7. Apr, 2022


It became a Saturday night tradition in the 80s and 90s, not the appearance of Noel Edmonds on Prime time television. No, I am referring to the annual bashing of Doug Ellis on local radio. Irate Aston Villa fans would vent their anger on BRMB or Radio WM towards the Villa Chairman

Sir Herbert Douglas Ellis became Aston Villa Chairman in 1968. Villa were in decline and were a struggling Second Division club. A far cry from the days when Aston Villa were the dominant club in English football. The original super club, between 1894 and 1910 Aston Villa were Champions of England 6 times and lifted the FA Cup on 3 occasions.

But those were distant Holte End memories when Ellis arrived at Villa Park. The club hadn't won a major trophy since Eric Houghton's side had beaten Manchester United in the 1957 FA Cup Final.

Ellis was hailed as the messiah and appointed Tommy Docherty as manager. But things got worse. As the Doc lamented with typical humour "I promised I would take Villa out of the Second Division. I did, we went into the Third." Former player Vic Crowe took over and restored pride. The West Midlands club reached the 1970 League Cup Final, a fantastic achievement for a club operating in the Third tier of English football. But Aston Villa were no ordinary Third Division club. 

On Saturday February 12th 1972 Villa Park hosted a top of the table clash with Bournemouth. The crowd was an incredible 48,110, a record attendance for an English Third Division match, maybe Grandad Harry was amongst them?. Clearly the Holte End hadn't lost faith. Ted McDougall's famous diving header put the Cherries in front but goals from Geoff Vowden and Andy Lochead sealed a 2-1 Villa win. Crowe's men won the Third Division title but he was unable to bring First Division football back to the claret half of Brum

Ron Saunders became manager in June 1974 and made an immediate impact. In his first season at the helm, Villa won the League Cup and were promoted back to the First Division. They won the League Cup again in 1977. By now teenage talents Brian Little and Gordon Cowans were making their mark. Little had formed a prolific strike partnership with Andy Gray, Gray had been a £110,000 signing from Dundee United in 1975.

Everything looked rosy in B6, until the turbulent Winter of 1979. A bitter power struggle erupted between Ellis and director Ron Bendell. Backed by board member Harry Katz, Bendell ousted Ellis and seized control. At one point Saunders future was in doubt but 2 years later he was named Manager Of The Year.

A new team emerged. Little sustained a bad injury which eventually ended his career. Andy Gray's love-hate relationship with Saunders soured permanently and the striker was sold to Wolves. Saunders signed Peter Withe to replace Gray, Villa paid Newcastle United £350,000 for the bearded frontman. Around the same time blonde striker Gary Shaw was breaking through . Birmingham born Shaw was a massive Villa fan and soon became on of the hottest properties in English football. His quick silver finishing providing the ideal foil for the more muscular Withe. They were the classic big man/small man partnership.

The Withe signing was viewed as the final piece in the jigsaw. Saunders had already purchased Goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer from Arsenal, Defenders Kenny Swain (Chelsea) Ken McNaught (Everton), Midfielders Dennis Mortimer (Coventry City) Des Bremner (Hibernian) and winger Tony Morley (Burnley)  

They made a fine start to the 1980/81 season. In early October they beat Birmingham City in a pulsating Second City Derby. They won 2-1 at St Andrews. Gordon Cowans opened the scoring with a penalty. Cowans was nicknamed Sid, his middle name is Sidney. The home side equalised through a Frank Worthington penalty before Allan Evans struck a terrific winner. The Scot arrived from Dunfermlne in 1977 Initially Evans was brought as a striker and was touted as Andy Gray's replacement. But he was soon converted into a Centre Back. Evans partnership with McNaught was the bedrock of Villa success. His old instincts broke Blues hearts. With 10 minutes remaining. McNaught's long free kick found Evans, Receiving the ball with his back to goal, Evans chested the ball down before swiveling and hitting an unstoppable volley past Jeff Wealands.

Two weeks later a home win over Brighton put Villa top of the league. In early December Saunders men completed the double over Birmingham, the Blues were hammered 3-0 at Villa Park. The acid test arrived the following month when Liverpool were the visitors. Villa put on a magnificent show and eased to a 2-0 win. Ironically both the goals were scored by Scoucers, Peter Withe and Dennis Mortimer were on the scoresheet. Mortimer also returned to haunt the blue half of Merseyside, scoring in a 3-1 win at Everton. But the day belonged to Tony Morley. The winger picked up the ball just inside the Everton half, Morley sped past 3 Toffees defenders before unleashing a shot from the edge of the penalty area. The ball arrowed into the top corner of the net and Aston Villa were one up after 3 minutes. The game was featured on Match Of The Day and was later voted goal of the season.

More thrilling encounters followed, in March Villa drew 3-3 with Manchester United before a packed Villa Park. The following month Leicester City were beaten 4-2 at Filbert Street. The title race had now developed into a two horse race. Bobby Robson's Ipswich Town the only team that could deny Villa. That looked like a distinct possibility when Ipswich won at Villa Park. Town were now in the box seat, a point clear with a game in hand. Saunders was defiant in the post match interview, asking Barry Davies "DO YOU WANT TO BET AGAINST US?" The Villa boss was proved right as Ipswich buckled under the pressure, they lost to Norwich and Arsenal while Saunders men beat Nottingham Forest, Stoke City and Middlesbrough.

On the last Saturday of the season Villa just needed to better Ipswich's result. In the end both teams were surprisingly beaten. Villa were Champions Of England for the first time in 71years. The Withe-Shaw combination was at the heart of the success. They scored 38 league goals between them, Withe (20) Shaw (18). Remarkably 7 months later the architect of that famous triumph left Villa Park. Ron Saunders departed after the board refused to give him a new contract, indifferent league form influencing the decision. Saunders resigned and was quickly installed as Birmingham City manager. Tony Barton, Saunders assistant took over as manager.

Despite modest domestic performances, Villa had reached the Quarter Final of the European Cup. Morley scored another stunner as Villa overcame Dynamo Berlin. Barton steered them to victories of Dynamo Kyiv and Anderlecht to book a place in the European Cup Final. The English champions faced German giants Bayern Munich in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. Villa were dealt an early blow when Jimmy Rimmer was forced off with a shoulder injury. Nigel Spink, playing only his second first team game replaced Rimmer between the sticks. The 23 year old goalkeeper excelled with a series of fine saves. Having weathered the storm Villa struck the decisive blow on 67 minutes. Shaw set Morley free on the Villa left. Morley jinked past Wolfgang Dremmler before crossing to the unmarked Withe. Withe guided the ball past Manfred Mulller (Pictured in cover photo). Bayern responded and had a goal disallowed but Aston Villa clung on, Barton's boys were Champions of Europe.

Wednesday May 26th May 1982 remains the greatest day in the history of Aston Villa. ITV commentator Brian Moore's description of the winning goal is inscribed on Villa Park's North Stand. But 4 years later the club were in the Second Division. Doug Ellis returned as chairman in 1983, within a year Barton was sacked. Graham Turner and Billy McNeil were both shown the door during the horrific 1986/87 campaign. Graham Taylor did a fine job, transforming the club from Second Division promotion hopefuls to First Division runners up. Ron Atkinson and Brian Little brought the League Cup back to Villa Park. The 1995 success remains Villa's last major trophy.

Terrace frustration grew. Ellis did himself few favours by removing pictures of the European Cup Winning team from the board room. In addition the legends were not welcome at the ground. Ellis was no doubt irked that Villa's golden era coincided with his absence. The fans were not satisfied with League Cup glory and wanted more investment.

Doug Ellis stepped down in 2006, selling his majority stake to American Billionaire and Villa fan Randy Learner. After a promising start the wheels fell off. In 2016 Villa were again consigned to the Second tier, A return followed, but no League Cups. Maybe Doug wasn't that bad?