BY SEAN MAKIN
We’ve all heard of Liverpool’s European Cup exploits in the 70s and 80s, and that night in Istanbul. We all know about Manchester United’s famous European glory nights in ’68, ’99 and ’08, but not much is said of Aston Villa’s victory in Europe in 1982.
At the time it was the sixth successive victory by an English side in the European club competition as Peter Withe fired in the only goal of the game to cap a memorable night in Rotterdam.
Much is also made of Nottingham Forest’s back-to-back victory in Europe, at the time of writing there has been a documentary film made about the success under Brian Clough, and rightly so but it almost feels like Villa’s European Cup win has been overshadowed before and since. Even forgotten about.
An unfashionable club like Aston Villa winning the biggest prize in European club football isn’t fashionable to write about and it may not have had the drama like other exploits involving English teams but it is still a massive achievement all the same considering it was the first time they’d been involved in the competition.
Villa had won the First Division a season prior for the first time since 1910 under Ron Saunders and had a number of talented young players in their squad in the likes of Tony Morley, Gordon Cowans and Gary Shaw with a blend of experience in goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer and striker Peter Withe, who had won the cup previously at Forest.
They began their journey with a 5-0 win over Icelandic side Valur at Villa Park as Withe scored a brace in between Morley and Terry Donovan’s strikes while Gary Shaw scored twice in the second leg to give Villa a 7-0 aggregate victorry.
The second round was tougher for the Midlands outfit as they were drawn against East German side Dynamo Berlin. Morley scored a superb solo goal to give the Villa a priceless 2-1 away win after Artur Ullrich hit the post with a late penalty for the home side.
They had veteran goalkeeper Rimmer to thank in the second leg as he pulled off a vital save late on to touch Hans-Jurgen Riediger’s shot onto the post after Frank Terletzki had given Berlin a 15th minute lead, but Villa went through to the quarter finals on away goals.
They were drawn against the Soviet Union champions Dynamo Kiev in the last eight of the tournament. The Ukrainians had a strong squad that provided the majority of the Soviet Union squad at the 1982 World Cup in Spain and also had former European Football of the Year Oleg Blokhin in their ranks. Not only that, Villa had lost their manager Ron Saunders who had walked away from the club after a disagreement with the board leaving his assistant, Tony Barton, in charge.
Villa left their poor domestic form behind as they came away from behind the Iron Curtain with a credible goalless draw in the Crimean city of Simferopol while Gary Shaw and defender Ken McNaught assured their passage to the semi-final with a comfortable 2-0 win at Villa Park in front of a crowd of over 38,000. Barton’s side were drawn against Belgian giants Anderlecht for the two-legged semi-final but they continued to struggle domestically and eventually finished 11th in the First Division just a season after winning the league.
The first-leg took place at Villa Park; Anderlecht’s intention was to play for the draw after they dropped star striker and Belgian international Willy Guerts. It was a tight affair but the Midlands side managed to take a lead over to Belgium courtesy of a 27th minute goal from Morley.
The return leg was marred by hooliganism as supporters battled on the terraces which sadly resulted in pitch invasions that overshadowed the team’s achievement. In the highly-charged atmosphere at the Emile Verse Stadium, Villa held on for a 0-0 draw that was enough to send them through to the final against German giants Bayern Munich at the Feijenoord Stadion in the Dutch city of Rotterdam.
After being knocked out of the tournament, Anderlecht appealed to UEFA for the match to be replayed citing the crowd violence and pitch invasions had affected their players psychologically. The appeal was rejected by UEFA although by now they were making noises that English clubs should be banned from European competitions as their fans were running riot across the continent – something that would eventually happen three years later after the tragedy at the Heysel Stadium in Anderlecht’s home town of Brussels.
The punishment for Villa was they were ordered to play their next home match in Europe behind closed doors but at the time that thought was at the back of their minds as they prepared to face a strong Bayern Munich side that boasted the likes of Paul Breitner and Karl Heinz Rummennigge in their squad.
The odds were against Villa and many tipped the Germans to end England’s domination in the premier European competition and it looked as though it could be an uphill struggle as goalkeeper Rimmer had to be substituted in the 10th minute because of a neck injury; he was replaced by rookie Nigel Spink, who had made just one appearance for the club almost three years earlier.
However, Villa took the fight to Bayern with Withe and defender Allan Evans going close early while the Germans, as David Lacey reported in The Guardian, fought out a private contest with Spink.
Despite his lack of experience, Spink took to the big stage like a duck to water. Bayern must have regretted not testing the goalkeeper for 20 minutes and when they did finally test him, they found him in fine form. Making two saves in less than 60 seconds must have given Spink’s confidence a massive boost when he denied Bernd Durnberger and Rummenigge.
The more the match went on, the more Bayern captain Breitner was having an influence on the game - Villa were under the cosh. Durnberger could only fire wide after a superb solo run and was later denied by Spink with an effort that was on target before Kenny Swain headed the ball off the line.
Dieter Hoeness was next to be denied by Spink before missing the ball completely with the goal at his mercy from Udo Horsmann’s cross.
Having survived the onslaught, few could have expected what was to happen next. Bayern defender Wolfgang Dremmler slipped on the ball which Shaw took advantage of; he played in Morley down the left who beat Klaus Augenthaler and provided a low cross that found an unmarked Withe, who prodded the ball into the net from close range.
It was a sucker punch for Bayern but there was still over 20 minutes left to play although the Germans were rarely able to threaten Spink in the Villa goal, and when they did with just two minutes left, Hoeness’s shot that found the back of the net was ruled out by the offside flag.
The Bayern players fell to their knees and shook their heads in disbelief as the referee blew the final whistle to crown Aston Villa as the Champions of Europe and the heroics of Nigel Spink saw him named man of the match.
It was a miraculous achievement for a side like Villa, who at the time weren’t blessed with big name players or those with experience of European and international football, but were turned into a side that had a strong in defence and pace to punish teams under Ron Saunders and Tony Barton.
Sadly, this was as good as it got for the Villa fans as within five years of winning the European Cup they were relegated to the Second Division with many of supporters blaming Doug Ellis for the lack of investment in the squad.
The following season under Barton saw the club beat Barcelona for the European Super Cup and reach the FA Cup and European Cup quarter-finals before finishing 6th in the First Division which saw them qualify for the UEFA Cup.
But a 10th place finish in the league during the 1983/84 season saw Barton get the sack, to be replaced by Graham Turner in July 1984 who lasted over two years in the hot seat before being shown the door after a poor start to the 86/87 campaign.
Billy McNeill was given the job in September 1986 but only won nine times in his 41 matches in charge and stood down in May the following year as Villa were relegated after finishing 22nd in the First Division.
The task was given to Graham Taylor to rebuild the club after he had left Watford, who were also relegated that season along with Villa, as he looked for a new challenge after overseeing the rise of the Hornets. Taylor managed to take the club back to the top-flight at the first attempt with a second-placed finished in the Second Division.
Aston Villa have often flirted with greatness since, challenging for the Premier League title under Ron Atkinson and John Gregory during the 1990s, but in recent years have found themselves at the wrong end of the table – including staying up by one place last season.
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