This week marks the 45th Anniversary since Ron Saunders kick-started one of the most successful spells in the history of Aston Villa.
Words by Alan Wilson | @VILLAlan54
When Ron Saunders walked into Villa Park in June 1974, nobody would have dared to predict that in his eight year tenure as manager, Aston Villa would win promotion and the Football League Cup in his first season. They’d follow that with another League Cup two years later.
If that wasn’t enough, the tough, uncompromising leader from Birkenhead put together a team that won the Football League Championship in 1981 – ending an unbelievable 71 year drought since their previous title win in 1920.
Although Saunders left the club on 4th February 1982, three months before Aston Villa lifted the European Cup, it was his team that had won the biggest prize in club football, albeit under the stewardship of his successor Tony Barton. All because of a boardroom row which led to Saunders walking out of his role, causing him to be absent from the greatest day in the history of Aston Villa Football Club.
Many younger Aston Villa fans were not here to witness this era in the clubs history – and they often ask ‘How good were Ron Saunders and his team, when a much fancied Ipswich side managed by the brilliant Bobby Robson traded the top spot with Villa throughout that historic season?’.
Saunders had gradually built on his successful 1977 League Cup winning side by making shrewd signings like Dennis Mortimer from Coventry City, top goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer from Arsenal and Tony Morley, the raiding left winger from Burnley.
These top quality players were melded with some brilliant youngsters who had emerged from Saunders’ impressive youth system. Gordan Cowans, Gary Shaw and Gary Williams all benefited from, and added youthful vigour to the experienced professionals around them.
However, when Saunders’ signed Peter Withe from Newcastle in the summer of 1980, to quote his own words, he had ‘found the final piece for the jigsaw’. Withe formed a partnership with the quick-silver Shaw that led to them being described by the late Brian Moore as “going together like bacon and eggs, they positively sizzle!”.
Withe finished as Villa’s top scorer with 20 goals that season and then one year later he went on to score the only goal of the game that won the European Cup for Aston Villa against the mighty Bayern Munich in Rotterdam.
Saunders was gone, but it was his team that had won the biggest honour in Aston Villa’s illustrious history. Today, a tribute to Ron Saunders’ legendary words hangs on a banner from the upper tier of the Holte End and will never be forgotten.
When it was put to Saunders by a reporter in March of 1981 that Ipswich were the favourites of the bookies and neutral fans to lift the title, Saunders fixed him with a steely glare that could have instantly frozen water, and uttered those immortal words.
“Do you want to bet against us?”