I wrote the below article for the always excellent Heroes and Villans fanzine back in 2004, the issue came out on the day when Villa entertained Liverpool at Villa Park. The game ended 1-1 and I remember the Villa Park faithful giving Stephen Gerrard a standing ovation after he was head-and-shoulders better than any other player on the pitch that afternoon.
The article talks about growing up during a spell when Villa didn’t beat Liverpool for 11 years. Villa fans in their 20’s or younger, wouldn’t have experienced the time when Liverpool were a dominant force in English football, like Manchester United are now. To update things a little at the end (until March 2013), I’ve added Villa’s record against Liverpool, since this article was originally published. But in the meantime, cast your mind back to Villa 2004, under O’Leary and Deadly Doug Ellis…
By MOMS (First published in Heroes & Villans 2004 Issue 119)
Which team do you take most satisfaction out of beating? It’s always good to beat the best, but the current top two, Chelski and Arsenal, appeal only if you’re a youngster, as they don’t really offer any historical significance. And lately, we do well against Chelski anyway but only a blind optimist would expect to beat Henry and co.
What about the Blues? Maybe, if you’re old enough to remember when they actually regularly played in the same division as Villa. With a recent gap of top flight matches between the teams for over 16 years – apart a couple of cup encounters, and Villa being kind enough to pop in and visit Small Heath in the old Div 2 for a season – beating the Blues, isn’t really an achievement. It should be a given, except for a couple of recent freak results.
The hot favourite has to be Manchester United? Well, they should be my number one. If it wasn’t for my mother divorcing my dad, when I was five, I could have ended up a typical glory hunting United ‘fan’.
There are pictures of a very young chubby-cheeked version of myself in full United kit, circa ’77 (V-neck, red and white strip collars), kicking a Man Utd football around a park. Not a good look. My dad, to his credit, was a true fan, gracing the terraces to watch the likes of Best, Charlton, Law and co. But my mum’s actions – astutely looking after the interests of her son – cut me free from having to listen to all that Busby Babes folklore jive, and from all that nonsense of supporting a team that would win the Premiership year-in-year-out, and had a chairman with ambition.
Instead, taking a liking to the claret and blue colours, and the coolest name in English football, I plumped for the Villa. It was a good marriage. Gary Shaw, Tony Morley and Alan Evans, inspired my school football exploits, while European success helped with learning Geography.
Also, as I grew up, I could say to my Man Utd supporting peers: “Well, at least I’ve seen Villa win the league and European Cup in my life time.” Although, admittedly, the phrase soon became redundant.
I only had one goal in terms of United. I wanted to see Villa beat them at Wembley in a cup final. That dream came true in 1994 (thanks BFR).
Wearing the biggest Villa rosette ever, courtesy of Asda in Perry Barr, the trip to Wembley to witness the victory, was one of my true Villa highlights, and got the Red Devil burden off my back.
Oh, it’s all getting rather Nick Hornby, isn’t it…Anyway, it’s great when (occasionally) Villa beat United and their JJB replica shirt followers, but in my minds eye, it’s only the second fondest scalp to take.
There was one distinct problem growing up as a Villa fan in the eighties. We couldn’t beat bloody Liverpool. I was too young to know about Villa being 5-1 up at half-time against the decent Liverpool team of 1977, and going on to win by the same score (yes, that’s right, we beat them 5-1. It’s true, I read it in a book). Instead, my memory is haunted by the fact, that after a 2-0 success at Villa Park, en route to the 1981 title, we didn’t beat the Scousers at all for over 11 years.
I was tortured by the fact; through puberty, adolescence, school and college years. The worst thing was, we never looked like beating them.
Example: 20/01/1984. Live on TV. On a frost bitten Villa Park pitch, Dennis Mortimer latches onto a through ball and slots home. 1-0 Villa! Surely, we’d have them now – Grobbelaar was under pressure and Villa were looking good.
But rather than treating going a goal behind as Villa making a serious attempt to take three points off them, to Liverpool, it seemed, Mortimer’s goal was an insulting act of petulance. It had to be punished. Cue one of the most brutal executions of a hat-trick ever witnessed, as Ian Rush despatched three scorchers into Spink’s net to give them the game 3-1. After this game, of course, like the decade’s music and fashion, for the rest of the eighties, Villa were crap. Beating Liverpool became impossible.
The only thing that got me through this barren period was the fact that once at school, I had managed to con a Liverpool fan into swapping me his 1981 Villa replica shirt (maybe he dabbled with the idea of defecting when Villa won the league) in exchange for a Mars bar and a Curly Wurly. It was a great bit of business on my part; although, hailing from Liverpool, he probably stole the shirt in the first place. At least that’s what mate Boris reckoned.
It was 1992 when Villa finally secured victory (1-0) against the Reds, at Villa Park.
Big Ron Atkinson had faired well against Liverpool while managing United, and his Midas touch carried on with us.
The next season saw Villa do the double over the Scousers, including our most comprehensive and enjoyable victory since 1977. With Dean Saunders, having left Merseyside a fortnight earlier, doing the old scoring-against-your-old-team-routine, bagging a brace and inspiring a 4-2 win (also remembered for Liverpool’s lovely green away kit and Ronny Rosenthal amazing miss). Suddenly we beat Liverpool four seasons on the trot. The hoodoo was banished…well, it was until Robbie Fowler popped up.
Fowler seemingly scored every time he played against Villa. His goals contributed to four 3-0 wins over the space of 18 months, from early 1996. It seemed normal service was resumed, highlighted by the fact that if you turned up ten minutes late to the pub to watch the 1996 league game between the teams, a quick glance to the big screen would have had you squinting at the 3-0 ‘already!’ score line to Liverpool. Four weeks later in our F.A.Cup semi-final clash, there was a slight improvement. It was only 2-0 after 10 minutes.
Under Little and Gregory, at least things didn’t get quite as embarrassing as in the winless years of Barton, Turner, O’Neil, Taylor and Venglos. Both managers enjoyed victories, with Gregory’s teams notably winning twice at Anfield. Now though, in O’Leary we have a manager who can hopefully deal with Liverpool, the BFR way – beat them regularly. We’re going to have to if we want European football again. Liverpool can no longer justify their disillusions of grandeur, having been left behind by the big three. Now they, like us, are left battling for the last Champion’s League Place, with the likes of Villaboro and Newcastle. Villa only failed to qualify for Europe last season, because they didn’t beat Liverpool or Newcastle when they went head-to-head with them. This must change.
It’s six games since we’ve beaten the Scousers, and more worryingly seven at Villa Park (the ‘4-3’ midnight showdown in the League Cup, two years ago, still haunts me, and not just because I had to spend that night in Hull). Let’s hope this season, and specially today, with Liverpool’s sick bay of strikers, meaning Benitez has to return to the tactics of his predecessor, Houllier, and play a five or six man midfield, we can stuff them. I never want to wait eleven years again.
AFTERMATCH – 2013
Well, David O’Leary was no Scouse basher like Big Ron, after the 1-1 draw at Villa Park this article originally timed with back in 2004, O’Leary’s Villa lost the next four games against the Reds.
In fact, Villa have only won twice since. 3-1 under O’Neil at Anfield in 2009 (the same year we also lifted our hoodoo at Old Trafford) and 1-0 in the final game of last season.
Villa’s record against Liverpool since
P 16 W 3 D 4 L 9 (until March 2013)
And now you know why MOMS relishes taking three points off Liverpool more than any other team. But at Anfield this season, with our league position, injuries and management team, I’d snatch your hand off for a point. UTV.