Who are you? We’re Villa (2)


Stuart Young had already been signed up when Brendan Hanrahan* offered a few Memory Man musings on Aston Villa and Sunderland for this week’s Who Are They? And though he spends his working life cutting back the word counts of verbose young reporters, he found that once he’d started, he simply couldn’t stop…….

Her name was Bethany and she asked me to take her picture while she attempted an impression of Kate Winslet in Titanic from the bow of Deck 7 of the world’s largest ocean-going liner on a star-laden night in the middle of the Atlantic.

So I did. Fate threw a Mackem hackette from the Echo and a daily newspaper editor from Devon together on the Queen Mary 2 on its way to Southampton from New York. It was a few years ago, and she was the last Sunderland supporter I met before the man who asked me to write these words.

We have time for Sunderland in Aston. You always fill your end for one thing, as do Newcastle. The same can’t be said for Middlesbrough, which is odd when you are supposed to be so passionate about your football in the North East. (I can’t recall a game in recent memory when Villa did not sell out their allocation of tickets for any competitive away match). You also make a decent noise.

We have made history together at least twice as far as I’m aware. The only chance Sunderland ever had at pulling off the double was in 1913 when you won the league. But then you ran into us in our purple period in the FA Cup Final and we won 1-0 to lift the trophy for the fifth time.

More memorably, you helped achieve the highest recorded crowd in the old Second Division in 1975 when we were promoted to our rightful and, usually, permanent home of the top flight of English football and we won the League Cup by beating Norwich 1-0 at Wembley. It was our party match and the last game of the league season at Villa Park which we won 2-0 before a crowd of 57,266. They don’t pull them in like that any more.

This was shortly after Villa recorded the still standing record of the highest crowds in the old Third Division, both more than 48,000 in successive home games against Bournemouth, of the Ted McDougall era, and Notts County, of the Don Masson days. We won both games 2-1.

With the always helpful assistance of soccerbase.com we have also had some barmy scorelines. In 1955/56, the season before we won our seventh FA Cup, you beat us 4-1 away and 5-1 at home. We excelled ourselves in 1933/34 when you gained revenge for a 7-2 defeat in an early round of the FA Cup with a 5-1 victory at home a week later.

We first locked horns in 1890 with a 0-0 drew in Aston before we let you beat us 5-1 on Jan 10, 1891.

We have met in 164 league and cup games. You have won 51 times and lost on 73 occasions. (Villa also hold the record for the most played fixture in top flight football: against which club?)

In recent times, your last victory against us was in 2002 at the Stadium of Light, which I’m sure is a great stadium, though I’ve yet to visit. I must say, like many fans, I miss some of the old stadiums and Roker Park with its Roker Roar is well up there among the most dearly departed. I last heard it loud and and angry on TV in 1993 – we won 4-1 at your old place in the League Cup when we had the likes of the peerless Paul McGrath and Dalian Atkinson in our side.

Speaking of stadiums, Villa Park has never been the same since the seats were installed, especially as far as the Holte End goes. That fearsome vault which held 26,000 on its own not so many years ago could suck in a goal by intimidation and noise alone. It’s still passionate and fantastically funny, but it’s just not as loud and incessant as before.

However, it’s started to become so again under Martin O’Neill, who is building a team with great pace, spirit and togetherness, though we badly need a win on Saturday after poor results in our last two games.

There is much to admire in Roy Keane I know, but as an Irish Brummie I will say no more about him because of which camp I fell into among Ireland supporters after his disgraceful walk-out on Mick McCarthy and the Irish team in South Korea in 2002. Niall Quinn is a more admirable and forgiving soul than me on that affair.

If it’s your first time at Villa Park on Saturday, welcome to the world’s most historic stadium and the birthplace of the English Football League, which was the invention of the Villa director William McGregor, a Scottish draper, from Summer Lane, Aston.

Six other clubs agreed to join us in first forming the league, soon followed by five more clubs and then every league in the world followed the English model. Which will explain why Santos, including Pele, Jairzinho and Tostao, played at Villa Park in 1972 as part of their world tour. Respect, you see, even though we were then in the old Third Division. I was on the Holte End that night and we beat them, of course, 2-1. Villa Park is also, among other things, the only ground in the world to have hosted international matches in three separate centuries.

As for Bethany, she has moved on to greater things now, I understand, covering a much bigger beat while still staying close to home. Meanwhile while I will be at the game on Saturday on a brief visit to Blighty, I now live and work in the Middle East, not far from where the Queen Elizabeth liner will be docked as a floating hotel within a few months. I never did send her those pictures she requested. Well, she had Premiership class legs which have always been my weakness among women. She was no Kate Adie, but she could roar and talk football with the best of you as well. Especially when she was roaring drunk.

* Brendan Hanrahan on Brendan Hanrahan:
Born in Burlington Street, Aston, first saw Villa in a 3-0 home win over Arsenal in 1965 and was also at Villa Park in 1972 to see Pele (who couldn’t stop Santos losing 2-1).

Saddest moment The silence when the final whistle
blew in the 70s and we were down to the old third
division for the first time in our history

Gladdest moment May, 1982, Peter Withe shins it in to
win the European Cup against Bayern Munich in
Rotterdam. I was with strangers in Cardiff on a
journalism course


Other happy moments Son’s first game at the Villa also 3-0 against Fulham. Son’s first night match against Portsmouth, also 2-1 win. Son, Cormac, a mascot at Villa v Tottenham as part of his 10th birthday present in 2006. Cost: 175 pounds and therest. He and my brother got to walk on the sacred turf. I never did. Beating Bluenoses 3-1 in 2006 with a bicycle kick from a defender, Gary Cahill, among the goals and the result as good as sent them down. My left knee has never been the same since all the leaping round. Saw Bruce Springsteen live at Villa Park in 1988 while my first child couldn’t decide whether to be born or not at Good Hope Hospital, north Birmingham. Women, eh?

Strange facts Played for Villa Boys in my youth and for district and county sides until a run-in with a manager over refusing to learn how to nobble someone’s ankle ended any hope of a career at the age of 15. Have been threatened three times in past two years for chasing a story about the Villa. Still chasing the story. When I was 11 after a week off school with the flu my parents allowed me to play a top of the league clash East Birmingham FA Schools U-12 league in Kingshurst, Birmingham. I was told to mark someone. I did my best and scored our goal. Lost 4-1. Player I was marking who was a foot shorter than me and three years younger scored all their goals. Name? Gary Shaw. His teacher said he said I was the best defender he’d come across. Oh, yeah? Used to see him and say hello in a few pubs when he suffered the knee injury which finished him in his early 20s. Ran into a sozzled and up themselves mob of Villa players in 1985 at the Belfry when they found my then fiancee as attractive as I did. Harsh words exchanged, but all forgiven later.

Favourite all-time Villa players Gary Shaw, Peter McParland and Paul McGrath

Favourite Villa chant “You’ll never beat the Villa”, and “It’s your round, Lord” (Kumbaya)

Favourite Villa moment 1938 when Villa were on a tour of Germany. Horrified at being forced by London and FA to perform the Nazi salute, they had to agree. But no one in the ground knew what two fingers up in every Villa player’s hand meant. They won that game 3-2.

Favourite other clubs Pike Rovers (non-league, Limerick, Ireland), Glasgow Celtic, Dukla Prague, Torquay United, Bromsgrove Rovers

Most respected football figure Rinus Michels

All-time favourite Sunderland player Jim Baxter

Ever been to Roker or Stadium of Light? Nay, man


Brendan Hanrahan

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