Thoughts and issues regarding the past and present of a great football club by "The Chronicler".

Friday, 25 January 2013

Flashback to 1972

Here is an article of optimism ... about a resurgent Aston Villa emerging from the ashes of near disaster 40 years ago last year.

This was the time when we thought that Villa were on the way back up ... and for 10 years they were. We trust, however, that we don't have to (unnecessarily) go through this cycle all over again!

Wednesday February 23, 1972
By Geoffrey Green
Football Correspondent - The Times
Title: Over the claret-and-blue rainbow

The echoes of a great past are being raised again at Villa Park.

Even its historic portals suggest a glowing pride once more, a sturdy edifice of red brick redolent of a Victorian age when no wars threatened from without and when England, safe behind the shield of the navy, thought of life in terms of peace and security.

But in football, as in other things, there is usually a limit set to peace and security.

Once Aston Villa were at the top. In recent years, they have slipped down the depths.

But they are on the rise again after a period of crisis when ageing hands were prized from the tiller and a younger generation took over, realists whose eyes were not grown misty by heroic deeds of the past.

Under the driving chairmanship of Douglas Ellis and the managership of Vic Crowe - one of the modern tracksuited breed - the renowned claret and blue shirts currently lead the Third Division and look set fair for the promotion they nearly achieved a year ago.

Last season, however, had its compensation.

The voice of Aston Villa was heard again as they gained a great win over Manchester United in the semi-final round of the Football League Cup and then took Tottenham Hotspur in the final at Wembley.

The other day they gained a new feather in their cap by beating Santos containing the great Pele, an occasion that drew a 54,000 gathering on a night of power cuts defeated by the club's initiative in buying a £5,000 generator to operator their floodlights.

In spite of laying out that sum as an addition to the £12,000 guarantee paid to their Brazilian visitors, Aston Villa are sitting pretty in their parlour and counting out a £20,000 profit.

It was an astute piece of business in every way, heightened by the interesting fact that it was Santos who first broached Villa for this fixture.

Crowe revealed that, unwilling to overstretch his team, he had turned down several other attractive approaches from abroad, including Kiev Dynamo and the Russian national XI.

What has been abundantly revealed is that the soil of Birmingham is ripe for sowing and that the long tradition of loyalty to Aston Villa still lives on.

Crowds of 62,000 against Manchester United last season, 54,000 the other night and 48,000 recently for a Third Division game against Bournemouth are figures that would make many a First Division mouth water.

Within the last month, too, 40,000 people saw the two FA Youth Cup ties between Villa and their great rivals Birmingham City, across the way, which goes to show how deep are these Midland roots.

Having taken over the manager's hot seat from Tommy Docherty a couple of years ago, Crowe's immediate priority is promotion to the Second Division.

It will be a hard grind to the last yard, with key away matches to come at Notts County, Brighton and Rotherham, all close rivals who lurk in the top five places.

"Even our game this Saturday against Port Vale will be a tough examination," said Mr Crowe.

"Everybody plays us hard and there could be a let-down after the morale boost of that Santos win."

Mr Crowe understands the psychology of a player.

The wise manager is always looking over the rainbow and planning for the morrow.

"We've still got to get to the Second Division," he says.

But already he is grooming for the future. Having strengthened his hand by the acquisition of Graydon, a fast incisive winger from Bristol City, Cumbes, the Surrey cricketer and former West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper and Vowden from Birmingham, only 48 hours ago he laid out some £70,000 for Ian Ross, a useful all-rounder who has had many a run with Liverpool.

Bit by bit his first team pool of 18 players is being strengthened for the tasks ahead with an active policy of home grown youth as part of the overall blueprint.

With a home tie to come against Chelsea next Monday, Villa are on the edge of the FA Youth Cup semi-finals, with promising young players like Brian Little, John Gidman and Jimmy Brown as part of the insurance.

Aston Villa's real place of course is among the elite. Tradition demands it.

But the old cry of the Villa is being heard again ringing round Villa Park, which in its time has mounted World Cup matches and more internationals and FA Cup semi-finals than any other provincial stage.

Yet some 70 years ago here was the setting of a lake, the club offices and gymnasium were an aquarium, on the VIP car park there once stood a theatre and concert hall, and nearby was a rifle range.

Villa Park was once to Birmingham what Belle Vue is to Manchester and Battersea Festival Gardens is to London.

Here Athersmith once dribbled down the right wing holding an umbrella aloft in a heavy rainstorm, among the great passing cavalcade have been Sam Hardy, Billy Walker, Dorrell and York, heroes of my youth when the claret and blue shirt was the most respected and feared in the land.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Penalty? No ... but who has been really penalised?

Why Villa only decided to start playing with some energy in the second half is amazing, but I suppose the youngsters were shell-shocked after that penalty. And at least the last 15 minutes were reminiscent of those days way back when Villa would finish a match with all guns blazing.

Pity that this time the aiming equipment was rusty and the finish to the match was, in all honesty, not dangerous enough to cause us to think that Southampton were lucky. Apart from, that is, another very reasonable chance spurned towards the end of the match (as there was by Bent against Bradford in mid-week)

One goal scored at home in the last 6 Prem matches says a lot doesn't it? So it's alright for the manager to (rightly) go on and complain about a penalty that shouldn't have been, but who has really been penalised here? It's the poor fan who has been penalised ... the fan who has been paying through the nose these past three seasons for a glimpse of hope and instead has been fed a misfiring cannon. McLeish certainly failed big-time and now Lambert threatens to produce similar - or worse - statistics.

The fans mostly wanted Lambert in this season ... and they got him. But I don't think the fans expected that all commonsense would be thrown on one side in the club getting rid of virtually all their most experienced players - yet keeping Ireland! I am, in fact, a fan of Lambert in his vision, but it does need adjusting with that bit of commonsense to ensure survival in the Premiership. I don't entirely blame Lambert for this current situation but a board that knows only how to control purse strings. I'm beginning to think that Doug was more effective in that role.

The good news, though, is that we've still got 3 weeks to go in January to get reinforcements.

Two fighters in the spine of the team will go down well.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The January Fixtures

Having gained just a tad bit of confidence at Swansea, the way would appear to be open in the next two matches for Villa to restore more sense of self-belief in facing two lower-league teams in the cup competitions.

Easier said than done, of course, as such opposition has often proved to be the banana skin on which many a top-flight club has slipped, but nevertheless an opportunity to raise self-belief. An early goal against Ipswich might just be the tonic needed to press ahead and gain a solid win and a good base to face up to the League Cup semi. With this tie, memories of Tranmere Rovers in 1994 (nearly 20 years ago!) are ignited, of course, but we got through then, didn't we?!

Then, assuming those two matches are tackled successfully, the next-up arrival of Southampton would not seem to be so daunting and that 1-4 slip at St. Mary's would seem to be that further back in history. But it is a match which Villa 'must' win ... the opportunity is there to start generating space away from the bottom three and it must be taken. As also with the end-of-month home match against Newcastle.

In-between and we face Albion at the Hawthorns. Well (as things stand) the Baggies do not seem too daunting a prospect and a point gained there will go down very well indeed.

So, let's start to look forward to a good month. And, who knows, by the end of the month we might be:

1. Several places away from the bottom-3;
2. In the League Cup Final;
3. Going forward in the FA Cup, and...
4. In the possession of Paul Scholes (well, we can but hope!).