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Author Topic: Slack jawed wonder  (Read 1451 times)

Offline dave.woodhall

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Slack jawed wonder
« on: April 29, 2020, 01:48:02 PM »
From no. 247, January 2020

Iíll admit it, Iím an inveterate namedropper. If Iíve met anyone in the slightest bit famous Iíll stop people in the street to tell them.

Iíll admit something else as well Ė Iíve been incredibly lucky enough to meet just about every player Iíve ever worshipped/idolised and theyíve all been great. The saying that you should never meet your idols certainly isnít true in my case. Of course, it helps that youíll never find anyone so modest, yet with so much to boast about, than an ex-Aston Villa player. 

Thatís why talking to them is so easy. They have the ability to put you at your ease and feel a proper grown-up instead of some star-struck kid. Gary Shaw? No problem Ė heís on first name terms with most of Birmingham. Dennis Mortimer? Curse the name of Doug Ellis and youíve got a friend for life. Brian Little? Er, thereís an exception to every rule although by now he must be used to middle-aged men looking at him open-mouthed.

Talking of which, thereís one man who I met once, spoke to on another couple of occasions, and every time I was scarcely able to get a word out. Which on at least two of them put me at a bit of a disadvantage.

In 1992 there was little commemoration around Villa Park of our greatest achievement. But then there were still a few who knew what was what and to his eternal credit one of them was Buck Chinn; Carlís dad, Doug-baiter extraordinaire and chairman of the Shareholders Association. Buck arranged a tenth anniversary dinner that was held at the Holiday Inn on Hill Street. It was in the days before those sort of nights became regular events so there was still a sense of novelty and wonder in being able to talk to the twentieth centuryís greatest collection of footballers at close range.

On the way in weíd seen a Jaguar pull up. We hadnít taken much notice as we got in the lift but then the driver came walking towards us and started to enter just as the door was closing. We

were in the company of Ron Saunders. None of us could speak. All of us stared, slack-jawed. Eventually one of our number realised that the door wasnít going to close unless we moved up a bit for him. The lift went up a couple of floors, Mr Saunders got out, and didnít so much walk into the room as fill it with his presence.

It was the best night out Iíve ever had. The players were great, Tony Barton was the dignified figure he always was. And Ron Saunders was unerringly polite to anyone who spoke to him, but few did. We didnít dare. He was happy to sign autographs and pose for photos, but his sheer force of personality meant that not many of us could even approach him.

As his public appearances were on a par with Howard Hughes I thought Iíd lost my chance until two years later, when we were putting together The Holteís Last Stand. It was such a special occasion that I thought donít ask, donít get and asked Buck if he could put in a word about an interview. To my amazement, a few days later he said Ron had agreed, and could I ring this numberÖ.

Iíve never been so nervous as I was when I dialled, and the man himself answered. I just about got through the blandest set of questions Iíve ever asked; there was so much I wanted to ask him but was afraid to. Why did he leave? What was the argument with Andy Gray about? Instead I muttered, opened my mouth and nothing came out, then finally managed to ask a few nondescript things about what he thought of our fans and what he remembered of big games.

A few days later I was at home when the phone rang. ďThis is Ron Saunders here,Ē came the voice from the other end and I swear the phone stood to attention. He told me a few things Iíd got wrong, I apologised profusely and at the end I thanked him for everything heíd done for us. He was politeness itself, and seemed genuinely pleased that I was so grateful to him.

I didnít know at the time just what a big deal it was to get such an exclusive. He hadnít spoken to the press since leaving the Albion and it was to be another decade before he did so again. Whoever else managed to get the Saunders words of wisdom, I bet they werenít so totally in awe of him. Three times over.
« Last Edit: April 29, 2020, 01:53:59 PM by dave.woodhall »


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