Aston Villa Fan Tales: No.2 – Belief After Defeat

MOMS is asking Villa supporters of all ages to come forward and tell their Villa story. First there are five standard questions to answer (see below), then you can tell your Villa tale, whatever it is. It could be the full tale of how you got into supporting Villa, it could be your Top 10 favourite player list, it could be the tale of your favourite away day, a funny meeting with a Villa player, or that Villa story you’d probably trot out if you ever bumped into another Villan in a hotel bar (see below for email to send stories to).

No.2: Howard Hodgson

Introduction interview…

MOMS: Why Villa?

Howard: I come from a family of five generations worth of Aston Villa supporters. It was therefore never an option to support anyone else, not that I would have wanted to or had reason to back in 1977, as Villa were flying under Ron Saunders and had wonderful players like Little, Gray, Gidman, Cropley playing a wonderful brand of football. Oh how I yearn for those days!

First Villa Park Match Attended?

Aston Villa 2-0 Everton, Feb 5th 1977. I do remember it although my Dad maintains I was more interested in writing down the half-time scores!

First Villa Hero?

Without question Brian Little. He was our George Best. Long hair and amazing talent. The ball was glued to his feet. He had everything and not only scored plenty, but created plenty as well. I really did think he could walk on water! Andy Gray was close behind. My Dad took me to meet him at Bodymoor Heath (Old one) and I was so excited but when it came to meeting him I couldn’t talk. I was completely star struck!

Ultimate Villa Legend?

That’s a tough question. Player wise it’s a toss up for me between Brian Little and Paul McGrath, both genius’s. However for me the ultimate Villa Legend is Ron Saunders. He took us over in 1974 in the old second division and immediately got us promoted and won the League Cup in the same season! You might think it would be all downhill after such an impressive first season but Ron was just getting started.

In 1976/77 we smashed the mighty Liverpool (Best team in Europe at the time) 5-1 at Villa Park and finished 4th in the league with an incredible home record of played 21, won 17, drawn 3 and lost only 1! We also won the League Cup again, this time against Everton, and after two replay’s! Most will remember the Chris Nicholl piledriver!

Then Saunders achieved what only great managers can. Having built one great side that played great football, won two league cups and was very competitive in the top flight, he was clever enough and brave enough to build another side which went on to even greater glory. That takes a great deal of skill, judgement and guts as many of the players he let go were extremely popular at the time and had been great for the club but Saunders had a goal and if you weren’t going to do it his way, you weren’t going to survive at Aston Villa. He also lost two of our best players to career finishing injuries in Brian Little and Alex Cropley. Sound familiar?

It’s very similar to what Alex Ferguson achieved at Manchester United and in his case, many times over. If Ron Saunders had been allowed to stay at the club, who knows how many more great Villa teams he could have built and what state we would be in today? “If only” can often be associated with Aston Villa!

Anyway he did bring the biggest prizes to the club before he was forced to leave with Villa becoming Champions of England in 1980-81 and European Champions in 1981-82.. He resigned in Feb 1981 with Villa in the quarter-finals of the European Cup and his assistant Tony Barton went on to guide the club to the final in Rotterdam and famously becoming only the fourth English club at the time (Only 5 to this day) to lift the famous trophy. The pinnacle for any European football club!

Barton was a lovely man and I went to his funeral when he died in 1993 aged just 56. However he’d be the first to admit these trophies were Saunders legacy and his work, so for that reason Ron Saunders is definitely the ultimate Villa legend in my eyes. Followed closely by Sir William McGregor, who of course without his work, they may have not been an Aston Villa or a Professional football league.

Favourite Villa Memory?

There have been many. Rotterdam, beating Everton 6-2 in 89/90, Tranmere semi-final epic, all the wins versus the Blues, both Inter Milan epics, 1994 and 1996 league cup final victories, plus many others. However, the one that sticks out and is my most iconic memory is actually associated with a Villa defeat, as explained in my story below.

Howard’s Villa Story…

Belief After Defeat

I have many memories… Good and bad… One that sticks out is actually a defeat in 1981 when Villa were going for the title.

It was a cold midweek night (although April) and we were playing our main rivals for the title – Ipswich Town at Villa Park. Bearing in mind we hadn’t won the league since 1909/10, this was huge!

It was being dubbed “The Title decider”.

We lost 2-1 despite a late goal by Gary Shaw and as a eight-year-old running back up the hill to Aston Hall, where we parked the car, I said to my Dad with tears running down my cheeks, “Well that’s it, isn’t it Daddy? We won’t be champions now and probably never will be!”

My Dad stopped and turned to me and said, “Now listen here son…It’s not over by a long shot, you follow?” He said it with such belief I did follow!

Ron Saunders that night stood on the Villa Park pitch and said virtually the same thing to the TV interviewer. Wearing his black leather jacket, he turned to his interviewer and said the immortal words: “Would you bet against us?” [click here to relive the moment]

He said it with such conviction you just had to believe him!

A few weeks later we were Champions of England and a year later Champions of Europe.

My Dad and Ron had been proved right and I realised properly for the first time just what a special club I was supporting. As the saying goes “You don’t choose Aston Villa, it chooses you.”

Well, 33 years on, plenty of heartache and living a round trip of 360 miles away, I’m still very much in love with my club and am grateful it did decide to choose me! Villa till I die!


Please send your Villa stories in to MOMS via email to:

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