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Although by all that is logical the defeat I am about to describe ought to go down as number one – our most humiliating defeat ever. EVER. Not only did the result create shockwaves around Birmingham and the surrounding area, it made headlines throughout the world.
No one would have anticipated such an outcome after a 4-2 Good Friday success over Wolves in front of over 50,000 of our predecessors had seemed to ease the thoughts of relegation which had been hanging over Villa Park most of the season. Manchester City visited Villa Park the following day and most of the Villa supporters were back again in relative good humour. A 2-2 draw was not the end of the world and we travelled to the Molineux to face our fellow-strugglers on Easter Monday as much in hope as in expectation, only for our hopes to be dashed by another 2-2 draw.
The problem was that Arsenal at Highbury were due up next and the Londoners had already chalked in another Wembley cup final appearance for the following week. For the better part of 85 minutes every player gave their guts for Aston Villa especially Mush Callaghan and Alex Massie, who played through most of the game with injuries sustained in the opening skirmishes.
Then, in front of one of the biggest crowds of the season at any ground, 58,000, we succumbed to our nemesis. Ted Drake, who had scored his infamous seven goals from eight shots at Villa Park earlier in the season, brought nothing but gloom and misery again everywhere along the banks of the River Tame.
To make matters worse, while this was happening Sunderland were equalling our record in winning the league for the sixth time.
After the humbling reverse at Highbury the league table read:
17th Grimsby P40 Pts37
18th Albion P40 Pts35
19th Everton P40 Pts35
20th Wolves P39 Pts35
21st Aston Villa P41 Pts35
22nd Blackburn P40 Pts31
Goal average was against Villa so we needed at least a point from our final game and then we could do nothing more than hope for the best. But as fate would have it our last home game was at home to Blackburn Rovers, already relegated and it was inconceivable that we would not beat them. Wrong.
Wolves all but saved themselves by beating Preston 4-2 on the Monday so with Blackburn doomed it was a case of one from four as the season entered its final Saturday.
The cup final was a normal match day back then and while we were up against Blackburn the Arsenal duly won the cup in beating Sheffield United. No prizes for guessing the scorer; Ted Drake. But nobody at Villa Park was the least bit interested in the destination of the FA Cup. We had eyes on Everton v Birmingham and Brentford v Albion at a time when finding out the score from elsewhere was well-nigh impossible so the best thing to do was to concentrate on the task in hand.
In any event the scores from elsewhere soon became irrelevant when Blackburn opened their account in the fifth minute and followed it with a second barely five minutes later. At this point an element of black (country) humour was introduced into the proceedings as instead of a numbed silence, as occurred thirty years later when Everton delivered a similar coup de grace, a bout of community singing broke out. The title of the song chanted is not recorded but our forefathers doubtless chanted the equivalent of, “We`re going down, we`re going down”.
Apart from Alec Massie who was the only Villa player to play to his best form in this vital match the remainder were in a state of nervous apoplexy and it was no surprise when Thompson added a third goal for the visitors.
What was a surprise was when Pratt, an amateur in the Blackburn goal who was making his league debut, allowed a shot from Frank Broome to pass through his fingers to make the halftime score ‘only` 1-3. Some reports credit Broome, others an own goal.
But after Eric Houghton had produced a glimmer of hope from the penalty spot early in the second half Pratt redeemed himself with a couple of saves which might otherwise have produced an unmerited equaliser.
The usually reliable George Cummings had a nightmare game, which accounts to some extent for the fact that the poorest side in the league were able to take the points. Sale, score of the first goal made it a personal brace as a static Villa defence could only look on in despair. 2-4. This ensured that the match had a most usual finale.
The crowd took up the chant, “Who killed poor Cock Robin” until it became a deafening funereal last rite to the departed. No-one knows why they sang. No-one, so far as I can ascertain, has ever tried to find out.
Villa thus ended the season having lost more games at home (eight) than they won (seven) and having conceded seven goals at home on three occasions.
And so it came to pass that irony of ironies, Villa were ultimately accompanied into the second division by Blackburn Rovers when at the time we were the only two clubs who had played in every season in the first division.
To make matters worse, much was made of the fact that at the same time we lost our proud British scoring record from 1930-31 of 128 goals in a season when Falkirk of the Scottish second division equalled it that afternoon and went on to score 132 from only 34 games.
Other results on that fatal Saturday afternoon read:
Everton 4 Birmingham 3
Portsmouth 3 Grimsby 2
Brentford 2 West Bromwich 2
And that night, when the black-edged Sports Argus came out, the first division table read:
18th Everton P41 Pts37
19th Grimsby P41 Pts37
20th Albion P41 Pts36
21st Aston Villa P42 Pts35
22nd Blackburn P41 Pts33
The greatest football club in the world had been relegated. It took forty-five years for them to regain their rightful position.
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