07: Aston Villa 1981

For many of us, our love for the game begins from a young age and it's these early experiences that often define our relationship to football and the connection we have to our favourite club. This was certainly the case for Andy Jackson. Growing up a diehard Aston Villa fan in Birmingham, the 1980-81 season was one he would never forget.  

I can’t remember any particular moment. I think you just grow up as a football fan in the UK. I was just playing the game from as soon as I could stand and being from Birmingham, you go one of two ways. It was either an Aston Villa fan or a Birmingham City fan and I chose the Claret and Blue path.

Andy attended his first Villa game at the age of five or six with his Dad who had managed to get an invite to the directors box through his business contacts. But the first game he really remembers watching was the 1977 League Cup when he was eight years old. It was the now famous replay versus Everton at Old Trafford where Villains centre half, Chris Nicholl scored a stunning long range shot from about 40 yards.

These were very different times for supporters and it was much easier for young fans to connect directly with their club and the players themselves. It certainly strengthened the bond for Jackson.

You would be able to sit on the sideline on the training pitch at Bodymoor Heath and watch them train. And then the minute the training session was over you were running on the pitch with your programme or to get photos with the players and autographs and that.

Andy began attending regular games with his father for the 1980-81 season. Villa started the season strongly and eventually the title challenge was between them as Ipswich. With five games to go, the two teams met on April 14th at Villa Park with Ipswich winning the game 2-1. Many thought Villa’s shot at the Championship was over, but not manager, Ron Saunders.

Ipswich would go on to lose three of their next four matches, while Villa, who had one less game to play, won two and drew one, before it all came down to the final game of the season. In the days of two competition points for a win, Aston Villa only needed a draw or better to win the league. But they would have to do it away to Arsenal on the last day. Ipswich on the other hand were facing Middlesbrough.

There was a real buzz about the match at Highbury in the week leading up to kick off. Villa fans were desperate to get down to North London from Birmingham and come game day, the stadium was packed.

I’ve never been in a crowd like it. Huge swathes of people, you know, you’d end up sort of ten rows forward, people were passing out it was that full.

About 15 minutes prior to kickoff, Arsenal and Villa fans were suddenly rushing the pitch as fights broke out. The stakes were high for the Gunners too as they needed a win to qualify for Europe. Fortunately, police managed to get it under control just before the players came out. With the match got underway, Villa proceed to be 2-0 down inside 20 minutes while Ipswich were leading 1-0 to Middlesborough at half time.

So we’re losing the league, everyone’s like ‘we’ve lost it, we’ve lost it on the last day.’ Villa hadn’t won the league since 1910, so this is 71 years.

Within the space of 10 minutes in the second half, Bosko Yankovic scored twice for Middlesbrough. With Villa fans listening on transistor radios, the news began filtering through at Highbury. Cue celebrations.

And the whole Clock End erupts and all of a sudden Villa fans start appearing in the seats and you know, you suddenly realised how many Villa fans were there. And then obviously a few minutes later a second went in and it’s just this crazy image of fans celebrating when their team's 2-0 down.

Full time, Aston Villa had won the league and Arsenal had qualified for Europe. Both sets of fans were storming the pitch once again but this time there were no fights, only mutual elation. For young Andy Jackson, it was the experience of a lifetime.

I’ve never forgotten that day, I’ve never forgotten the sights, the smells, the feeling. And it’s that ridiculous combination of fear, joy and absolute depression and I went through all of those that day. But then you come away and it’s just like, man, what a day that was.