Time Machine: When Aston Villa won the European Cup in 1982
There was a spell in the late 70s and early-to-mid 80s where England dominated the old fashioned European Cup – you know, the one where you had to actually win your league to play in it and it was a straight knockout. Liverpool under Paisley and Forest under Clough were the main protagonists – Liverpool won it in 78 and 81, Forest back-to-back in the years in-between. And then something very strange happened – Aston Villa went and won Division One under the management of Ron Saunders. Villa had won the title for the first time in 71 years and their European expedition would be their first crack at the European Cup. Saunders had been quietly building a team based on being greater than the sum of its parts – they had picked up two League Cups before winning the First Division. Villa’s journey into Europe started on the 16th September 1981 at home to Value, the Icelandic champions. As expected, the side cruised to a 5-0 win – Morley removing any nerves with a goal in the 6th minute before Withe and Terry Donovan scored a brace each. The away leg was relatively stress-free, Gary Shaw scoring twice in front of 3,500 people. Their reward was a clash with East German giants BFC Dynamo of Berlin. Late October saw them travel behind the wall and play in a packed Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark. Dynamo came to Villa Park on November 4th knowing they needed to score at least twice due to the away goals rule – and hope Villa came up firing blanks. Come the European Cup quarter-finals in March 82, Saunders had resigned as Villa manager. The side were excellent in the return leg, beating Kyiv 2-0. They were paired with Belgian champions Anderlecht, coached by Croatian Tomas Ivic.
The first leg was at Villa Park and, again, Villa kept a clean sheet with Trevor Morley netting yet another European goal. In the other semi, West German big boys Bayern Munich surprisingly lost in Bulgaria – 4-3 to Liverpool’s conquerors, CSKA Sofia. Their opponents would be Bayern, who overturned their first-leg defeat with a 4-0 battering of the Bulgarians at home. Villa fans camped out in Rotterdam hoping that Tony Barton could do what Roberto Di Matteo and Thomas Tuchel would go on to do for Chelsea – rock up midway through a season and lift the European title. Villa continued with their 4-3-3 formation – Rimmer started in goal with a back four of Kenny Swain, McNaught, Allan Evans and Gary Williams in front of him. After nine minutes, disaster struck for Rimmer – he has to be substituted with a shoulder injury. The first half was cagey, underdogs Villa giving up no quarter and favourites Bayern certainly struggling to fulfil expectations. Spink was busy, called into action three times in the first hour to prevent Munich getting their noses ahead. And then the “magical moment” which adorns a banner at Villa Park to this day. And hold on they did – Spink again being called into action, showing no signs of nerves or inexperience. Late in the game Hoeness finally beat the substitute keeper – and there was great relief when the offside flag went up. It was the last chance Bayern had to take the game to extra-time. “The young goalkeeper Nigel Spink was magnificent and everyone was tremendous. “We lived a bit dangerously at times but in the end we won it for Aston Villa, for Birmingham, for England and for Great Britain.
“It was certainly the most important day in the history of the club. “Obviously I was a bit nervous when Jimmy Rimmer had to come off after just nine minutes, but I’m glad to say things went really well for me. “I have played in only two matches and here I am with a European Cup winners’ medal. Villa went on to beat Barcelona in the European Super Cup Final of January 1983. Yet, just four and a bit years later, at the end of the 1986/87 season, the European Cup-winning club were relegated to Division Two. Club legend Tony Morley certainly saw it as a missed opportunity for Villa to be one of the teams’ of the 80s. “If Saunders had stayed another five years, there would have been another three or four trophies in the cabinet,” he said. “It was taken away from us – not because the players weren’t good enough but because of politics. “My biggest regret was that Villa should have carried on and dominated. “My regret for the supporters is that we were certainly good enough to win a couple more trophies. Just think – had things been slightly differently we might not talk of that Everton side so highly. Aston Villa won the European Cup in 1982 and no matter what else they could have achieved, nobody can ever take that away from them.
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