Ron Saunders Returns Part 1
RON SAUNDERS RETURNS TO ASTON VILLA
Ron Saunders will be returning to Villa Park this Saturday for the game against Manchester United, as a Guest of Villa’s new owner Randy Lerner.
Ron Saunders will be “OUR” Guest of Honour.
For the younger Villains who have only heard of the name Ron Saunders I hope in this post to make you aware of what Ron Saunders achieved at Villa Park in almost 8 years as Manager of a Villa Team who played exciting fast flowing football.
Ron Saunders as a player had a scoring record which in to-days game could only be envied by forwards in every league. As a player he scored 201 goals in 390 senior appearances with Everton, Portsmouth, Charlton and Watford.
Prior to joining Villa Ron Saunders had held managerial posts at both Manchester City and Norwich City, both of these teams he took to the League Cup Finals in consecutive years, he is still considered a Legend at Norwich City for as their manager he managed to take the unfashionable club into top flight football for the first time in their history (1st Division)
Villa finish an undistinguished 14th in Division 2, crowds were down to an average 23,413 a steady fall from the 32,000 in 1971/72 season. The then manager Vic Crowe was sacked at the end of the season and Ron Saunders was appointed Manager contrary to popular belief by the then Chairman Doug Ellis.
In his first season with Aston Villa, Ron Saunders Villa team were promoted to the First Division as Runners Up behind Manchester United, this season Villains also tasted League Cup success with a trip to Wembley to see Villa win the Football League Cup. Villa opponents were his former team Norwich City, to this day a record Ron Saunders still holds is to take three different clubs in three consecutive seasons to a League Cup Final at Wembley. Crowds however remained unspectacular with only a small increase on the gate from former seasons. Its also worth noting Ron Saunders had used the same players as his predecessor to achieve his Initial success. In 1975 after Villa had won promotion and the League Cup Ron Saunders was named Manager of the Year.
Villa's first season in the First Division was one of consolidation and Villa finished 16th, attendances had Increased to an average of 38,800 as the Villa Faithful flocked to watch the new fast flowing and exciting brand of football now been played at Villa Park. The Villa also qualified for Europe for the first time ever, our first time in European competition saw Villa get hammered by Antwerp in the UEFA Cup 5-1 on aggregate. *53,782 flocked to see the return of the Birmingham, Villa Derby game.
With Villa consolidated in the First Division finishing a respectable 4th in the league, going out of the FA Cup to Manchester United, a run, which included wins against West Ham United and Port Vale in front of 48,400 Villains.
Villa also found the road to Wembley for another League Cup Final 12th March this time against Everton, the teams could not be separated and the game finished 0-0.
So a replay at Hillsborough 4 days later once again the teams could not be separated in a 1-1 draw. Villas goal was scored by a Kenyon o.g.
Finally, on April 13th Villa beat Everton 3-2 with goals from an unlikely source in Chris Nicholl the Villa defender and Brian Little with a brace to once again bring the cup back to Villa Park. A notable Inclusion in this seasons squad was a midfielder called Gordon (Sid) Cowans a Villa apprentice who would play a large part in seasons to come and go on to become a Villa Legend with 340 games to his credit.
In this season the unimaginable happened Ron Saunders sent his team out to play the league leaders Liverpool, Villa were 5-1 up at half time and Liverpool including Kevin Keegan and England Captain Emlyn Hughes never stood a chance as Villa attacked them at every opportunity. Goals from Gray 2, Deehan 2, Little secured the Victory. Why should this performance stick out from any other? The absolute class Villa showed on the night.
People forget earlier in the season Villa had thrashed Arsenal by the same scoreline!
This season saw Villa finishing 8th in the league despite the additions of Alan Evans, John Gregory, Ken McNaught and Jimmy Rimmer. They were knocked out of the FA Cup by Everton (who else) the League Cup Villa held, they were surrendered to Nottingham Forrest. The team that went on to eventually win the League Cup, a team containing a certain Martin O’Neill and managed by Brian Clough. Despite the early Cup exits, Villa played in front of over 35,000 every week. This season saw Midland’s football at an all time high, Villa played 14 “local derbies” with Nottingham Forrest, Wolves, Albion, Leicester, Derby County, Coventry and Birmingham City.
Against the Midlands clubs, Villa results were W5 L5 D4.
This season saw Villa have almost a repeat season but Ron Saunders was bringing new players into Villa Park. In the defence we now had Swain and McNaught this was to be the rock Saunders was to build his team on. The squad Increased from 18 players to 26 as Saunders struggled to find the core of players he wanted.
Villa again finished 8th in the First Division. Villa did fair better in Europe this season getting through to the fourth round of the UEFA Cup. Fenerbahce 4-0, Gornik Zabrze 3-1, Athletic Bilboa 3-1.
Villa lost to Barcelona 4-3 on aggregate having held them 2-2 at Villa Park and going down 2-1 in Spain.
Once again Villa finished in the top half of the league one place better than last season 8th. Again 12 derby matches played a large part in the season W 8 L3 D 1.
Villa were still behind the likes of Liverpool, but things were to change.
This season will go down in living memory for all of the Villa Faithful who were around at the time. Villa played the entire season with just 14 players.
From the first kick off in the 1980/81 season Villa looked a side to be taken seriously, a run of 12 games without defeat, from mid September to the end of November took them to the top of the table and another 10 game unbeaten run after Christmas put Villa with the Championship in their sights. The three wins against Southampton, Albion and Leicester in the run in to the seasons end saw Villa fighting it out with Bobby Robson’s Ipswich for the title. An estimated 20,000 Villains travelled to Highbury to see if Villa could get the single point required to bring the Championship back to Villa Park for the first time in 71 years having won it 6 times previously. Although Ron Saunders team played attractive, attacking football people still thought Ipswich were bound to be the Champions. Villa lost 2-0 to the Arsenal that day but the result did not matter as Ipswich failed to get a result at Middlesbrough and Villa were crowned Champions of England. During this season seven players had played in every game, Bremner, Cowans, McNaught, Morley, Mortimer, Rimmer and Swain.
Peter Withe and Gary Shaw had scored 38 League goals between them.
Ron Saunders Aston Villa had won the League and qualified for the European Championship next season.
Villa were Champions of England, but all was not well behind the scenes, Ron Saunders team were going to compete at the highest level on the European stage and politics at the club were rocking the Aston Villa boat. Amazingly Ron Saunders manager of the League Champions resigned in February 1982 Ron. Saunders assistant at Villa Tony Barton took temporary charge of the team. May 26th 1982 it should have been Ron Saunders crowning glory as a manager, his Villa side beat much fancied Bayern Munich 1-0 in Rotterdam to win the European Cup, this was a 6th consecutive win for English sides as Liverpool had won three times, Nottingham Forrest had won it twice prior to Villas triumph.