The Year Is 1968
As the 1968-69 season approached, we were in a complete and utter mess.
The previous campaign had seen us finish in sixteenth pace, which although extremely disappointing, had at least seen us avoid relegation to the third division, something that had looked a very real possibility at various stages of the '67-'68 campaign. The final game of that season had seen us beaten at home, 1-0 by Queens Park Rangers, and the crowd, by now completely and utterly fed up of the goings on at the club, or lack of I should say, sent the players off on their summer break, with boo`s and jeers ringing in their ears.
The average attendance had slumped to around the 13,500 mark, and even for those diehards, patience was wearing very thin.
During the summer months leading up to the 1968-1969 season, manager Tommy Cummings had splashed out a record fifty thousand pounds, to acquire the services of the talented winger Mike Ferguson from Blackburn Rovers. Ferguson had come to the managers attention by scoring a superb solo goal for the Rovers in their 4-0 success at Villa Park the previous season.
He also brought onboard the Argentinian Arce brothers, Oscar and Hector, while selling ex-Mercer Minor Mike Tindall to near neighbours Walsall.
Hopes were high that the new season would show a definite improvement upon the events of '67-'68. although looking back, its very difficult to pinpoint exactly what it was that had us thinking that things would or could be better. Definitely a case of the heart ruling the head I think.
Behind the scenes, the desperate and beleaguered board had added to their ranks, bringing in local garage proprietor Roy Ladbrooke, and the wealthy estate agent Bob Mackay, believing that those two gentlemen, could and would provide a much needed injection of cash.
Financial ruin though, was staring the club in the face. Disenchantment, frustration and anger, were very much part and parcel of even the most ardent of Villa supporters, and not only were the supporters extremely antagonistic, numbers were diminishing alarmingly.
We won only two of our opening games of the '68-'69 season, as well as being knocked out of The Football League Cup at Villa Park by Tottenham Hotspur, who enjoyed a 4-1 success, when Cummings opted to break our transfer fee record, by returning to Blackburn Rovers and snapping up the Welsh wing half Barrie Hole, paying sixty thousand pounds.
Hole had a thankless task, and he wasn`t able to stop the rapidly spreading rot, nor in reality should anyone have expected him to.
In two of his early games, both Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers put four goals past us, and it was evident to all that the club was entering into some very stormy waters, and an extremely desperate period in the history of the grand old club.
With supporter angst building by the day, it became fairly obvious that unless something drastic took place, then the club was heading for relegation to the third division come May 1969.
That 'something drastic` came to pass on the 11th of November, with Cummings and his assistant manager Malcolm Musgrove being sacked. No one was in the least bit surprised, and to be honest, to the dwindling faithful, it was more a case of a united 'Good Riddance`.
Cummings though came out with a little statement, a statement that convinced nobody, and was actually greeted with much ridicule.
"I feel that I can leave Villa Park secure in the knowledge that the foundations of the new Villa, in the shape of the youth scheme, have been laid, and that my twelve months work as manager has not been wasted", he said.
In truth though, Cummings never stood a chance.
With Arthur Cox in temporary charge, there we sat, bottom of the table, heading for deep, deep trouble. Charlton Athletic arrived at Villa Park, and held us to a 0-0 draw, still one of the worst games that I have ever witnessed to this day.
Under 13,000 fans were in attendance, and Villa Park was like a morgue, right throughout the ninety minutes. At the end of the game, we had played twenty-two fixtures, had managed a paltry three wins, and posted a mere fourteen points.
Within days of the Charlton bore-fest, the directors confirmed many peoples suspicions, announcing that we were in an horrendous financial mess, and that help was desperately needed if the club was to survive.
Supporters were stunned. There did not appear to be any way that we could rectify our financial problems, and the future looked...well, what future?
Step forward wealthy London financier Pat Matthews. He took control of the club, immediately put five hundred thousand pounds into the coffers to keep it going, and agreed to raise a further seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds from new directors, and from a public share issue.
On the 18th of December, the new Aston Villa Football Club was up and running. Matthews appointed Birmingham City director Herbert Douglas Ellis as the chairman of a newly constituted board, a board that consisted of Harry Kartz, Harry Parkes, and Bob Mackay, the latter retained from the deposed board.
Tommy Docherty was brought into the club as team manager. A very popular choice, talk about the right man at the right time.
Docherty succeeded immediately in injecting new life into the club.
His first move as manager was to bring in Brian Tiler from Rotherham United as the new club captain, and 18,000 people turned up to see the rejuvenated claret and blues beat Norwich City 2-1 at Villa Park.
The crowds began to flock back, and the average attendance had rocketed to a staggering 37,000, just a few short weeks into The Doc`s reign.
Dave Simmons (Simmo) was signed from the Arsenal for fifteen thousand pounds, and although we were knocked out of the F.A. Cup by Tottenham Hotspur, 3-2 at White Hart Lane, on a bitter cold, snowy winters night, the club was well and truly back on track. Birmingham B6 was rocking again.
We lost three of our last thirteen games, in what eventually turned out to be a truly memorable season. The season when we came back from the brink.
Of course, as we all well know now, there was still to be set-backs and challenges for us to overcome, before we really confirmed our march back to the summit of English club football, by winning the Football League Championship in May 1981, topped of course by that memorable and unbelievable night in Rotterdam the following year.
1968. The year that saw the re-birth of this great club of ours.
Lets take a moment to toast Mr. Matthews, Messrs Ellis, Kartz, Parkes, and Mackay, and of course Mr Tommy Docherty.
Oh yes, and thank you my fellow Vital Villans, for bearing with me, and allowing me to reminisce. Sweet, sweet memories.
1968 was a great year. A year never to be forgotten.