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

Monday, 9 March 2015

Albion are perhaps a bit bigger than "small"!

Well done Villa! Beating the Albion twice within just a few days of course gives us a lot of satisfaction. In addition, not only has the relegation worry reduced a tad, but we have also obtained an entry into the FA Cup semi-final, five years since we last got to that stage. The caution must be that history shows that we have been to this point before, in 1959: Villa then got to the semi-final but also got relegated, thanks to a last match 1-1 draw at the Hawthorns; a reminder that the Albion has been meaningfully involved before in our history.

The Albion fans could say that the 1959 incident was pay-back time for their club’s exit in the 1957 semis at the hands of the Villa, and also for the 1956 relegation issue when Villa beat a comfortably-placed Albion 3-0 to enable Villa to stay up on an improbable mathematical factor of .01 of a goal.

But there is a deep history involving Villa and the Albion that has existed since around 1880 time, when the Albion seriously threatened to usurp Villa as the top dogs of the Midlands. In the mid-1880s Albion indeed looked as though they would march ahead of the Villa. When the two clubs came together in the FA Cup Final of 1887, Albion had already appeared in the final of that great trophy the previous year (1886), but lost, and now they thought their experience would put paid to Villa’s challenge. Albion had even pre-planned their celebration route for their imagined Cup triumph, but the Villa had other ideas. It was Villa – not Albion – that became the Midlands’ first Cup winners by winning 2-0 at The Oval. But Albion did not lie down: at their third attempt in successive years, Albion won the Cup the next year (1888).

Twice more, the Villa and the Albion would fight it out in the FA Cup Final. In 1892 Albion got a lot of satisfaction by blowing Villa aside 3-0, thanks mainly to a bumpy pitch and Villa’s keeper getting his sights wrongly adjusted. And then Villa won again in 1895. But though Villa and Albion have never met again in a Cup Final, there have been battles fought out in other rounds of both the FA and League Cup over the years, and those have been very seriously contested affairs: the 1957 semi being the most memorable, I would say.

In the 1950s right through to the 1980s, I remember Albion as having some great sides. Any club that has boasted the likes of Bobby Robson, Brian Robson, Ronnie Allen, Jeff Astle, Tony Brown, Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and other great names in their ranks must have been a club with something great to offer. And Jimmy Dugdale, of course, gained winner’s medals with both Albion (1954) and Villa (1957). In fact, when I was a youngster I always thought of the Albion as Villa’s real local rivals – the Small Heath club never meant much to me after their abortive attempt to win the Cup in 1956, even though later on I did admire Jimmy Bloomfield and Trevor Francis.

So, after extolling the great history of the Albion I come to the climax of this piece: our new manager has described the Albion as a “small club”.

Now, it’s likely we would have a measure of agreement with him on that matter, but is it a statement that has to be publicly uttered by a Villa official? I rather suspect that his pronouncement may have pressed one or two wrong buttons amongst the Albion fans, so that Villa also twice gaining the upper hand over the past week may have helped generate their outrage. I would certainly not say that Tim Sherwood was the cause of their fans’ fiendish pranks, but I do think that a tone of more respect for their club would have helped to keep the heat down a little.

We certainly seem to have a new manager with plenty of fire in his belly – and that is welcome – but let’s not totally eradicate the wonderful competition with the Albion that Villa have enjoyed for over 130 years. The relationship of the two clubs has been greatly tested on some occasions, but it has mostly been a well-fought kind of relationship. I would like it to be kept that way if possible.

Anyhow, for Villa the way forward must now be onward and upward!