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

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Villa Have No Intention Of Being Led By Leeds!

I have no doubt that Leeds is a wonderful city, but why is it that over the last 100 years the city has been associated with more football irregularities than any other place? It's about that length of time ago that the Leeds City club went under after "financial irregularities" became apparent. Interestingly, though, Herbert Chapman was the City's manager: he subsequently became famous with Huddersfield and then Arsenal, bringing both clubs out of mundanity and into great success.

Leeds United then took over the mantle as Leeds' footballing representative in the big time, but, despite being under the management of the far-seeing Major Frank Buckley (originally of the Villa) for a time, and during that period acquiring Jack Charlton and the great John Charles, the club achieved nowt until Don Revie's arrival. As Wiki says:

"In March 1961, Revie was appointed player-manager of Leeds United, then a Second Division club who had never previously won a major trophy. Under Revie's management, Leeds became a major force in English football, winning the Second Division in 1963–64, the First Division in 1968–69 and 1973–74, the FA Cup in 1972, the League Cup in 1968, the FA Charity Shield in 1969, and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1968 and 1971. Additionally, Leeds were First Division runners-up five times, thrice FA Cup runners-up and runners-up in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup."

But, despite all that, Revie was criticised for the physical and often negative approach of his teams, though highly physical football was noted across the country at that time. Revie left Leeds to manage England but his resignation to manage in the Middle East after his 3-years sojopurn in that role fuelled criticism of him as money-obsessed. And there were unproven allegations of bribery and financial misconduct that also tarnished his reputation.

The Revie period was followed by the Brian Clough fiasco and then attempts by numerous former Leeds United playing heroes to get Leeds back to success. 

The dour Howard Wilkinson arrived in 1988 to turn things around, and, behold, Leeds won the league championship in the last season before the Premier League was launched (1992). Notable among that successful team was a certain Eric Cantona who left for further glory with Manchester United. But his departure also seemed to bring a slide to the fortunes of Leeds, who were poor losers to Villa in the 1996 League Cup Final, an occasion that also represents the Villa's last major trophy-winning achievement.

Over the next five years (1997-2002) Leeds United showed promise, first under the management of former Villa youngster George Graham, and then by his protégé, David O'Leary, who was sacked and arrived at Villa in 2003 for three inglorious years as Villa manager. 

With Leeds' lack of success, and the team being expensively assembled (but with heavy reliance on loans) by the chairman, Peter Ridsdale, financial troubles for the club began in earnest, and the club went into administration, the fall-out of which saw Leeds drop two divisions before their recovery to the Championship. During recent years, however, the then chairman, Cellino, was disqualified by the Football League in 2014 after they obtained documents from an Italian court, where he was found guilty of tax evasion. He was disqualified from running the club until April 2015. He subsequently sold the club.

So, that is a potted resumé of Leeds as a footballing city. A history marred by strange events, but also some fascinating periods when Leeds United possessed players that were known world-wide, such as John Charles, Jack Charlton, Billy Bremner and Allan "Sniffer" Clarke, a player from a Walsall footballing family who should have played in claret and blue if tradition had been followed. But Leeds in Revie's day never allowed tradition to interfere with their progress. And who can forget Norman "Cruncher" Hunter.

One more note: it was back in 1950 that Villa bought a certain Cornelius ("Con" for short) Martin from Leeds United. A remarkable player in that he played for club and country as both a goalkeeper and as a defender. He stayed with Villa for six years and is regarded as a great stalwart in Villa's past. A certain player named Fabian Delph was a more recent ex-Leeds arrival.

As to the outcome of the forthcoming match this week-end, well, it will be a tough match against another team with promotion hopes. But Villa are on a roll and I expect at least a draw.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Bluebird Pie For Dinner This Saturday?

Cardiff are up 'ere on Saturday. That club's name brings back some memories for me, not the least being a league match against them in March, 1957 when we won 4-1, but the terraces were very sparse that day. "Why?" you may well ask. Well, the match was played on a Wednesday afternoon! Again, the question "why?" is inevitable! 

In those days if a club didn't have floodlights and a re-arranged match had to be played in mid-week, then Villa played such matches on a Wednesday afternoon, being (back then) a half-day working day for many workers. And you will now have realised that in 1957 Villa did not have floodlights: they didn't arrive until the next year. So that match I saw played in 1957 may well have been the last that Villa ever played on a Wednesday afternoon.

The scorer for Cardiff that day was a certain Gerry Hitchens, the former Kidderminster player who was making a big name for himself down at Cardiff, having started there with a certain Trevor Ford as his companion in their forward line. What a combination! Well, Ford was past history for Villa, but Hitchens (Blews having nearly scuppered Villa's ambitions!) joined the Villa in December, 1957 and for nearly the next four years increased several times over in ability and the love-in Villa fans had for him. His 29 league goals (42 in all) in season 1960-61 has not since been equalled at Villa.

Anyway, the story of Hitchens has been told elsewhere over and over again, but in season 1959-60 - when Villa were temporarily in the second tier - Villa had Cardiff as their competitors for the division leader spot, and the match against them late in the season will go down in Villa's annals as one of the finest and most tense matches ever seen at Villa Park. It was 0-0 with around ten minutes to go when Villa finally took the lead, and it was Hitchens who soon grabbed a second to remind Cardiff of his talent.

Well, though Cardiff did finish as runner-up in that season and reached the top flight with Villa, their history since has been none too great, though in recent years they had a little flurry. As for this season, they now lie in the position that Villa occupied only a few weeks ago. In theory, the difference of just four points between Villa and Cardiff might indicate they are not a team to be taken lightly, but - using my half-glass full philosophy - I would say that since Villa appear to be on the 'up', they should win this match fairly comfortably. Yes, even with Rickie Lambert and a certain Peter Whittingham in their squad.

A win here followed by at least a draw at Leeds and then another win - against Wigan - would go down fairly well, I think.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Seagulls, Crabs ... It All Sounds A Bit Fishy!

It's always worthwhile to take a trip to Brighton. Except when it's not, when you fall foul of the parking attendant's book and collect a parking fine! That's what happened to me when I lived down souf and decided to take a trip there on March 25th, 1972 to see the new-look Villa team. They had just gone through 11 games undefeated and had not long acquired Ian Ross and Chris Nicholl. And it was Ray Graydon's first season.

Brighton, in fact, were doing well back then in that division (lying third), just as they are doing well now. But I still felt that Villa, being top of the table and with their recent acquisitions and Bruce 'the Cannon' Rioch in their ranks, would be shooting down a few seagulls.

Well, it was a disappointment. Despite a 20-yarder that was put home by Brucie, Brighton won the day 2-1. I remember someone got stabbed in the crowd, and then I collected that parking ticket! But Villa only lost one more game in the rest of the season (2 defeats in 23 games) to finish top of the old Division Three. Funny that the other game they lost in that run (again 2-1) was also on the south coast, at Torquay, but a month later Villa squashed 'em 5-1 at Villa Park having already been promoted through Charlie Aitken's goal at Bradford.

So, 44 years later we visit them again in a lower division. And, as we all know, before the latest Brucie arrived we would not have been having thoughts of the possibility of getting a win at the second-placed club, who are five points ahead of the third team and chasing Newcastle hard. In fact, I wonder how many Villa fans think now that Villa have a chance of winning?

In fact, though I expected Villa to win back then in '72, I don't expect them to win this time. It's a long trip down to Brighton, but provided Villa put in a spirited performance, I do expect a draw. We have the firepower with Codger up there and one or two useful assistants, so I think we'll at least manage to increase Brucie's unbeaten run.

Psychologically, it's so important to keep this unbeaten run going and to raise confidence. In fact, as we all know, Villa have spent so much money in assembling this squad that it's galling not to see them scrapping it out at the top of the table, but money alone is clearly not the answer. Brucie has proved that it's old-fashioned man-management techniques that will win the day (plus some talent and energy, of course) and to my mind he has answered the emergency call extremely well. Reservations about his capability of taking the club to the very top of the top tier remain, but for the moment I feel it's wise just to enjoy the ride: the future will take care of itself, I believe.

So, they're off to see the sea! Let's hope Villa don't manage to catch a crab!

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Blackburn’s a-Rovin’ to Villa Park! Will it be their ru-i-n?

Two great clubs from a different era meet this week-end, and since the Villa are playing Blackburn, it could be that Rudi is licking his lips!  

We've won 65, drawn 33 and lost 58 of our 156 previous encounters, and the last two home encounters at the two ends of the year 2011 resulted in 4-1 and 3-1 wins to the Villa. But who can forget the second leg of the League Cup semi at Villa Park in January 2010, when we won 6-4 in a roller-coaster of a match, and winning overall 7-4 thanks to a brilliant Milner strike at Blackburn.

So, 13 goals against 'em in three out of four most recent home encounters! (Er, they beat us out of revenge for the semi result in May, 2010). I suppose we could almost be accused of being in la-la land if we were to start openly stating that Villa might score a few this Saturday, but I have to say, though, it is a possibility. After all, Blackburn seem to have a shaky defence and they are lying in one of the relegation spots. 

With Brucey's record of two wins and two draws since he took over, I can imagine he'd really love to get a decisive victory this week, against one of the lower clubs, to not only win but to add confidence to his team - and us! But Rovers are going to come to Villa Park and treat it like some cup final of long ago, when winning cup finals was their stock-in-trade. Even so, I have this little feeling that if Villa can score within the first ten or fifteen minutes, they could be runaway winners in this fixture. 

Ayew's not going to be with us for this match, so there's no opportunity for him to miss chances! So, whoever plays instead of him will have a chance to make a name for themselves! Could it be Gabby?! Maybe not: I'd expect 'Mac' to be in the starting line-up, though if Adomah is not fit then Gabby might be there. Or, as I started by saying, our Rudi may be given the chance to run riot against his old mates.

And - being Guy Fawkes Day - maybe we'll see some fireworks!

It could be a very interesting match, and the chance to lift us up closer to mid-point in the table.