Recently My Old Man Said was asked by FourFourTwo magazine to nominate an Aston Villa favourite cult hero of Villa fans. After deliberation with MOMS readers on social media, Paul McGrath was chosen.While he had dodgy knees and an issue with drink, you could put money on him to be Villa’s best player on the pitch, if you were of a gambling mind (and if you’re not, there are resources like OnlineCasino.co.uk to help you out with betting strategy).
“If you can get John Carew to play, you will be immortal”
Instead of leaving it there though, we thought we’d cover five of the most popular mentions by supporters when discussing their cult favourites. While strictly a ‘cult hero’ would be a player greatly admired by a smaller audience section of fans and not necessarily for their ability ala Salifou, we’ll stick to the better known ones for the purposes of this article.
Remember these are not necessarily Villa legends, more players that had quirks that we loved. For example, Mellberg over Laursen due to his beard (and the fact he gave us a free shirt when he left!).
This Serbian striker joined the claret and blue in 1995 from Partizan Belgrade where he won two national championships and scored 60 goals in two seasons. However, Savo had trouble recapturing that magic in the Premier League with Villa, and his frequent scoring droughts earned him the nickname “Miss-a-lot-evic” from supporters.
While he didn’t exactly live up to expectations or the 25-goal target he set for himself when he first signed (the most he scored in a single season was 12), Savo’s flair on the pitch (and his trademark bandana) still made him something of a fan favourite in his earlier years at Villa Park.
Although his Villa career would end (and then flourish in La Liga and with the Serbian national team) after a spat with supporters, Milošević will always be remembered at Villa for scoring the first goal in the 1996 League Cup Final against Leeds, a left-footed blast from about 30-yards-out.
True story, on the way to Wembley, MOMS had a feeling it was the Serb’s destiny to net the first goal. Looking across at a bookies window he was listed at 9/1. ‘ Right, I’m having£20 on that.’ Pushing at the bookies’ door, I discovered it was closed for the Sunday. I then forgot about the potential bet, that is until the ball crashed into the Leed’s net.
One bitterly cold winters, midweek night, in a game that didn’t matter against and very boring Middlesborough team, in the late 70s, with only c.17,000 inside Villa Park Frank went on the most mazy run I have ever seen – it beat the Ricky Villa run and everything since, he beat player after player, got into the box, rounded the keeper and… trod on the ball… it ended up 0-0.*
Carrodus played almost 200 games for Villa was instrumental in the 1975 and 1977 League Cup triumphs (although he missed the second reply through injury).
Playing for the club you’ve supported since you were a boy is almost a guarantee of cult-status, even if you are only a marginal player. Ian Taylor grew up in the stands at Villa Park, but his career was anything but marginal at his dearly-beloved club. Taylor had a nose for net, often in the club’s biggest matches including that 1996 League Cup Final against Leeds.
The lanky midfielder joined his hometown club on a million pound transfer after a sterling career in the lower levels of the Football League and then a brief stop at fellow EPL-side Nottingham Forest. Once in a claret and blue shirt, Taylor was a mainstay in the line-up, appearing in 25 or more matches for five straight seasons. Though he’d finish his career with Championship and League Two sides, Taylor is now an official club ambassador for AVFC, and very much in the hearts and minds of Villans today.
A true journeyman, John Carew hopped around from club to club and league to league in his 16-year footballing career, before he turned up at Villa Park. Before he signed for Villa from Lyon in a swap deal with Milan Baros, MOMS was at a PSG vs Lyon game in Paris and discussing the deal with a Lyon fan. He told me, “If you can get John Carew to play, you will be immortal”.
While Villa didn’t exactly achieve immortality, the striker’s longest stay of his career came at Villa where he had a penchant for making his mark in big matches as well as his tell-it-like-it-is attitude and “adventurous” off-the-pitch behaviour.
Although he was tagged as ‘lazy’ by many, there’s no denying that Carew could score when he wanted. In his five seasons with the club, he was Villa’s top scorer thrice, and also the top goalscorer in the 2009-10 FA Cup. That last feat was in part due to a clutch hat trick against Reading in the quarterfinals. He loved playing the Blues and certainly made his mark when he did.
Every club has its fare share of quirky cult heroes, but few have had a player that transcends such status to become a true legend. Through out his career McGrath was like Billy the Kid, always in the line of fire. He was an alcoholic with dodgy knees who had a tendency to go AWOL before games. The Ireland international was heading for retirement on Alex Ferguson’s recommendation, before Graham Taylor gambled on the injury-prone centre-back for Aston Villa.
The Villa fans put up with his antics and with the player enjoying a light training regime due to his knees, it turned out to be a marriage made in football heaven. Villa gained a world-class centre-back whose party trick was to allow opposition keeper’s goal-kicks to drop over his shoulder and then clear them with a backheeled volley.
McGrath was the lynchpin to two Aston Villa title challenges, including the first ever Premier League season, where McGrath finished runner-up to his previous club Manchester United. He got revenge at Wembley the following season in Villa’s 3-1 League Cup final win over United in 1994.
With his shy and humble demeanour, McGrath became the much-loved adopted son of the Holte End, where he is serenaded at every game to this day. A member of the club’s hall of fame, he is simply referred to as “God”.
Honorable Mentions: Bosko Balaban, Olof Mellberg, Dalian Atkinson, Chico Hamilton, Tommy Johnson, Wilfred Bouma, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Alan “Rambo” McInally, Didier Six.
*Thanks to Steve Webster for his Carrodus memory.
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