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Author Topic: The Euros - The Aftermath  (Read 1785 times)

Online dave.woodhall

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The Euros - The Aftermath
« on: July 26, 2021, 10:29:34 PM »
One or two reading this may recall that quite a while ago I had the bright idea of looking at Villa’s performances in the seasons immediately following a World Cup as I had long held a theory that our form dipped every four years. After I had examined the stats in more detail my theory just about held up: going down in 1959, 1967 and 1987 as well as fighting relegation battles in 1991 and 1995, while the only remotely successful seasons were promotion in 1975 and winning the Super Cup when finishing sixth in 1983.
Until now it hadn’t occurred to me to do the same for post-European Championship seasons but before looking into it particularly deeply my initial feeling was that the opposite of those seasons after a World Cup was true.

For the World Cup I started with the tournament in 1958 but for the European Championships I can start at the beginning in 1960, a tournament none of the home nations even entered and won by a Soviet Union side who beat Yugoslavia 2-1 in the final at the Parc des Princes. The Soviets had made the last four after General Franco had refused to allow the Spanish FA to send a team to Moscow (who said politics and football is a new idea?) at the quarter-final stage. The record books show that 1960-61 was a trophy-winning season for Villa with our first win in the League Cup. In the league an eleventh place finish was consolidation after promotion the season before although top scorer Gerry Hitchens would move to Internazionale in the summer of 1961 thus missing out on a winners’ tankard from that delayed League Cup final.

Untl 1964 the European Championships were operated on a home and away knock-out basis up to and including the quarter-finals as UEFA got to grips with running their own tournaments, but a group stage prior to a two-legged quarter final replaced this between 1968 and 1976. The Finals consisted of just four games in one country; two sems, a third place game and the final. By 1964 England had long since departed as Spain beat the Soviet Union (Franco seemingly not having an issue with playing the Soviets at home) in the final. The English side had been embarrassed in the preliminary round, going out 3-6 on aggregate to France after drawing 1-1 at Wembley and getting hammered 2-5 in the away game, Alf Ramsey’s first as manager.

Villa were treading water somewhat in the first division after looking like a young squad who would be contenders in the intervening period with the harsh winter of 1963 robbing the team of any momentum that season. Another eleventh place end to 1964-65 masked the reversal in the progress made initially under Joe Mercer. It was, however, an improvement on the relegation battle of the previous season which prompted Mercer to resign and his assistant, Dick Taylor, to be installed in the manager’s office.

Prior to this month England’s best performance at the European Championships had been third place in 1968, achieved after losing the semi-final by the only goal to Yugoslavia in Florence as Alan Mullery became the first England player to be sent off. The Yugoslavs went on to lose 2-0 to host Italy in a replay in Rome after a 1-1 draw. England beat the Soviet Union 2-0 for the bronze medal. The season which followed, 1968-69, was a momentous one for Villa. At least off the pitch it was, because on it the team was dreadful. After relegation to the second division in 1967 the quickly fading grandeur of Villa Park hosted a battle against a further demotion in front of ever dwindling crowds and the club’s hierarchy seemed happy to let that continue despite sacking Tommy Cummings as manager. That was until the ‘revolution’ of November 1968 when fans, led by H&V stalwart John Russell and Brian Evans, forced the Villa board into standing down in favour of Pat Matthews, Harry Kartz and, crucially, Doug Ellis (more of him later).

The new board installed Tommy Docherty as manager and Villa survived the season in Division Two. In my mind I sort of see John Russell and Brian Evans as a Villa version of Alexander Dubček, the reformist leader of Czechoslovakia in that same year and whose Prague Spring move away from hardline communism was brutally put down by Soviet troops in August 1968. However, where Dubček failed Russell and Evans succeeded.

Even though things had to get worse under the new regime before they got better (for Villa that is, Czechoslovakia had to wait more than twenty years to begin to emerge from the effects of the Cold War) and by the time West Germany beat the Soviet Union 3-0 in Brussels Villa had emerged from division three and in 1972-73 finished third in division two in the last season, other than 1995 when the Premier League was reduced to twenty clubs, when only two sides were promoted. That does disguise though that Villa, by then under Vic Crowe, were a long way behind runners-up QPR but significant progress had been made.

That progress accelerated almost exponentially during the next Euro cycle and the season after Antonin Panenka had written himself into football parlance with his delicately chipped winning penalty against West Germany in Belgrade, Villa looked like they would sweep all before them. 1976-77 was the best season in living memory for all but the oldest fans as Villa finished fourth and won the League Cup. Star striker Andy Gray also took both PFA Player of the Year awards. That didn’t tell the whole story though, as Ron Saunders’ swashbuckling side tore into teams including a memorable night a week before Christmas when Liverpool, on their way to a league and European Cup double, arrived in B6 and were dispatched 5-1 and it could easily have been far more.

After England fans had rioted in the re-formatted two group European Championships in Italy, won again by West Germany in 1980, Saunders had re-modelled the Villa squad. Gray was gone for a record fee and a more pragmatic Villa found a way to grind out results with a counter-attacking style based on a sound defence, the pace of winger Tony Morley, the passing ability of Sid Cowans and goalscorers Gary Shaw and Peter Withe. The league title was wrapped up on the final day despite the team losing at Arsenal. Middlesbrough’s Serb striker Bosko Jankovic scored the goals to defeat Ipswich and leave Villa four points clear. A league title was won just over twelve years after the fans’ revolt and only ten after finishing fourth in division three.

By 1984-85 Doug Ellis was back as chairman. Ron Saunders was long gone, resigning in February 1982, and replaced by Tony Barton who led Villa to European Cup glory three months later. Ellis, though, had set about removing all traces of the triumphs achieved during his absence and he spitefully sacked Barton shortly after guaranteeing the safety of the manager’s position. He was replaced by Graham Turner from Shrewsbury who looked out of his depth from more or less the very beginning. It seemed Turner’s remit was to get rid of all the vestiges of the team who had won trophies in recent seasons although he did bring in the loan signing Didier Six who had won the European Championships with France that summer. A tenth place finish matched the previous season but, just as Six had shone brightly on his debut, it was not to last.

Following the Netherlands’ 2-0 win over the Soviet Union (it was only when I started looking at the statistics that I realised how successful the USSR were at the European Championships) at Euro 1988 Villa began life back in division one. A monumental slide under Turner and then an uninterested Billy McNeill had got Villa relegated in 1987 but an uncharacteristically astute managerial appointment by Ellis brought in Graham Taylor. Taylor dragged Villa out of the second tier as runners’ up on goals scored over third placed Middlesbrough. A good start to 1988-89 gave way to a collapse after Christmas as the goals of striker Allan McInally dried up and Villa went into the last game of the season knowing they had to beat Coventry to stay up without relying on other results. A 1-1 draw wasn’t good enough and Villa had to wait for the Liverpool v West Ham game, delayed due to the Hillsborough disaster, to take place. The 5-1 Liverpool win was enough to keep Villa up and send the East Londoners down.

The 1992-93 season was promoted as ‘A Whole New Ball Game’ by Sky as they took sole rights for transmitting games in the new FA Premier League. In the intervening four years Graham Taylor had left Villa for the tabloid abuse of the England job to be replaced by Josef Venglos and then Ron Atkinson. It was Atkinson who had allowed Danish colossus Kent Neilsen to return to his native country. The end of the previous season had climaxed with Euro 1992 when England again flattered to deceive after drawing with Denmark, who included Nielsen in their ranks and would go on to win the tournament after initially not qualifying, and then France both 0-0. After contriving to lose 2-1 to Sweden in their final game despite taking the lead England went out. One point of note from the tournament was that a Villa player appeared for the first time as Tony Daley came on against Denmark and started against Sweden, the last of his seven caps. Bizarrely, Daley would have been suspended had England made the semi-finals after being booked in both the games he played.

Daley suffered an serious knee injury early in the 1992-93 season and didn't feature for Villa until March. By then Villa were top of the league after a slow start vying with Manchester United for the first Premier League title. The goals of record signing Dean Saunders dried up and, coupled with Atkinson choosing to bring back his namesake Dalian when the striker was clearly not match fit, the team began to falter. Two 0-0 draws at home to Tottenham and Coventry and a heavy midweek defeat at Blackburn when Sid Cowans outclassed a previously faultless Villa midfield, meant ground was irretrievably conceded. A final home defeat to Oldham condemned Villa to the runners' up spot.

In the term subsequent to Gareth Southgate missing the decisive penalty against Germany in 1996 Villa were looking forward to 1996/-7. With shades of 1977 the team had finished fourth and won the League Cup the previous season but could only follow that up with fifth place despite strengthening the squad with record signing Sasa Curcic. The Serb proved to be a disastrous acquisition and arguably the start of the decline of Brian Little's time as manager can be traced back to him joining. A second consecutive European qualification was achieved although it wasn't the title challenge most had hoped for.

By 2000 John Gregory's confidence in his and Villa's ability had begun to grate on a number of supporters and club captain Southgate was seeking to leave citing a lack of ambition within the club. Southgate again was in the England squad but played just the last few minutes of the final group game against Romania. It was during his time on the pitch that Phil Neville conceded the penalty which saw the Romanians through at England's expense. For Villa the first full season of the new millennium (there's a word no-one has used in twenty years) was just dull by the standards of the seasons in the previous decade. The highlight of the eventual eighth place was the comeback win from 0-2 down at home in the last game which finally helped flush Coventry into obscurity.

Euro 2004 saw more Villa players than ever before participating. Olof Mellberg became the first overseas Villa player to appear at the tournament in a 5-0 win against Bulgaria and substitute Marcus Allbäck, technically still a Villa player at that point, was the first to score in the same game. Darius Vassell played as a sub in all four England games but like Mellberg, missed the decisive penalty in his country's quarter final shoot-out. 2004-05 was David O'Leary's second season of three as Villa manager and saw a the club in tenth place four below the previous year. That placing disguised an atrocious last two thirds of the season. After losing just two and winning six of the first thirteen games Villa managed only six wins from the remaining twenty-five.

By the time Euro 2008 came around Doug Ellis was gone with the club sold to Randy Lerner and the ego of David O'Leary had been replaced by the equally large ego of Martin O'Neill as manager. England hadn't qualified but Olof Mellberg, having already said his goodbyes to Villa fans at West Ham, played in all three Sweden games as they went out at the group stage despite beating eventual winners Greece. Wilfred Bouma, who would play only two more competitive appearances for Villa due to a horrendous ankle injury in the opening European tie of 2008-09, played twice for the Netherlands as they made the quarter-finals. The injury to left back Bouma forced O'Neill into bringing in Nicky Shorey from Reading as a replacement but barely played him preferring instead to move Luke Young across from the right and playing centre back Carlos Cuellar out of position. The summer also featured Villa fighting a rearguard action to hang on to Gareth Barry as Liverpool offered spare change, bottle tops and a youth team sub for the midfielder. 2008-09 itself is often seen as a turning point for the club and O'Neill in particular. On 7th Feburary Villa were third, eight points ahead of Arsenal in fifth. Villa would only win twice more in the league and O'Neill fielded a reserve side in the away leg of the first knockout round of the UEFA Cup against CSKA Moscow as he gambled on Champions League qualification. An ultimate finish of sixth began to disenchant some fans especially against the backdrop of the unrepentant and patronising attitude from the manager.

The aftermath of Euro 2012 saw a painful Villa season in 2012-13. Shay Given and Richard Dunne played in all three of Ireland's defeats in Poland and Ukraine but neither featured prominently for Villa in the season after the dismal Irish showing. Dunne never actually played in claret and blue again. Paul Lambert was the popular choice as new manager; the polar opposite of the appointment of Alex McLeish twelve months earlier. Lambert had a slow start but his supposedly young and hungry (roughly translated as 'cheap') players began to come good in December after hammering Norwich 4-1 at Carrow Road in the League Cup quarter final and shocking Liverpool 3-1 at Anfield. The wheels immediately came off two days before Christmas at Stamford Bridge as Villa suffered their worst ever defeat. Chelsea showed no mercy scoring eight without reply and it should have been far more. Heavy defeats at home to Spurs and Wigan before New Year and an FA Cup exit at Millwall were bad enough. Losing the League Cup semi-final to Bradford was the ultimate humiliation. That Villa rallied to just about stay up is credit to the players' character.

After Euro 2016 Villa reached the bottom of the descent precipitated in Moscow eight seasons earlier. The outgoing Ciaran Clark, fresh from contributing to Villa's year long capitulation, was the club's sole representative and scored an own goal in Ireland's opening draw with Sweden and played in the defeat to Belgium but didn't appear again as his country went out in the last sixteen. 20-1617 saw Villa in the second tier for the first time in nearly thirty years and Roberto Di Matteo led the club to the relegation zone by October before Steve Bruce's outdated but more effective approach took the club to thirteenth by the end of a season all fans had hoped would see a resurgence. The highlight, if that is the word, was Gabby Agbonlahor's penultimate Villa goal. It was a winner which inevitably came against Blues in a dreadful late season home derby game.

Euro 2020 saw two Villa players contribute to England's run to the final with another appearing to be the stand out performer for Scotland. Tyrone Mings was unlucky to be understudy to Harry Maguire who seems to play better in internationals than in club football. Mings did however appear to become leader of the political opposition as he took on the Home Secretary on Twitter to much acclaim in the days after the final and the appalling but sadly inevitable racist abuse of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka. John McGinn, played further forward by Scotland manager Steve Clarke, was the best player on either side in the game against England but could not drag the Scots out of the group single handed.

What was entirely predictable was the rise and rise of Jack Grealish. Criminally underused by the over-cautious Gareth Southgate Jack has endeared himself to the entire country as he has to Villa. It is often said that fame can be measured by a person being known by just a single name, Kylie or Beyonce being examples. In summer 2021 if you mention the name 'Jack' most now just assume you are talking about the Villa captain. Villa haven't had a player as marketable as Grealish in living memory and must hang on to him as we approach the new season.

If we distil Villa's seasons following European Championships we see three trophies one being a league championship, another league runners' up spot, a few successful relegation battles but no unsuccessful ones and, probably most importantly, a revolution. If history is the best way of predicting the future 2021-22 could be one Villa can look back on fondly.

Stacy Murphy

Offline dcdavecollett

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Re: The Euros - The Aftermath
« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2021, 02:49:45 AM »
Cracking new angle -you must have put a lot of research into this!

Let's hope your predictions are right.


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