Aston Villa, The Unlikely Champions of Europe

1982 European Cup Win Over Bayern Munich

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by Jeff Webb

For most English football these days consists of the “big six!” or maybe soon to be big seven? Hello, Newcastle. These teams which dominate the news and phone-ins seem to be the only winners in English football. However, when we investigate the history of English football one team always pops its head above the parapet. A club that has won as many leagues as Manchester City, as many cups as Tottenham Hotspur and more European Cups than Arsenal.

Aston Villa Football Club are the team that more than any, have impacted English football and shaped its future. Its name unlike any other side, transcends footballing history. Aston Villa first won the FA Cup in 1887 prior to four of the current top six, even being created. The side helped create the Football League in 1888. Adopted its famous claret and blue shirts in that same year, these shirts became so famous and linked to success that other clubs such as West Ham in 1904 and Burnley in 1910, also adopted them in tribute to Aston Villa.

Aston Villa Football Club are the team that more than any, have impacted English football and shaped its future.

When Villa were formed in 1874 the men from the local cricket club, met under a gas lamp to form a football club to keep them occupied during the dark winters. These men were fortunate to have several Scotsman among their number, who’s influence can be seen all over the club to this day. The club adopted the Rampant Lion in 1878 at the request of then club president George Kynock, vice-presidents Fergus Johnstone and William McGregor and club captain George Ramsey all off whom were Scotsman. That season the club played with a yellow lion on the team’s shirts, soon though the lion was relegated from the shirts to the paperwork and club flags. That is until 1957 when the lion was returned to the kit and has remained there, after the side won the 1957 FA Cup beating Sir Matt Busby’s famous babes 2-1 in front of nearly 100,000 people at Wembley stadium.

After the cup final victory of 1957, the club went into a demise, leading to the club being relegated, a couple of seasons later. Despite a brief revival under the stewardship of Joe Mercer, which including winning the first ever Football League Cup in 1961. When in 1964 Mercer left the clubs collapse continued and by 1967 the side were back in the Second Division. Then in 1970 with off field issues getting worse including the entire board resigning the club, inexplicitly fell into the Third Division for the first ever time in its glorious history.  

The aftermath of the relegation to the third tier of English football, saw the club make sweeping changes throughout. One of these changes included bring in former captain Vic Crowe as manager. Under the management of Vic Crowe, the club finally stabilised and began to finally be building back to the club it should be. In 1972 the side returned to the Second Division by winning the third tier by a record 70 points. However, after an unconvincing fourteenth place finish in the Second Division, Vic Crowe was sacked by the Villa board and replaced with former Manchester City manager Ron Saunders.

Ron Saunders was born in Birkenhead in November 1932. Having started his career at Everton, he went on to have a nomadic career in the lower divisions in of English football during the 50s and 60s, until he became player-manager of non-league Yeovil Town in 1967. By 1969 he was at Second Division Norwich City taking them to the topflight for the first time in their history in 1972 and to the League Cup final, losing 1-0 to Spurs. After falling out with the board at Norwich he moved on to Manchester City in November 1973, again he took a side to the League Cup Final. Losing again, though this time to Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, despite this he was sacked three weeks before the end of the season, with the side sitting in the relegation places.

The summer of 1974 saw Ron Saunders about take over as manager of Second Division Aston Villa less than a month after he left Manchester City. The 1974-75 season was a great season for the club as the side gained promotion with relative ease, and to top this Ron Saunders became to only manager ever to get to a third League Cup final in a row with a different team on each occasion. The 1975 cup final was the only one in England to be played between two sides from the Second Tier. Aston Villa won the game thanks to a Ray Graydon goal in the final ten minutes to beat Norwich City 1-0. At the end of his first season in charge Ron Saunders took Aston Villa from Second Division mid table mediocrity, back to the First Division with a major trophy and into Europe.

The following season saw the club consolidate its position in the topflight, finishing a comfortable sixteenth out of twenty-two sides. In 1976 the club kicked on again and Ron Saunders took the team to another League Cup title beating Everton 3-2 after extra time in a second replay, thanks to Brian Little strike in the 119th minute. As well as another trophy in the bag, he took the club to a fantastic fourth place finish in the league and European football yet again.

As the 1970s wore on it the club achieved consistent top half finishes. It was becoming clear by now though that Forest, Ipswich and the all-conquering mighty Liverpool were the best teams in England and Europe.

When the 1980-81 season started Liverpool were reigning English champions and were at the start of a decade where they would dominate English football. At the time Liverpool were expected to win the league with Ipswich, Arsenal, Forest and West Brom were expected to challenge.

After an amazing start to the league Villa shocked most commentators by being one of the early pace setters. This was not uncommon for the club as it had a reputation for being extremely patchy, so whilst this was a great start no one really expected it to continue past Christmas. By the new year it was clear that the title race was neck and neck between Villa and Ipswich who remained a few points clear.

As March ticked into April Ipswich remained one point clear of Villa. Within two weeks things would change as Villa would go three points clear at the top and set up a fantastic game against Ipswich at Villa Park on the 14th April. Ipswich clawed Villa back with a tight 2-1 victory, closing the points gap to a mere single point. Four days later though everything was on the line again with Villa hosting Nottingham Forest, whilst Ipswich took on Arsenal. In two extremely tight games Villa came out on top with a 2-0 victory over Forest whilst Ipswich sank to a 2-0 loss to the gunners. A week later Villa beat Middlesbrough comfortably 3-0 to put themselves to within a point of their first league title in 70 years.

On the final day of the season Villa travel down to Highbury to face Arsenal, whilst Ipswich travelled to Middlesbrough, knowing that only a win for them and a loss for Villa would be enough to claim the league title. 

At Highbury that day was Pele as a guest of the host club and prior to kick off was introduced to the crowd. Pele who, himself had played against Aston Villa in 1972 at Villa Park would be present during 90 of the most stressful minutes in the club’s history.

By the half time whistle at Highbury Villa were 2-0 down and playing badly, to compound things Ipswich were 1-0 up in the North East meaning that the unthinkable was on the cards and Ipswich looked like they were about to win the title. As the second halves kicked off it seemed certain that Villa had lost it.

In trying times, it is often the most unlikely people who become the heroes. For Villa it was a Yugoslavian striker. Božo Janković was born in Sarajevo and played just two seasons in England became a legend in Birmingham. Janković scored just 16 goals during his time in England but the two he scored in the second half against Ipswich in May 1981, his last ever goals for Middlesbrough, were his most celebrated. With these two goals he secured Villa the league title and made Aston Villa the only team other than Arsenal to win a league title at Highbury.

 Aston Villa had won their seventh league title using just 14 players, an achievement that no other side in British football has ever managed. With this league title, the club entered the European Cup for the first time. By this time though Ron Saunders was at loggerheads with the board over money and transfers. In the cup though the club was still performing well, starting the campaign by beating Icelandic side Valur 7-0 on aggregate in the first round. The second round was much tougher, against East German champions Dynamo Berlin. After a 2-1 victory in the first leg the side lost 1-0 at Villa Park but went through thanks to the away goal rule.

Prior to the European Cup Quarter Final to club was rocked by the resignation of Ron Saunders. The man who had took Villa back to the topflight, won the league and won two league cups, left the club as his relationship with the board had got so bad that intermediaries were needed to just speak to each other.

The role of manager was handed over temporarily to former assistant Tony Barton. One of the first games for the new manager was against Soviet champions Dynamo Kyiv, after a 0-0 draw away in the USSR the side got a respectable 2-0 victory back at Villa to put them into a Semi Final against Belgium champions Anderlecht. Anderlecht were a very strong side and were undoubtedly a side a lot was expected from, but thanks to a Tony Morley goal in the first leg, Villa were through to the European Cup final in Rotterdam against Bayern Munich.

26th May 1982 has gone down in history as one of the best days of English football in the dark times that were the 1980s. In Rotterdam that day Aston Villa faced off against a strong Bayern Munich side. The game started off badly for Villa as goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer the ever-present man since the later 70s, came off after just 9 minutes to be replaced by the much younger Nigel Spink who, was making his second ever appearance in the first team. Spink had an amazing game keeping Bayern at bay for long periods. As the second half wore on the side grew in confidence and started to play their own game rather than just trying to contain the more skilful Bayern side.

Then in the 68th minute the amazing happened and as is emblazoned upon the North Stand at Villa Park. I believe I should hand over to the legendary Brain Moore for what happened next. “Shaw, Williams, prepared to venture down the left. There’s a good ball in for Tony Morley. Oh, it must be and it is! It’s Peter Withe.” That was the winning goal, and with-it Aston Villa Football Club were champions of Europe! A team that a decade earlier was in the Third Division were now kings of Europe.

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by Jeff Webb

For most English football these days consists of the “big six!” or maybe soon to be big seven? Hello, Newcastle. These teams which dominate the news and phone-ins seem to be the only winners in English football. However, when we investigate the history of English football one team always pops its head above the parapet. A club that has won as many leagues as Manchester City, as many cups as Tottenham Hotspur and more European Cups than Arsenal.

Aston Villa Football Club are the team that more than any, have impacted English football and shaped its future. Its name unlike any other side, transcends footballing history. Aston Villa first won the FA Cup in 1887 prior to four of the current top six, even being created. The side helped create the Football League in 1888. Adopted its famous claret and blue shirts in that same year, these shirts became so famous and linked to success that other clubs such as West Ham in 1904 and Burnley in 1910, also adopted them in tribute to Aston Villa.

When Villa were formed in 1874 the men from the local cricket club, met under a gas lamp to form a football club to keep them occupied during the dark winters. These men were fortunate to have several Scotsman among their number, who’s influence can be seen all over the club to this day. The club adopted the Rampant Lion in 1878 at the request of then club president George Kynock, vice-presidents Fergus Johnstone and William McGregor and club captain George Ramsey all off whom were Scotsman. That season the club played with a yellow lion on the team’s shirts, soon though the lion was relegated from the shirts to the paperwork and club flags. That is until 1957 when the lion was returned to the kit and has remained there, after the side won the 1957 FA Cup beating Sir Matt Busby’s famous babes 2-1 in front of nearly 100,000 people at Wembley stadium.

After the cup final victory of 1957, the club went into a demise, leading to the club being relegated, a couple of seasons later. Despite a brief revival under the stewardship of Joe Mercer, which including winning the first ever Football League Cup in 1961. When in 1964 Mercer left the clubs collapse continued and by 1967 the side were back in the Second Division. Then in 1970 with off field issues getting worse including the entire board resigning the club, inexplicitly fell into the Third Division for the first ever time in its glorious history.  

The aftermath of the relegation to the third tier of English football, saw the club make sweeping changes throughout. One of these changes included bring in former captain Vic Crowe as manager. Under the management of Vic Crowe, the club finally stabilised and began to finally be building back to the club it should be. In 1972 the side returned to the Second Division by winning the third tier by a record 70 points. However, after an unconvincing fourteenth place finish in the Second Division, Vic Crowe was sacked by the Villa board and replaced with former Manchester City manager Ron Saunders.

Ron Saunders was born in Birkenhead in November 1932. Having started his career at Everton, he went on to have a nomadic career in the lower divisions in of English football during the 50s and 60s, until he became player-manager of non-league Yeovil Town in 1967. By 1969 he was at Second Division Norwich City taking them to the topflight for the first time in their history in 1972 and to the League Cup final, losing 1-0 to Spurs. After falling out with the board at Norwich he moved on to Manchester City in November 1973, again he took a side to the League Cup Final. Losing again, though this time to Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, despite this he was sacked three weeks before the end of the season, with the side sitting in the relegation places.

The summer of 1974 saw Ron Saunders about take over as manager of Second Division Aston Villa less than a month after he left Manchester City. The 1974-75 season was a great season for the club as the side gained promotion with relative ease, and to top this Ron Saunders became to only manager ever to get to a third League Cup final in a row with a different team on each occasion. The 1975 cup final was the only one in England to be played between two sides from the Second Tier. Aston Villa won the game thanks to a Ray Graydon goal in the final ten minutes to beat Norwich City 1-0. At the end of his first season in charge Ron Saunders took Aston Villa from Second Division mid table mediocrity, back to the First Division with a major trophy and into Europe.

The following season saw the club consolidate its position in the topflight, finishing a comfortable sixteenth out of twenty-two sides. In 1976 the club kicked on again and Ron Saunders took the team to another League Cup title beating Everton 3-2 after extra time in a second replay, thanks to Brian Little strike in the 119th minute. As well as another trophy in the bag, he took the club to a fantastic fourth place finish in the league and European football yet again.

As the 1970s wore on it the club achieved consistent top half finishes. It was becoming clear by now though that Forest, Ipswich and the all-conquering mighty Liverpool were the best teams in England and Europe.

When the 1980-81 season started Liverpool were reigning English champions and were at the start of a decade where they would dominate English football. At the time Liverpool were expected to win the league with Ipswich, Arsenal, Forest and West Brom were expected to challenge.

After an amazing start to the league Villa shocked most commentators by being one of the early pace setters. This was not uncommon for the club as it had a reputation for being extremely patchy, so whilst this was a great start no one really expected it to continue past Christmas. By the new year it was clear that the title race was neck and neck between Villa and Ipswich who remained a few points clear.

As March ticked into April Ipswich remained one point clear of Villa. Within two weeks things would change as Villa would go three points clear at the top and set up a fantastic game against Ipswich at Villa Park on the 14th April. Ipswich clawed Villa back with a tight 2-1 victory, closing the points gap to a mere single point. Four days later though everything was on the line again with Villa hosting Nottingham Forest, whilst Ipswich took on Arsenal. In two extremely tight games Villa came out on top with a 2-0 victory over Forest whilst Ipswich sank to a 2-0 loss to the gunners. A week later Villa beat Middlesbrough comfortably 3-0 to put themselves to within a point of their first league title in 70 years.

On the final day of the season Villa travel down to Highbury to face Arsenal, whilst Ipswich travelled to Middlesbrough, knowing that only a win for them and a lose for Villa would be enough to claim the league title. 

At Highbury that day was Pele as a guest of the host club and prior to kick off was introduced to the crowd. Pele who, himself had played against Aston Villa in 1972 at Villa Park would be present during 90 of the most stressful minutes in the club’s history.

By the half time whistle at Highbury Villa were 2-0 down and playing badly, to compound things Ipswich were 1-0 up in the North East meaning that the unthinkable was on the cards and Ipswich looked like they were about to win the title. As the second halves kicked off it seemed certain that Villa had lost it.

In trying times, it is often the most unlikely people who become the heroes. For Villa it was a Yugoslavian striker. Božo Janković was born in Sarajevo and played just two seasons in England became a legend in Birmingham. Janković scored just 16 goals during his time in England but the two he scored in the second half against Ipswich in May 1981, his last ever goals for Middlesbrough, were his most celebrated. With these two goals he secured Villa the league title and made Aston Villa the only team other than Arsenal to win a league title at Highbury.

 Aston Villa had won their seventh league title using just 14 players, an achievement that no other side in British football has ever managed. With this league title, the club entered the European Cup for the first time. By this time though Ron Saunders was at loggerheads with the board over money and transfers. In the cup though the club was still performing well, starting the campaign by beating Icelandic side Valur 7-0 on aggregate in the first round. The second round was much tougher, against East German champions Dynamo Berlin. After a 2-1 victory in the first leg the side lost 1-0 at Villa Park but went through thanks to the away goal rule.

Prior to the European Cup Quarter Final to club was rocked by the resignation of Ron Saunders. The man who had took Villa back to the topflight, won the league and won two league cups, left the club as his relationship with the board had got so bad that intermediaries were needed to just speak to each other.

The role of manager was handed over temporarily to former assistant Tony Barton. One of the first games for the new manager was against Soviet champions Dynamo Kyiv, after a 0-0 draw away in the USSR the side got a respectable 2-0 victory back at Villa to put them into a Semi Final against Belgium champions Anderlecht. Anderlecht were a very strong side and were undoubtedly a side a lot was expected from, but thanks to a Tony Morley goal in the first leg, Villa were through to the European Cup final in Rotterdam against Bayern Munich.

26th May 1982 has gone down in history as one of the best days of English football in the dark times that were the 1980s. In Rotterdam that day Aston Villa faced off against a strong Bayern Munich side. The game started off badly for Villa as goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer the ever-present man since the later 70s, came off after just 9 minutes to be replaced by the much younger Nigel Spink who, was making his second ever appearance in the first team. Spink had an amazing game keeping Bayern at bay for long periods. As the second half wore on the side grew in confidence and started to play their own game rather than just trying to contain the more skilful Bayern side.

Then in the 68th minute the amazing happened and as is emblazoned upon the North Stand at Villa Park. I believe I should hand over to the legendary Brain Moore for what happened next. “Shaw, Williams, prepared to venture down the left. There’s a good ball in for Tony Morley. Oh, it must be and it is! It’s Peter Withe.” That was the winning goal, and with-it Aston Villa Football Club were champions of Europe! A team that a decade earlier was in the Third Division were now kings of Europe