Vital Villa are proud to have the legend that is Rob Bishop contributing the occasional article on the bygone times at Aston Villa:
The numbing news of Cyrille Regis`s passing sent my mind racing back to the heady summer of 1991, a time which will will always be remembered for Ron`s Revolution.
It was the year Ron Atkinson became manager of Aston Villa – and life with Big Ron was like nothing the claret-and-blue faithful had ever known.
Atkinson was appointed on Friday 7th June, and 12 days later he made the experienced Regis his first signing on a free transfer from Coventry City, a deal which coincided with the return of former Holte End hero Andy Gray as assistant manager.
The revolution was under way and by the start of the new season the new management team had recruited eight more players. Dalian Atkinson`s £1.6m arrival from Real Sociedad made him Villa`s record signing, and he was quickly followed by Shaun Teale, Kevin Richardson, Ugo Ehiogu, Dariusz Kubicki, Steve Staunton and Les Sealey.
There were a fair few departures, too, including David Platt`s whopping £5.5m move to Italian Bari and Tony Cascarino`s switch to Celtic. And in the midst of all that frantic transfer activity, the Football League computer lobbed in a bombshell of an opening day fixture.
I became aware that Villa would be away to Sheffield Wednesday – the club Big Ron had left in such controversial circumstances – a few days before the fixtures were officially announced.
Chatting with secretary Steve Stride, I spotted a League directive on his desk which listed the First Division games for the first day of the season. And although I was reading it upside-down, it was easy enough to spot Sheffield Wednesday v Aston Villa towards the bottom.
It would have been an amazing “scoop” for the Birmingham Mail, where I was working at the time. But I immediately knew the story was off limits if I wanted to maintain a long-term relationship with the club.
Steve, suddenly aware of what I`d seen, looked me in the eye and, without even referring to the document which sat between us, uttered: “Don`t even think about it!”
Once the fixtures became public knowledge, of course, Wednesday v Villa was the one everyone was talking about.The hate campaign by Sheffield fans became unbearably intense in the week leading up to the game, with daily stories in the national papers about the hostile reception awaiting Ron on his return to Hillsborough.
Not surprisingly, his pre-match press conference on the day before the game attracted reporters from far and wide, many of them having written that Ron had even been offered police protection because of the anticipated vitriol from home supporters.
Yet no-one seemed willing to bring up the subject with the man himself.
The initial questions simply focused on who was injured, who was fit and what a tough opening game it was. For all that, Ron looked distinctly uncomfortable before an uneasy silence fell over the room. It was a broken by a remark which had everyone in fits of laughter.
The Daily Mail`s Ray Matts, a reporter who had known Atkinson well for years and was one of the funniest guys you could wish to meet, casually leaned against a filing cabinet next to the manager`s desk and said: “Ron, you look like a worried man to me!”
Everyone collapsed in fits of laughter. And Ron was laughing even more the following afternoon as Villa turned a 2-0 deficit into a dramatic 3-2 victory.
And the man whose goal launched the comeback was Cyrille Regis, the quiet man of Ron`s Revolution. RIP Cyrille.