (Obviously, this inadequate approach would not have been enough for a certain Villa boss a few years down the line.) Fellow Villa loyalist Lew Chatterley, ever willing to change team roles to help out the side, switched to the back alongside Dave Pountney. With Wright and Aitken the full-back pairing, as so often was the case, that completed the defence. Midfield cover was provided by Keir Bradley. Like Michael Wright, Keir was from Ellesmere Port, and, like Wright, was a full-back. Recently, he had been converted to a midfielder and had even managed a couple of useful goals in this role, including an important winner against fellow-strugglers Sunderland.

The more creative aspect was meant to come from the evergreen Peter Broadbent, signed recently from third division Shrewsbury Town, but still possessing the touch and skill required at the highest level, if not the speed or power. Tony Scott, brought in as a winger from West Ham the previous season by manager Dick Taylor, was now in the centre-ground; the wide areas were filled by the experienced Johnny MacLeod while, on the opposite flank, reserve right-winger Dave Roberts, an Erdington lad, got his first chance since a run of games in the autumn. Roberts was a player who was neat in possession and liked to take opponents on with his skill. Tall and thin, some on the terraces referred to him as ‘knitting needle’. Barry Stobart was centre-forward, a man who had good reason to think fondly of this competition; in 1960, he was called up late to the Wolves cup final squad and played a part in their 3-0 triumph over Blackburn Rovers. Not a bad start for a youngster…

Preston’s side had a number of local lads in their team, as was the case in the sixties. Alex Dawson, a swarthy, beefy centre-forward, led the line for the home side, a step down from his previous team, Manchester United. In goal was that fine ‘keeper Alan Kelly, who seemed to spend an age between their posts. Alongside Dawson was another striker who relished the physical side of the upfront struggle, though the worthy Brian Godfrey’s transfer to the Villa was still several months away. In the midfield, the classy first-time passing of Howard Kendall was still a feature, with Everton yet to make a bid. For a flavour of how special the cup was in these times, Preston’s average attendance for this season was measured at just below 14,500. The draw of Aston Villa could hardly be thought of as a major attraction in the mid-sixties, despite the lustre of a great name, but over twenty-six thousand were happy to pay to watch, most hoping for an upset.

If the key factor in these ‘banana-skin’ games is to start well, then Villa failed miserably on that score. George Lyall headed over in the first minute, and shortly after, Pountney’s short back-pass led to a clash between Withers and Dawson that left the Villa ‘keeper with a gashed leg which needed stitching after the game, the bone having been exposed. Still, big Colin played on. Things then settled down and Roberts came close with a high cross-shot that Kelly just managed to push over. Back came Preston and before the break Lyall struck the post after Kendall’s through-ball. The wounded Withers came to the rescue as Villa were under siege before the break, producing successive saves from Lyall, Lee, Hannigan and Lawton.
   
With the game in the balance, it took one memorable moment to decide the issue. After some good interplay between McLeod and Scott on the left, a low centre was played to winger Roberts who cracked a powerful shot across Kelly, right into the top corner. It probably wasn’t unfair to say that the goal deserved to win a better game than this one. There had been other chances during the game, but nothing like a finish of this class. The young man had had his moment in the sun and Villa would have their ninety minutes in the fourth round. Not that Preston were finished; they roused themselves for a last series of attacks, but by now Villa’s defence had taken a grip and Withers was rarely troubled. Villa, in fact, looked more dangerous in a series of quick breaks as the clock wound down.

The downside of the victory were the reports of damage to the trains by returning Villa fans after the game. Chairman Norman Smith condemned this behaviour in clear terms afterwards. Although other writers will tell you that football hooliganism, as it would soon be commonly known, was not a new thing in 1967, this was, in my experience, the first example of it being covered seriously in the local press. There would be plenty more written on this subject over the next two decades.

Whereas the game at Deepdale might have conjured up thoughts of the unknown for the Villa lads, the fourth round draw gave them no such problems. Being drawn away to Liverpool has rarely been the spur to encourage thoughts of a long cup run, but at least there was no prospect of being taken by surprise by this one; after all, Villa had lost 1-0 at the very same venue just a week earlier, in a league game. One-goal defeats give losing fans the opportunity to indulge their imaginations over what might have been; after all, we had only just lost, so we could have got something out of it, goes the tune. This particular defeat didn’t come into that category. Had it not been for the familiar heroics of ‘Tiny’ Withers, Slogger and the rest of the backline, the score-line would have been worse; a LOT worse.

Examining Villa’s two opponents this year offered an interesting contrast. While time had diminished Preston’s greatness, the sixties had seen Liverpool’s climb to the top, behind the galvanising leadership of the unforgettable Bill Shankly. From a mediocre second division side, Shankly had delivered two league titles, an FA Cup (for the first time in 1965) and might even have embraced the prestige of being the first British side to win the European Cup, had some extremely dubious refereeing decisions not halted their progress at the semi-final stage against Internazionale. Now, they wanted to get their hands on the cup again and few Villa fans would have felt any optimism about preventing that outcome.

But, this was the cup. The previous week’s league attendance had been a healthy 45,000. In these days, the excitement of the cup was unmatched, so another eight thousand packed into Anfield for the second match. From the noise generated through the game, many of the ‘extras’ were Villa fans. The only differences in the Villa line-up saw the return of Sleeuwenhoek, another former Mercer Minor Alan Deakin coming in for Scott, and Willie Anderson replacing the hero of the third round, Roberts.

The start was as spectacular as it was unexpected; Villa dominated the early proceedings to an extent that the only regret was that the away side did not take an advantage from their supremacy. Anderson, playing in a strapping after passing his fitness test, put in an early cross that turned into a shot, only Lawrence’s stretching fingers keeping the ball out. Deakin, turning the clock back to when he was regarded as a nailed-on future England player, before several injuries wrecked these dreams, was unable to take advantage of a clear shot at goal; Lawrence, again, to the rescue. Then Anderson, demonstrating the shooting power he was to show for the club in three different divisions, finally beat the home ‘keeper, only to strike the crossbar. All this in the opening half-hour, but Liverpool then came back into the game strongly, almost unable to believe that they were still in with a chance.

The game remained goalless at the break and Villa kept hope, even as the pressure cranked up as the game went on. Now chances were few for the away side, a forward run by Wright producing a shot from distance that once more brought the best from Lawrence. When was the turning point? Some would point to the bad tackle from behind on Deakin that forced his replacement by the young winger Rudge. Such had been Deakin’s form in this game, he would be sorely missed. In the end, it wasn’t a piece of brilliance that ended Villa’s short cup run, but a fluke surrounded by controversy that decided the issue. Willie Stevenson, the Scottish midfielder, stretched out his foot to reach Slogger’s headed clearance and effectively back-heeled the ball back into the penalty area. There, it was met by a diving header from Ian St. John who put it past Withers. Defenders protested loudly but in vain. In 2014, I met a fan who had attended the game and he insisted that the scorer was several yards offside and the goal should have been disallowed. If only we’d had VAR in those days, eh?

Boosted by their stroke of fortune, Liverpool tried for more goals but two fine saves by Withers from Milne and St. John kept Villa in the game though they were out of the competition soon enough. In the end, missing strikers Woodward and Hamilton were held up by some as the reason for Villa’s punch-less attack. Neither player was to play in the colours in the top division again. If ever there was defeat with honour, this was it.

What happened next?

After the tie, Villa had fourteen games left to secure their top-flight status for at least another season. They won only two of them, and were relegated on the penultimate Saturday of the season.

Dave Roberts never scored another goal for Villa, though he did claim a winner against us for Shrewsbury on Easter Saturday 1971, with as good a goal as the one he had bagged four years earlier.

Winners Liverpool were drawn away in the fifth round at…Everton! One story had it that, such was the demand for tickets for this game, one fan offered his Mini motor car in exchange for the precious slip of paper that would get him into the ground for this tie. As he was a Toffee, and Everton won 1-0 with a goal from Alan Ball, he may even have thought that the price was worth it.

Dave Collett


« Last Edit: April 09, 2021, 10:07:06 PM by dave.woodhall »

Offline villa `cross the mersey

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Great memories Dave - I went to both games with my late parents either on coaches from Villa Park or the train - can't remember which !! I was aged 10
St John's goal was offside :(

Offline tony scott

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Great article I went the Preston tie great atmosphere in deepdale seem very dark periods for the Villa followed.

Offline dave shelley

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I was at that Liverpool cup game and it's interesting to read about the fan who insisted that the goal should have been disallowed because of it being offside, that fan could have been me, it wasn't, because ever since that day I have insisted that it was offside.  We were in the paddock on the dressing room side and towards the Kop where the goal was scored, as clear an offside as you ever will see.  I'm still not over it!

Offline dcdavecollett

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Wow!

Can't believe I wrote Keir Bradley!! (It's Keir, of course).

Must be my overwhelming contempt for the current Labour leadership that's getting to me...

Offline ADVILLAFAN

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Excellent article. Also had no idea that Howard Kendall had played for Preston.

Big sides getting a decision as usual.

Makes me wonder if I'll still be moaning about Thierry Henry's quick freekick, where Halsey dived out of his way in 50 years time.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2021, 08:32:23 AM by ADVILLAFAN »

Offline Andy_Lochhead_in_the_air

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Great read. Those Preston and Liverpool FA Cup ties were my very first away games as a 9 nine old. Dad took us in the car and we put scarves out the window going up the M6.
Anfield was something else, up till then I was used to a 1/3 full Villa Park. The one other away game that season was going to Maine Road for a midweek 1-1 draw in the league (must have been school holiday). We saw George Best outside the ground ( he was pals with Mike Summerbee) and I got his autograph.

Offline dcdavecollett

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I met the chap in the article who told me that the goal was offside in the Derby Tup boozer (one of Mr Woodhall's favourites) after we had lost a pre-season friendly 3-1 to Chesterfield in 2014. It was the one where the first-team squad had been in the USA, and were apparently too knackered to make the trip up to Derbyshire so they sent some reserves and youth team players to fulfil the fixture.

The guy obviously went a long way back and I wish I could have had a longer chat with him re matters claret-and-blue. I don't know if he posts/reads on here.


Online dave.woodhall

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Wow!

Can't believe I wrote Keir Bradley!! (It's Keir, of course).

Must be my overwhelming contempt for the current Labour leadership that's getting to me...

It's more likely a word filter.

Offline Villa Lew

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Wow!

Can't believe I wrote Keir Bradley!! (It's Keir, of course).

Must be my overwhelming contempt for the current Labour leadership that's getting to me...

How about Keir, great read Dave, we rarely did well against Shankly's Liverpool, beating them only once in May 63 at VP, the famous game of course was in March 60 2nd Division VP, when we came from 4 down to draw 4-4, goals from McParland, Thomson 2 and Lynn pen.
« Last Edit: April 16, 2021, 12:19:22 PM by Villa Lew »

Offline Villa Lew

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Wow!

Can't believe I wrote Keir Bradley!! (It's Keir, of course).

Must be my overwhelming contempt for the current Labour leadership that's getting to me...

How about Keir, great read Dave, we rarely did well against Shankly's Liverpool, beating them only once in May 63 at VP, the famous game of course was in March 60 2nd Division VP, when we came from 4 down to draw 4-4, goals from McParland, Thomson 2 and Lynn pen.

Offline Villa Lew

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Wow!

Can't believe I wrote Keir Bradley!! (It's Keir, of course).

Must be my overwhelming contempt for the current Labour leadership that's getting to me...

How about Keir, great read Dave, we rarely did well against Shankly's Liverpool, beating them only once in May 63 at VP, the famous game of course was in March 60 2nd Division VP, when we came from 4 down to draw 4-4, goals from McParland, Thomson 2 and Lynn pen.
Keir!

Offline Villa Lew

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Keir!
« Last Edit: April 16, 2021, 12:26:07 PM by Villa Lew »

Online Exeter 77

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It's a word filter as the result of something on Off Topic.

Offline Villa Lew

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 Ah Ok

 


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