I’m proud to have arranged for a few extracts of the Euros & Villans book by Rob Bishop to be serialised on Vital Villa. Here is the first.
The business of travelling abroad was nothing new to Villa when they played their first competitive European game in 1975.
Over the years, the club had ventured as far afield as America, Africa, Israel and the USSR, for pre-season and end-of-season friendly games. So it seemed strange that their first competitive fixture on foreign soil should take them just across the channel to face Royal Antwerp of Belgium in the UEFA Cup.
It was a case, though, of so near yet so far. Some supporters opted to fly to Belgium at a cost of £50, including an overnight stay (or £44 for those returning straight after the match). But the vast majority went for the budget option of a rail and ferry excursion, which was much cheaper at £22.50 but involved many hours of travel by train and boat, followed by a 30-minute walk from the station to the Deurne area of Antwerp.
The train left Birmingham New Street at 5.30am on the day of the game, and returned just before mid-day the following morning.
Even though the distance [R1] from Birmingham to Antwerp was only 358 miles, there was still a culture shock in store. Secretary Alan Bennett warned in the programme for the previous Saturday’s game against Arsenal that toilet facilities at the Bosuilstadion were limited, advising travelling supporters: “Don’t wait until you are in the stadium.”
It wasn’t much fun for the players, either. “We had to walk about 300 yards just to get from our coach to the stadium,” recalls Charlie Aitken. “And when we got into the dressing-room it was freezing cold. Ron Saunders tried to light a gas heater on the wall and BOOM! There was quite an explosion and Ron nearly got blown away.”
Once the action started, it was the team’s turn to be blown away. Everything seemed to be fine as Villa defended solidly for almost half an hour but then it all fell apart…
To order the book, use paypal.me/eurovilla (Cost is £22, including £2.25 towards UK p/p).
You can follow Rob on Twitter: @robbishopavfc