Many people consider Aston Villa Football Club to be one of the most historical and traditional institutions of the English game. In fact, the club from the Midlands were one of the 12 founding members of the football league way back in 1888.
The Villans have had their share of ups and downs throughout their history, including winning the English top-flight title on seven occasions, the last of which came in 1981. However, the crowning glory for Villa came in 1982, when they claimed the European Cup, now the Champions League.
Who is Tony Barton?
The question of who Tony Barton is came not only from the Villa fans on his appointment in February of 1982 but also from some of the players. Barton replaced the highly respected Ron Saunders and held several positions in the Villa set-up under Saunders before his appointment as first team manager.
He was appointed as Saunders’s assistant in 1980. However, some within the club claimed that Barton was a glorified scout and only gained the position so he could get a company car. The former Portsmouth player helped Villa to European glory, yet in the final’s matchday programme, there was no mention of Barton, as the programme writers still had Saunders as Villa boss. In his post-interview after the final, the Villa boss expressed his disappointment at not being mentioned in the programme.
One fine night in Rotterdam
The biggest night in the history of Aston Villa Football Club took place on 26th May 1982 in Feyenoord’s De Kuip in the Netherlands. The Villans headed into the game as major underdogs against the mighty Bayern Munich, who from 1974-76 had won three straight European Cups. The Bavarians were still regarded as a powerhouse of European football ahead of this fixture.
Villa were led to the final by rookie manager Tony Barton, who had only been in the job since the previous February when Ron Saunders quit his role after a row with the Villa board. Saunders went on to join Villa’s bitter rivals Birmingham City, spending four years with the Blues.
One of the game’s pivotal moments of the final came after just ten minutes. Villa’s highly experienced Jimmy Rimmer, who had played a significant role in getting his side to the final, had to leave the field due to a shoulder injury. The former Manchester United goalkeeper was distraught at the fact he had to go off injured.
Rimmer’s replacement was 23-year-old Nigel Spink, who had made just one first-team appearance for Villa, despite being at the club for five years. By a strange quirk of fate, Rimmer and Spink made just one international appearance each for England, with both of their appearances lasting just 45 minutes.
The inexperienced Spink went on to enjoy the game of his career, making save after save to deny the Bavarian giants. As the relative rookie kept Bayern at bay, Villa broke up the other end of the pitch and took the lead on 67 minutes.
Mercurial winger Tony Morley produced a superb cross for striker Peter Withe to score from close range. The forward’s teammates late claimed that he shanked the finish, a claim that the striker himself denies!
Villa did suffer a scare with just three minutes left on the clock, as Bayern Munich saw a goal disallowed for offside. The team from the Midlands also had a goal chalked off late in the game also for offside. However, it didn’t matter in the end, as Villa lifted the European Cup. They continued the English dominance of the European Cup, as their victory was the sixth straight triumph by an English team in the competition.
Peter Withe may have scored the winning goal, but it was Spink who received the most praise after the game. He went on to become Villa’s number one for a decade, enjoying a playing career that finally ended in 2001.
There was a famous incident with the trophy when the players decided to take it to a local bar, only for a perturbed fellow bar patron to steal the trophy at 3 am. However, it wasn’t missing for long, and the trophy was retrieved from Sheffield, the city where the culprit had spent time as a student.
Playing in the Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup
Villa also qualified for the European Cup, European Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup for the next season by winning the European Cup. The Villans went on to claim the European Super Cup, this time beating Catalan giants Barcelona 3-1 on aggregate. However, Villa suffered a 2-0 loss to South American champions Penarol in the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo.
Villa could not defend their European crown in 1983, as the Villans suffered a 5-2 aggregate defeat against Juventus in the quarter-finals. The reigning European champions suffered a 2-1 home loss before going down 3-1 in Turin to exit the competition.
Highs and lows of the last four decades
Aston Villa has enjoyed some massive highs and lows as a football club in the last four decades. Winning the European Cup was the obvious high. However, incredibly five years after achieving that fantastic feat, the Villans suffered relegation to the old Second Division (now the Championship).
Villa spent just one season in the second tier, winning promotion at the first attempt. The Villans spent the next 29 years in the English top-flight, with their highest finish being second place, achieved in 1990 and 1993. Relegation followed again in 2016 before winning promotion back to the Premier League in 2019.
Since promotion, the Villans have finished between midtable and the relegation spots in the English top-flight. It seems unlikely that Aston Villa will get back to the levels of their 1982 team anytime soon.
However, for everybody associated with the Villans, they will always have memories of that one night in Rotterdam when their team got the better of Bayern Munich and brought home the European Cup to Birmingham.