Then and Now At Villa (7)
As it happens I was born in 1944 when the club was 70 years old, so this year I become exactly half the age of the club!
And I happen to have been born just weeks after Villa won the wartime League Cup (North) to celebrate its birthday.
That League Cup competition was shelved at the end of the war, but League secretary Alan Hardaker was determined to have it re-introduced, and it came back in 1960. It was cold-shouldered by many of the top clubs of the time as they thought it was just getting in the way of fixtures (42 league matches in those days!) but some First Division sides, like Villa and Burnley (who were then a great side) went with it despite the fact that the final was played over two legs (home and away) in those days. No Wembley to look forward to.
The fears of the bigger clubs were realised. Villa eventually won the trophy in its first season (having beaten Burnley in the semi-final), but there had been so many replays that Villa's fixtures were utterly congested and they didn't play the Final (away then home, against Rotherham) until the start of the next season! What was almost worse was that Villa's great centre-forward - Gerry Hitchens - had been transferred to Inter-Milan in the summer and his replacement, Derek Dougan, was cup-tied. But Villa eventually scraped through after being 0-2 down after the first leg of the Final.
Since then Villa have won the League Cup a further four times, and those included memorable wins over Man U (1994), Leeds (1996) and Everton (1977). There was also that memorable Final of 1971 when Villa (then in the old Third Division!) might have beaten Spurs in one of the early Wembley finals - they certainly had their chances to do so. Villa had beaten Man U over two legs in the semis, so those were great times.
Now, this week Paul Lambert has claimed that even the FA Cup is beginning to get in the way of Villa's league programme.
While I can see why he is saying this, surely the fact remains that the FA Cup is one of the greatest of football's events. I cannot acclimatise myself to thinking that the FA Cup should be downgraded; after all it remains Villa's only chance (other than the League Cup) of winning anything. And, in any case, a good run in the Cup could do wonders for confidence - something that Villa are short on.
But I do think that maybe the doubters about the League Cup (in 1960) were right. Despite Villa's memorable runs in that trophy over the 50+ years of its existence, it has never quite captured the glamour of the much older competitions.
Perhaps the League Cup should be dropped, and as the FA Cup does not come to life until January, we would go back to those days when we used to wait for the FA Cup to give us that extra 'buzz'. Thereby the FA Cup would surely regain its great attraction.
Drop the FA Cup at their peril! Johnny Dixon would not be pleased!
Up the Villa!
For more history and stats , why not visit John's history site: www.lerwill-life.org.uk/astonvilla/. Further, why not enjoy an in-depth read of Villa's history? Click here for more info.