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QUICK LERNER GIVES VILLA AN EDUCATION

28-04-2007

While Wolves,the Blues and The Baggies battle to get out of what should rightly called the Second Division, smug Villa fan Dave Woodhall has something else to look forward to - the day Peter Withe nearly missed an open goal.

Next month sees the silver jubilee of the greatest sporting achievement this area has ever known - the night Aston Villa became European Champions. It was on 26th May 1982 that Villa won the European Cup by beating Bayern Munich in Rotterdam.

Back in those long-lost days before the Premiership there was no Champion’s League, no group stages where you could lose a few matches and still qualify for the later rounds, no seeding to enable the top (i.e. best-supported) clubs to virtually get a bye into the quarter-finals. And there was the small matter of having to win the league just to get into the competition.

Just to make things harder for the Villa, they didn’t win the European Cup by buying up the best players. In fact, all twelve who took part in that unforgettable match cost less than the club had received for selling Andy Gray in 1979.

Imagine Arsenal selling Thierry Henry now, buying a new team with the proceeds then winning the Premiership next season and the Champions League in 2009. That’s the scale of Villa’s achievement - it was down to managerial genius, a scouting and youth network without parallel and a group of players who overcame every obstacle thrown in front of them

For years this achievement has been, shamefully, ignored by the club and it’s difficult not to believe that the reason for such disgraceful behaviour was because Doug Ellis was taking his three year ‘holiday’ from Vila Park when the great event took place. But there’s a new board now, a new atmosphere, and the club’s biggest night is quite rightly being properly commemorated at long last.

Next Friday, 4th May, there’s a supporter forum at Villa Park’s Holte Suite, featuring many of the players from that side. On the following day, they will be introduced to the crowd at Villa’s game with Sheffield United, when supporters will be given free scarves commemorating the anniversary.

Sunday 6th May will see the new, improved training ground at Bodymoor Heath officially opened and tours of the facilities available for supporters. Finally, the following evening sees an invitation-only black tie dinner.

Jimmy Rimmer, Nigel Spink, Kenny Swain, Gary Williams, Allan Evans, Ken McNaught, Dennis Mortimer, Des Bremner, Gary Shaw, Peter Withe, Gordon Cowans, Tony Morley, the players who appeared in the earlier rounds plus managers Ron Saudner and the late Tony Barton. All will see their awe-inspiring efforts rewarded.

These aren’t the only works in progress to remind the world of the Villa’s contribution to world football. The Holte Hotel, a fine example of Victorian architecture, is being renovated and will provide bar facilities and a long-overdue museum area.

The club are also, in conjunction with the Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust, erecting a statue of William McGregor, Villa committeeman, founder of the Football League and therefore arguably the most important figure in football history, at Villa Park.

Over recent weeks I’ve criticised the city council for not making enough of their heritage. Villa are another example of the way in which Birmingham people play down their own achievements.

We’ve got the richest, longest history of any football club in the world. We’ve also got the potential to get up there amongst the big players once more. Yet it’s taken a man with no connection to Villa, the city of Birmingham or even football in general to see the marketing opportunities given to us by our glorious past to help improve our chances of a successful future. There’s a lesson in there for all of us.

As the club’s new marketing slogan says: Proud History, Bright Future, and that goes for the city as well as its most famous enterprise.

For further details of Villa’s 25th anniversary celebrations, look at www.avfc.premiumtv.co.uk

Is Dave right to call Villa’s win “the greatest sporting achievement this area has ever known?” Leave a comment on the Sport section of our messageboard.
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