Date: 18th July 2008 at 8:45pm
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To misquote Martin O’Neill, quoting Groucho Marx – I’ve had an exciting pre-season but this isn’t it.

To misquote Martin O’Neill, quoting Groucho Marx – I’ve had an exciting pre-season but this isn’t it.

As of yet, the flame still awaits the spark and what with Liverpool’s protracted dithering about whether they really want Gareth Barry or not, neither the watery sun or the recycled rumours of imminent signings have managed to raise my temperature this week – if its high summer, it has been more Reykjavik than Nicosia.

Losing to Lincoln didn’t help either.

So, as ever, I took cosy refuge in my memories by retrieving, at random, an ancient tattered Villa programme from my shed manqué, and spent a little while mulling over the good old days, as they happily turned out to be.

I seem to remember, that when old Villa scrotes, indulge their rose-tinted memories, this really annoys the young folks – so there’s yet another reason to indulge this old man’s fancy.

The programme under perusal was for Monday 4th April 1983 – with the Villa – Blues emblazoned across the top – in Division One. Price 40p. It must have been Easter, if it was a Monday.

The match was sponsored by the Birmingham Bridgewater building society (what ever happened to them?), and sharing the front page is the mighty Peter Withe, in a skin-tight Villa shirt with Davenports (the sponsors) splashed across the chest, and Noel Blake in a Blues shirt devoid of sponsors (showing Blues to be, as ever, slightly behind an innovation). Shorts still look like shorts at this point in history and Noel’s are particularly snug and fetching. Big Peter wears his claret and blue sweatbands on his wrists; Noel has a wedding-ring (untaped).

The teams:

Villa: Spink, Williams, Gibson, Evans, McNaught, Bremner, Shaw, Withe, Cowans, Walters.

Birmingham City: Coton, Hagan, Dennis, Stevenson, Blake, Van Der Hauwe, Gayle, Ferguson, Harford, Halsall, Hopkins

Villa’s mascot was a kid called Alexander Woodhall.

Tony Butler and BRMB, sponsored the match ball.


Villa: Tony Barton Birmingham: Ron Saunders

This must have been quite a significant fixture for Villa and Blues, beyond the usual rivalry of a derby, as Ron Saunders brought the Blues to Villa Park, possibly for the first time since his shock move across the city. If Villa fans are suffering mild shock at the defection of Gareth Barry, these past few months, they will have no idea what it was like, seeing Ron Saunders go Blue – as daft as it sounds, I can hardly believe it now, never mind then.

It really was a crazy time, as both Robert Hopkins and Noel Blake were returning to Villa Park after recent transfers, while Alan Curbishley had moved the other way. Frank Carrodus was on the Birmingham books, at this time but was unavailable due to long-term injury.

All the talk in the programme, was about Birmingham City cutting their wage bill but little did the Villa fans realise, that similar plans were being hatched at their own club. Kenny Swain had already left and within a year, Bremner would be gone, as well as Cowans. Mortimer and Withe would depart within a year. But on this day, we were totally oblivious but perhaps the use of Hopkins as a make-weight in the Curbishley transfer, might have given us a clue. Curbishley had excelled in Division Two and finally delivered as much as he promised. When, in the October following this match, Villa lost 2-6 to Arsenal, Villa’s enervation looked to have begun in earnest. Villa had sold five players and signed one, in the season 82-83.

Turning the page, we find Tony Barton’s Team Talk, where he mentions Villa had been in two quarter-finals that season (FA v Arse & European Cup v Juve). The highlight of that season was Villa winning the Super Cup against Barcelona 3-0. Amazingly, only 31 000 turned up that glorious night and I remember it well. I can still see Morley storming down the left and crossing for the first goal and the youngsters will have to imagine Ashley Young doing the same, they are not dissimilar players, although it has to be said, that when Morley was at his best, he played like he had a rocket up his backside
(supplied by Saunders) and every sinew seemed to be as taut, as ships rigging, when he charged forward. He was truly great – ask Martin Hodge.

Inside the front cover, a certain Steven Stride, as he was then known, was club Secretary – the late great Terry Weir was taking the photographs.

Turning the page, we find Peter White writing a column called White Lines, which had nothing to do with the snorting good fun, which such a title might have been associated a decade or so later. In his column, he announces that Sid Cowans had made his England debut against Wales (same as he who walked on water). He mentions Mark Walters scoring that brilliant FA cup goal against Northampton (didn’t he do a Cruyff-turn that day too?), which was on the telly. Its recorded elsewhere that Mark ousted Morley to the bench, for the Juve game. He praises a few of the old guard but declares Gary Williams as deserving the ‘Villa Player of the Season’ award.

There then follows a page of Villa v Blues facts and a caption contest for a photo of Peter Withe, with his hand on the bottom of Claudio Gentile of Juve. I don’t know who or what won it, but I suppose it must have been something along the lines of ‘Juve got a cheek and so have I’. Gentile is described as one of the greatest man-markers of the game and there are jokes elsewhere in the programme about him sharing the same shirt as Gary Shaw. But Villa’s oldies will not need reminding that it was Paolo Rossi’s killing early goal, at Villa Park, which ended the tie and Villa’s hopes. Rossi was the Golden Ball and Golden Boot holder from World Cup ’82, if anyone needs reminding how good he was. Villa took consolation in a 4-0 win at Coventry, after being totally out-classed by Juventus but then lost 2-0 at Spurs.

Just to prove how we suffered in the Eighties, there was an advert for the Des O’Connor show on the next page, who was doing a fortnight at the Hippodrome (yes, really). But just to prove Villa had a sense of humour, there was a voucher for a pound off, on the page after that.

Bill Shorthouse was in charge of the reserves and both Brendan Ormsby and personal favourite, Eamonn Deacy, get a mention.

Brian Little is coaching the youngsters and Darren Bradley, who was destined to become a stalwart at the Albion, had just scored a hattrick.

There is a player-profile of a very young-looking Kevin Poole, who was third-choice behind Spink and Rimmer, who found himself playing second-fiddle to Villa’s European Cup hero. Kevin Poole is only 5ft 10in, which must make him a midget amongst goalkeepers and as we all know, he was another who went on to play for Blues. But, since when has that been a tall order.

There is an article about the rivalry of Brian Little and Trevor Francis. Francis (spit!) was playing for Sampdoria at this point and had an annoyingly excellent record against Villa, in a dominant period by the Blues, in the Seventies, when they won five derbies on the trot, which Villa set to rights, by winning the next five. I still find a photograph of Trevor Francis distressing. Brian, of course, looks both saintly and cherubic.

There’s a picture of Alan Curbishley, with Tony Barton, about to put pen to paper, looking like a singer in a boy-band. Barton makes all sorts of positive noises about the signing and the long-term contribution Alan was going make in a Villa shirt – he was wrong, Alan played only 40 times in three years.

In a column called Nationwide, there is a short snippet about a 19 year old, called Mark Wright who was enjoying his first season in Division One, describing his journey from Oxford schoolboy to Lawrie McMenemy’s Southampton. He was to go on to enjoy success at Derby County and then England – most fans can remember his life-saving goal against Egypt in the Gazza World Cup 1990. His World Cup performance earned him a move to Liverpool (spit!).

Then comes the Stats page:

Villa were 4th with 52 points from 33 games. The average gate was 22 666 (very poor when you think about it). Above them were Man United, Watford (some manager that Graham Taylor) and Liverpool. Amazingly, Villa have three players in the list of leading scorers (cups incl.) – Peter Withe 19, Gary Shaw 18 and Sid Cowans with 12. Even King Kenny of Liverplop only had 19 but Rush had 29..

Villa were to finish 6th, that year, after they lost to the likes of Luton and Swansea away, during what had looked like a not too difficult set of closing fixtures. They hammered Stoke 4-0, drew with Liverpool 1-1 away (who were champions) and even beat Arsenal on the last day 2-1. It was actually a superb season, which was only marred by poor away form. Gary Shaw finished as Villa’s top-scorer for the season, with 24, which would be amazing these days, and is probably why the boy is a legend.

Oh yes, and Villa beat Blues that day 1-0 , with a fantastic goal from Gary Shaw (your original blond bombshell). Noel Blake was a tower of strength for Blues at the back, and it needed something special to beat them, which Gary duly supplied.

Now that has given me a happy glow – memories, you can’t beat them but nostalgia is not quite as good as it used to be.

Now, Martin, what memories have you got planned for us?


3 Replies to “Something For The Weekend (197)”

  • Excellent article. Brings back so many memories. That season was indeed the start of the decline and fall following our European Cup triumph. Still find it hard to believe that it all went so sadly wrong, and so quickly.

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