It was 20 years ago today...
…Sergeant Pepper told the band to play… ok actually that was about 40 years ago. What DID happen 20 years ago was we beat Everton 2-0 at home. Was it a big deal? Well a win is always nice but it wasn`t an amazing afternoon for most people; however, it was one afternoon this writer would never forget, as it was my first ever Villa game.
My memories of the event are that Tony Daley and David Platt scored the goals. Platt also had a goal disallowed. I remember the team (Spink, Price, Keown, Evans, Mountfield, Gray, Gage, Cowans, Platt, Daley, McInally) and I remember Neville Southall making a couple of fantastic saves. I can also recall Kevin Gage getting kicked up in the air by Peter Reid. I don`t remember much else though, aside from being excited to see (my hero at the time) Alan McInally. That said, I can also remember that the ball very nearly reached us but was headed away by the bloke directly in front. Disappointed as I was not to get the ball, it was an impressive header, in all fairness.
I didn`t go to that many more games that season, and my memory is pretty hazy. I do recall us beating Spurs in the next game, and then seeing my first defeat when we lost 2-1 to Derby. Some bloke called Dean Saunders got their goals…
After that game we moved to the North Stand, which helped me see the games better. The first game there was a 3-1 win against Norwich, and not long after I finally saw McInally get his first goal in a victory over Newcastle. Apart from these games though, I really do not remember a lot. I wasn`t allowed to go to night games for a while so I missed us beating Blues twice, and I also missed Davis Platt getting four (against Ipswich, I believe) and I sulked about it till I was eventually allowed to go to one. We lost to Southampton, and the first night game was a bit of an anti-climax!
I remember a LOT about the season after though. My first season ticket, we signed Paul McGrath and Kent Nielsen in the summer, and we finished runners-up in the league. Sadly as McGrath and Nielsen came in, McInally went the other way to Bayern Munich in the same summer. I still believe to this day that we would have won the league had he stayed. Ian Olney was given the task of filling his boots, and did a decent enough job, to be fair. I seem to recall thinking he would have been a bit better if he had been quicker, but I was still a fan at the time.
If I remember correctly we drew 1-1 with Liverpool on the opening day. But the first real big game I remember was beating Everton 6-2 on a Sunday afternoon, televised live game. We were a little late, and just about the first thing I saw was Sir Gordon Cowans smashing the ball in the net to put us 1-0 up. It was the first time I had really saw us hammer anyone, and I also had the game taped for me in case it was any good… how lucky was that! I watched it over and over again in the next fortnight or so. Funnily enough the next home game we beat Coventry 4-1, and a few weeks later we beat Port Vale 6-0 in the FA Cup; this 'hammering teams` thing was getting old habit!
Possibly the best period of the season though was over Christmas. We beat Manchester United (3-0), Arsenal (2-1) and Chelsea (3-0) - imagine a little run like that today! The Arsenal victory was in fact our last game of the 1980`s. David Platt scored a fantastic goal, and Derek Mountfield scored a header that wonderfully broke the Arsenal offside trap. To this day I can still recall the majestic sight of the George Graham backline all with their hand in the air, while Mountfield buried his header like a good 'un.
Early in 1990, I got to go to my first away game - against West Brom in the FA Cup. Mountfield again got a goal, while Tony Daley finished things off nicely. That was also one of only two occasions, to my knowledge, that I have been seen on Match of the Day, as me & my Dad were caught on camera celebrating the Daley goal. When you`re a young lad, that type of stuff is just amazing!
(In case you`re wondering, the second occasion was last season at Derby after Gabby`s goal…)
Now, for the reasons stated so far and many more, I have a huge amount of affection for this season. However I do have bad memories too… After a 2-0 away win against Spurs, I remember picking up the paper a day or two after, with a headline something like, 'We wont lose again this season`, and it was an interview with our very own Kevin Gage. Even as an 8 year-old boy, I knew this was bad! Ok, I am sure his comments were taken out of context, but what followed was a bad run, including defeats at home to Wimbledon and away to Coventry, the latter of which was the 'Sunday Match Live` on ITV. We ultimately lost the league from a position we really should not have, but all things considered, it was a very good season.
I can actually remember where I was when Paul McGrath signed (I was in my Grandad Kimberley`s chair), which is my where-were-you-when-JFK-died moment! David Platt was absolutely amazing, and Gordon Cowans was fantastic too. Tony Cascarino signed towards the end of the season and never really was a success unfortunately, but overall that was a darn good side.
Graham Taylor left in the summer for his doomed run as England manager, and Dr Joseph Venglos came in. I think I have repressed a lot of memories from that season! Biggest memories are my first European game against Banik Ostrava and the following games against Inter Milan. The home leg saw Paul Birch mark Lothar Mattheus out of the game. God bless Birchy.
The league campaign was a dismal one, and Dr Jo left. Then Big Ron came in. His first season was a relatively decent, albeit unspectacular, one. It did see a complete overhaul of the first team though, largely funded by David Platt`s move to Bari. We finished 7th, and Dwight Yorke was top goalscorer. Leeds won the last ever 'proper` First Division championship that year, edging out Man Utd.
Funny, really; 91-92 was my last year at junior school. As 92-93 was my first year at senior school and ultimately brought a lot of changes in my life, football in England was undergoing even more changes…
The Premier League came in, and so did Sunday afternoon/Monday night games on BSkyB. Match of the Day came back, and the back-pass rule was introduced. The allowed number of substitutes went from two to three, and referees started wearing green…
On the Villa front, Andy Gray left to join the Sky revolution, and Jim Barron moved up to right-hand man for Ron. Dave Sexton came in on the coaching staff. Contrary to the previous summer, only one signing came in - Ray Houghton; a player that was very underrated, in my humble opinion.
That season is still my favourite as a Villa fan. Bosnich in goal; a solid back-four of Barrett, McGrath, Teale and Staunton; a beautifully balanced midfield of Houghton, Richardson and Parker; a dynamic duo of Deano & Dalian up front; finally the midfield was supplemented by either Yorke, Frogatt or Daley. Cyrille Regis helped provide great cover for the front two. That team could have gone anywhere in the world and given anyone a game. Solid defensively, beautifully attractive football played, dangerous on the counter and an uncanny knack of being able to score spectacular goals.
The season really seemed to start flying in Dean Saunders home debut against Liverpool, which included Deano`s first Villa goals and THAT miss from Ronny Rosenthal! Other highlights included:
• Consecutive 3-2 away wins at Middlesborough and Wimbledon (the latter of which featured an amazing solo goal from Dalian Atkinson - the sight of that fan with the brolly running on to cover Dalian, with Deano on his back, is fairly iconic in recent Villa times)
• Two 1-0 wins over Man U in ten days
• A 5-1 home victory against 'Boro
• Winning 2-1 away at Liverpool with Deano getting the winner at the Kop
• Fantastic goals in two 2-0 victories, from Deano (outrageous volley) against Ipswich and Dwight Yorke (Every Villa player apart from Shaun Teale touched the ball in the build-up to the move) against Sheffield Wednesday
• Big Ron feuding with Malcom Allison prior to our FA Cup match with Bristol Rovers!
Of course there were downsides, probably the biggest of which was when Dalian Atkinson got injured around Christmas time and wasn`t the same once he come back (and never was again to be honest) which to me is a big reason in why we finished second; I also remember losing 3-0 to Blackburn towards the end of the season. I watched it on the big screen at Villa Park, and actually had tears in my eyes on the way home as I thought about how Gordon Cowans had just tore us apart.
Although we won the League Cup the season after, 92-93 is still my favourite.
I have waffled on a fair bit about two particular seasons as they hold dear to me. Another great one was Brian Little`s first full season, where we finished fourth, got to the FA Cup semi-finals and once again won the League Cup. Finishing fifth the next season wasn`t too shabby, either.
Once Little left, the great football I had got used to generally disappeared with him. Not quite as good as the Big Ron side, Little still had a team that played very entertaining football. In particular, a more mature Dwight Yorke played his best football for Aston Villa from 1995 to 1998. Contrary to what the media will have you seemingly believe, his career did not start at Manchester United!
Still, John Gregory created a team that was hard to beat and never finished outside the top 8. It also had Paul Merson, which was very handy when teams defended deep at Villa Park. Gregory`s first 38 games actually amounted to a championship winning season. Unfortunately, they were split across two seasons! He also got us to an FA Cup final, which was nice. The experience however, was not. I`ve never really forgiven Gregory for our performance that day.
When Gregory left, it felt like the time was right, as he had probably taken us as far as he could. The problem was, Doug was still around, and the club was getting more and more of a corner shop mentality. Graham Taylor returned and things went from mediocre to rubbish. I will always love Graham Taylor for his first run, and I will do my best to disassociate his second run from that otherwise it would tarnish memories of what was, quite frankly, an excellent job first time round.
Then David O`Leary came in. Ah, DO`L. I despised the man at Leeds. By the time his Villa run was over, that had become ten-fold. He had one good half a season, which lead to us going from relegation danger to sixth. In one sense he was unlucky, as most other seasons that would have meant automatic qualification for the UEFA Cup - something we were once again unlucky with last season. He also was in charge for two memorable wins against that lot from Small Heath. But overall, his run was horrible. Going to Villa games became like people who attend church every Sunday but have started to lose - but are trying to maintain - their faith; I really did not want to go but would not forgive myself if I didn`t!
In all fairness for him, he had the end of the Ellis era. Would he have done better under Randy Lerner? Probably… but the fact is it`s irrelevant, as he and Ellis both left in the same summer and left us with our current regime of Lerner & MO`N. The first season was quite a rollercoaster ride. In fact, I saw a chart that detailed the Premier League into quarters. The first quarter was UEFA Cup, the second quarter was mid-table, the third was relegation and the fourth was Champions League!
Last season was very exciting at times, and is hopefully the platform for many more enjoyable seasons. I am enjoying going to Villa Park again, I am going to more away games than ever and I have faith in the future of the club. The last 20 years have had it`s ups and downs. I have seen great players like Paul McGrath, Gordon Cowans, Dwight Yorke and David Platt. I have seen great servants like Olof Mellberg and Ian Taylor, wasted talents like Dalian Atkinson and Stan Collymore and bizarre signings like John Fashanu and Nii Lamptey. I saw Peter Schmeichel, the best goalkeeper I have ever seen, play for Villa, albeit when he was in the twighlight of his career. I saw other players I wish we had when they were younger such as Cyrille Regis, David Ginola and Ronny Johnsen. I saw humiliation for us at the hands of the Blues, and have seen us hand out humiliations to Blues! I saw the Santa who fell onto the Trinity roof, I saw the brilliance of Luc Nillis far too briefly, I saw the horrible debuts of Ugo Ehiogu and Curtis Davies! I had tears in my eyes for the first time at a football game when we beat Tranmere. I saw the end of the Ellis era, I have lost and re-discovered my faith in Villa, I had my heart broke by Dwight Yorke, and again when I saw the 'new` Trinity Road stand. This may surprise some of our younger fans, but I have even seen us beat Manchester United!
I, like many of you reading this, have been through every emotion I can think of over the last 20 years.
Aston Villa has been a massive part of my life for the last two decades, and I do not think I could love them any more than I do right now. I can not wait to see what the next 20 years bring…
UP THE VILLA!