In 1961, Aston Villa beat Rotherham United over a two-legged final to lift the first-ever League Cup.
Follow the writer on Twitter: @findfoy
58 years ago, on this very day, Aston Villa wrote their name into the history books (before going on to do it a further four times) – as they lifted the League Cup in its inaugural year.
Away from the glamour of the finals of the modern-day, which often host the biggest and best teams in England – for example, last year’s final hosted Manchester City and Chelsea, with the former winning on penalties – the first League Cup final wasn’t the most glamorous affair.
Featuring Aston Villa, considered one of the big sides in the competition – despite it being their first year back in the First Division – and Rotherham United, a club considered one of the smaller sides in the Second Division of English football, the affair wasn’t necessarily what the Football League would have had in mind when pitching their tournament.
Aston Villa didn’t have an easy path to the final by any means and were rather fond of a replay in the early 60’s it seems. They breezed past Huddersfield Town in the Second Round with a 4-0 win, before drawing against Preston North End away in a 3-3 draw. The replay, played at Villa Park, saw the home side progress as 3-1 victors.
They faced Plymouth Argyle next, and then again, and again. There were no extra times or penalty shoot-outs in this year’s competition, so if you drew a game in the inaugural league cup, it was going to a replay. The first meeting between the sides saw a 3-3 draw at Villa Park, before a 0-0 draw in Plymouth. The two sides played the third affair in Plymouth, where Aston Villa finally got out of their drawing habit and beat the home side 5-3.
There was another replay to come too. After beating Wrexham 3-0 in the Quarter Final of the League Cup, they faced another set of clarets, in the form of Burnley, in the Semi-Final, a two-legged affair. Both of the initial legs were drawn, 2-2 in Burnley, and 1-1 in Birmingham. The game was replayed – at Old Trafford – for the third time, and Aston Villa booked their place in the final with a 2-1 win.
Ultimately, this led to Aston Villa playing an extra four games compared to the six that their opponents in the final, Rotherham United, had played.
Three days after Joe Mercer’s men had started a new season with a 2-0 loss against Everton, Aston Villa played their first leg of a two-legged final against Rotherham. The game had been moved to the start of the 61-62 season due to a congested fixture period in the latter part of the previous season, caused by postponements thanks to weather conditions.
In front of a crowd of just over 12,000 – Aston Villa struggled in Yorkshire and lost the first leg 2-0, showcasing a lack of skill rather than effort against their Second Division opponents.
Mercer made changes for the second leg, which came in September. Peter McParland was recalled to the squad and started up front, whilst Alan O’Neill started his first game of the season.
The changes that Joe Mercer had made proved to be inspired. For over an hour, it looked as if Rotherham were in the running to cause a real upset as the score remained 2-0 on aggregate in front of a 30,000 strong crowd at Villa Park.
O’Neill scored Villa’s first, passing two defenders before scoring from a tight angle. Shortly after, Harry Burrows fired a shot which was deflected into the Rotherham net. The game was on at two-a-piece.
The game went to extra-time, and in the 109th minute, Peter McParland, four years after scoring a double to secure the FA Cup against Manchester United, pounced on a mistake from Rotherham’s goalkeeper and gave Aston Villa the lead on aggregate.
It finished 3-0 to the home side, and 3-2 on aggregate, 19 hours of game time after the kick-off against Huddersfield nearly a year earlier.
Some say that Villa’s comeback sparked the fire for the League Cup, who had struggled in attracting sides like Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur to the competition.