Aston Villa

League Champions and European Cup Winners 1982

These days, English football seems to revolve around the “big six” (or perhaps soon to be seven?) with Newcastle potentially joining the fray. These teams dominate the headlines and radio shows, giving the impression that they are the only ones who come out on top in English football. Yet, a closer look at the history of English football reveals a different story. There's one team that consistently rises to the top - a club that boasts as many league titles as Manchester City, as many cup wins as Tottenham Hotspur, and even more European Cups than Arsenal.

Few teams have had as great an impact on English football and its future as Aston Villa Football Club. Their name alone carries a weight that transcends the history of the sport. Aston Villa was already a force to be reckoned with, having won the FA Cup in 1887 - a feat accomplished before four of today's top six teams were even established. In fact, the club played a significant role in the creation of the Football League in 1888. The same year, they debuted their iconic claret and blue shirts, which became synonymous with success. So much so, that other clubs such as West Ham in 1904 and Burnley in 1910, followed suit and adopted the colours in tribute to Aston Villa.

In 1874, Aston Villa Football Club was born under the flicker of a gas lamp. The founders were members of the local cricket club who were seeking a winter pastime to keep them occupied during the dark months. Lucky for them, there were several Scots among their ranks, whose influence is still felt within the club today. Four years later, in 1878, the club adopted the Rampant Lion as their emblem. This decision was made at the behest of several prominent Scotsman in the club, including president George Kynock, vice-presidents Fergus Johnstone and William McGregor, and captain George Ramsey. Initially, the lion adorned the team's shirts in yellow but was eventually relegated to club paperwork and flags. It wasn't until 1957, after the team's FA Cup victory over Sir Matt Busby's famous babes, that the lion was restored to its rightful place on the kit. The victory, witnessed by nearly 100,000 fans at Wembley stadium, cemented the lion's place on the shirt for years to come.

Following their triumphant FA Cup victory in 1957, Aston Villa Football Club fell into a period of decline. This resulted in the team's relegation from the top tier of English football just a few seasons later. Although there was a brief resurgence under the leadership of Joe Mercer, which included a win in the inaugural Football League Cup in 1961, the club's fortunes took another turn for the worse when Mercer departed in 1964. By 1967, the team found themselves back in the Second Division. Matters off the field didn't help the situation either, and by 1970 the club was mired in the Third Division for the first time in its illustrious history, with the entire board having resigned due to mounting issues.

Following their relegation to the third tier of English football, Aston Villa Football Club underwent a significant overhaul. This included the appointment of former captain Vic Crowe as the team's manager. Under Crowe's guidance, the club stabilized and began to rebuild. In 1972, the team set a record by winning the third tier by a whopping 70 points and earned promotion back to the Second Division.

Despite this achievement, the board made the controversial decision to replace Crowe with former Manchester City manager Ron Saunders after the team finished in a lackluster fourteenth place in the Second Division. Saunders, who was born in Birkenhead in November 1932, had a storied career in lower-league English football as a player before becoming a manager.

He first made a name for himself as the player-manager of non-league Yeovil Town in 1967 before moving on to Second Division Norwich City in 1969. There, he led the team to the top flight for the first time in their history in 1972 and to the League Cup final (where they lost 1-0 to Tottenham Hotspur).

Saunders then took over at Manchester City in November 1973 and led the team to another League Cup final, but they were defeated by Wolverhampton Wanderers. Despite this success, he was controversially sacked with just three weeks left in the season, and the team was in the relegation zone at the time.

The arrival of Ron Saunders at Aston Villa in 1974 sparked a resurgence in the club's fortunes. The team easily gained promotion to the topflight and went on to win the League Cup, with Saunders becoming the only manager ever to reach the final three times in a row with different teams. The following season saw the club consolidate their position in the First Division, while 1976 brought yet another League Cup title and a fourth-place finish in the league.

Although the club achieved consistent top-half finishes throughout the 1970s, they were overshadowed by teams like Nottingham Forest, Ipswich, and Liverpool, who were dominant in both England and Europe. Despite this, Ron Saunders' tenure at Villa was marked by a remarkable turnaround in the club's fortunes, as he led them back to success and laid the groundwork for their future achievements.

The 1980-81 season was a pivotal one for Aston Villa as they defied expectations and became serious contenders for the English title. Liverpool were the reigning champions and were expected to win the league again, with other teams like Ipswich, Arsenal, Forest, and West Brom also in the mix. Despite a reputation for being inconsistent, Villa made an incredible start to the season and surprised many by maintaining their form as the season progressed. As the new year rolled around, it became clear that the title race was shaping up to be a battle between Villa and Ipswich, with the latter holding a slim lead in the table. Many were skeptical that Villa could sustain their challenge, but they continued to defy the odds and put themselves in with a genuine chance of winning their first league title since 1910.

The 1980-81 season saw Liverpool dominate English football, with Villa expected to be a mid-table team at best. However, Villa stunned everyone with an amazing start to the season and soon found themselves in a tight title race with Ipswich. By April, Villa had taken the lead by three points, but a loss to Ipswich brought the gap down to just one point. Villa's fate hung in the balance as they faced Nottingham Forest and Ipswich took on Arsenal. In two tight games, Villa emerged victorious with a 2-0 win over Forest, while Ipswich lost to Arsenal. With just one game to go, Villa had a chance to secure their first league title in 70 years with a win over Middlesbrough. They delivered, winning 3-0 and clinching the title in a remarkable season.

In the 1980-81 season, Aston Villa found themselves unexpectedly in a title race with Ipswich. With just one point separating them, Villa faced a crucial game against Ipswich at Villa Park. Though Ipswich managed to win 2-1, the title race was still wide open. Villa faced Nottingham Forest and Ipswich took on Arsenal in their next games. In two tense matches, Villa came out on top with a 2-0 win over Forest, while Ipswich suffered a 2-0 loss to Arsenal. With a 3-0 win against Middlesbrough a week later, Villa were within a point of their first league title in 70 years.

On the final day of the season, Villa faced Arsenal at Highbury, while Ipswich played Middlesbrough. At half time, Villa were 2-0 down, and Ipswich were 1-0 up, putting them in the lead for the title. However, a Yugoslavian striker named Božo Janković scored two goals in the second half of the Ipswich game to secure Villa the league title, making them the only team other than Arsenal to win a league title at Highbury. Aston Villa had won their seventh league title using just 14 players, a remarkable achievement.

After winning the league title, Villa entered the European Cup for the first time. They began by beating Icelandic side Valur 7-0 on aggregate in the first round, followed by a tough match against East German champions Dynamo Berlin. They managed to go through thanks to the away goal rule. In the quarter-final, they faced Soviet champions Dynamo Kyiv and drew 0-0 away before getting a 2-0 win at home. However, prior to the semi-final, their manager, Ron Saunders, resigned due to a dispute with the board. His assistant, Tony Barton, took over as the interim manager.

Under Barton, Villa faced Belgium champions Anderlecht in the semi-final and won thanks to a goal from Tony Morley. They progressed to the European Cup final in Rotterdam, where they faced Bayern Munich.

On the 26th May 1982, history was made in Rotterdam as Aston Villa faced off against the formidable Bayern Munich in a thrilling game that went down in the annals of English football history. The game started off badly for Villa as goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer was forced off the field after just 9 minutes, replaced by the young and inexperienced Nigel Spink who would go on to have an incredible game, keeping Bayern at bay for long periods.

As the second half wore on, Villa grew in confidence and began to play their own game, rather than just trying to contain the more skillful Bayern side. Then, in the 68th minute, something amazing happened. Tony Morley delivered a perfect cross from the left, and Peter Withe was there to head the ball into the back of the net. It was the winning goal, and with it, Aston Villa Football Club became champions of Europe!

This incredible achievement was even more remarkable when you consider that just a decade earlier, the club was languishing in the Third Division. But through hard work, determination, and a never-say-die attitude, Villa had risen to the top of European football, defeating some of the best teams on the continent along the way.

For Villa fans, that day in Rotterdam will forever be etched in their memories, a reminder that anything is possible if you believe in yourself and your team. And for the players, staff, and fans of Aston Villa Football Club, the 26th May 1982 will always be remembered as one of the greatest days in the history of the club, a day when they defied the odds and achieved the impossible.

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