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.
> EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
James: I'm James Parkinson and this is By Association, a show about football and the connection we all share with the beautiful game.
For many of us, our love of the game begins from a young age and it's these early experiences that often define our relationship to football. This was certainly the case for Andy….
Andy: Hi, I’m Andy Jackson. I’m the Global Brand Director of FourFourTwo, living in Singapore and I’m an Aston Villa fan.
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.
My Dad was always a Villa fan, although he wasn’t the biggest attendee in terms of live. I sort of drove that when I got a little bit older and sort of wanted to go to games, but he was definitely a Villa fan. Where I actually grew up in Birmingham was predominantly a Birmingham City area.
Birmingham tends to be broken down by geographical boundaries as to what are Blues and Villa areas. And I actually grew up, me and my best mate were the two Villa fans in a predominantly Birmingham City area, so maybe that was part of the appeal as well, just being a little bit different.
Andy: I went to my first Villa game when I was about five or six. My Dad took me and he managed to get some invite through his business dealings to the sort of Director's Box so I went with him to that and I remember, I don’t remember much about it but I sort of remember that the team we were playing was the Sunderland team that had won the FA Cup, with Bob Stokoe as the coach and I got a signed soft toy from the Villa team and I had it for thirty years and it didn’t make the trip to Singapore, unfortunately, my wife made me get rid of it. But I had it for that long so that’s probably my first memory.
The first game I really remember watching, and I wasn’t there, was the 1977 League Cup, so I would have been eight. So it was Villa versus Everton and it was a replay at Old Trafford. And Chris Nicholl who was a centre half for Villa, literally scored from about 40 yards, it was unbelievable.
James: These were very different times for supporters, particularly in regards to matchday. Much of the information fans would receive about their team was limited to the official matchday programme. But it was a lot easier for young fans to connect directly with their club and the players themselves.
Andy: It wasn’t price prohibitive. I think my first season ticket at Villa was eighteen pounds, I think for the whole season.
The divide between fans and players was so much smaller then than that it is now. You know, players weren’t earning that much more than the people standing on the terraces. You know, you could go to any Villa training session, as a kid my Mum and Dad used to take me when it was school holidays. We’d go up and 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.
And nowadays you just wouldn’t be able to get that close to them. So most training sessions were open because no one could record anything, you know no one could be there with a camera. Everything was just a lot more open in those days and as a result I think you ended up with a much closer bond to the club and the players than I think an eleven or twelve year old would get nowadays.
James: The emerging problems with hooliganism was also evident during the period as young Andy’s fascination with the game grew.
Andy: Obviously the environment in those days was, it wasn’t cool to be a football fan and certainly, you know there was very much this sort of shadow of hooliganism over the game that obviously reared its head throughout that decade of the 80’s, but it was fully there in full flight in the late 70’s as well.
So I think, you know like as a kid it’s that intoxicating mix of the game that you love but also seeing your local team play. And if I’m being honest, there was that fear factor that sort of played into the appeal a little bit. You know, that feeling that you were doing something that was a little bit edgy, you know?
James: Andy began attending regular games with his father for the 1980/81 season.
Andy: No one really gave us a chance at the start of that and obviously we started quite well and then I was obviously pestering my Dad to go more and more which we did. So at that point I was ten, eleven.
And pretty soon it ended up being between Villa and Ipswich for the title. But at the start of the season there was still sort of Man United, Liverpool were kicking around there…. The first thing I really remember when, me and my Dad, we talked about it and we thought something special might be happening was, we beat Liverpool. I couldn’t go to the game because we were at my Aunties wedding up in Yorkshire. And we kept, my Dad had a radio with an earpiece in and we were in the church and he kept feeding me the scores.
And we ended up listening to the commentary, the last half hour, in between the wedding and the reception. And we were sat in the car listening to it and Villa scored a breakaway goal. Dennis Mortimer, who was actually a Liverpudlian, scored in front of The Holte End and we won 2-0.
And that was when people really started talking about us as potential title winners.
James: But with five games to go, Aston Villa had to face fellow contenders, Ipswich on April 14th at Villa Park. Ipswich won the game 2-1.
Andy: And everyone thought, I mean I was included, thought that was it. And I’ve never seen Villa Park as packed. And Ron Saunders is interviewed after the game and the commentators are “surely that’s it, Ron?”, you know, “are you gonna concede the title to Ipswich?”.
*Reporter: So it's all to play for still?
Ron Saunders: Are you gonna bet against us?*
Andy: And that sort of gave us all the hope that maybe it wasn’t over?
James: 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.
Andy: It was just a huge build up to this game. We were playing Arsenal at Highbury. And obviously all the games used to kick off simultaneously then, there was no live TV. Ipswich were playing Middlesbrough and basically it was whoever won, won the league.
That’s right, I think we were a point ahead, so we needed a draw or better to win the league, because it was only two points for a win then.
So anyway. Build up to the game throughout the week in Birmingham is, appeals going out on local TV, there’s fans with tickets who can’t go to the game, you know, “has anyone got space in their car?”. Villa fans wanna get down because basically, the trains were really expensive and there was only the M1 then, there was only one way in and out of London from Birmingham. So as a result, we never knew how many Villa fans were actually in the stadium and I’ll come onto why.
I remember me and my Dad parked just on the outskirts of London and got the Tube into Arsenal. And in those days, this’ll make you laugh, obviously it was all terracing. So my Dad had made me a custom stool to stand on, so I could be six foot. And I used to carry it, I used to carry it with me and it was wooden. You used to be let in with it, absolutely bizarre.
So anyway, we get to Arsenal tube station and I’m carrying my wooden stool. And I just remember it being like really sinister atmosphere, you know, walking to the stadium. Arsenal fans were not particularly friendly. You come out of the old Highbury station and you literally walk along a cage to come out so the fans can’t get to you. You know, as an eleven year old this is pretty scary. So my Dad’s just like “keep your stool in front of you”. So we walk up, we get into the old Clock End and I’ve never been in a crowd like it.
Andy: People talk about Hillsborough and you know, Hillsborough really affected me when it happened. Simply because anyone that had been to an English football match, a big English football match in that era knew exactly what that feeling felt like of not being in control, no longer being in control of where you can go within a crowd. And Highbury was like that, that day.
Huge swathes of people, you know, you’d end up sort of ten rows forward, people were passing out, it was that full. People were being passed over the top, there were no fences in those days because the fences hadn’t gone up at the point. So I just remember being so crushed, my Dad was just trying to create some space around me. And then all of a sudden all hell broke loose and Villa fans jumped over the front, there was a massive punch up on the pitch with the Arsenal fans. It was crazy, it was like something out of Braveheart, you know they just ran at each other. This was about 15 minutes before kickoff.
And the context for Arsenal was, they need to win, to get into Europe, we needed a win to win the league. They just about managed to get it under control before the players came out and then Villa proceed to be 2-0 down after 16, 17 minutes I think. So, we never knew how many Villa fans were in the stadium. We knew all week that there’d been this call for tickets and getting down and everything like that, but obviously, because we never scored, you didn’t know how many Villa fans were there.
So you know, no mobile phones in those days, no social media. So everyone’s on transistor radios, listening. Half time Ipswich are 1-0 up. 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.
And then within the space of 10 minutes, I think it was, there’s a guy - I’ll never forget his name - Bosko Yankovic scored twice for Middlesbrough.
And there’s this incredible footage - Jimmy Rimmer, who’s the Villa goalkeeper, the ball got passed back to him and we were kicking away from our end so he’s in front of all the Villa fans. And a completely sort of non-descript moment in play, he starts picking the ball up just as news is coming through that this guy has just equalised for Middlesbrough. And the whole Clock End erupts and all of a sudden Villa fans start appearing in the seats, so in the North Bank 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.
And then of course the end of the game, Villa have won the league, Arsenal have qualified for Europe. So all of a sudden, everyone’s back on the pitch again but everyone’s hugging each other. You know, it’s like people who had been belting two shades out of each other before kickoff we're now on the pitch swapping scarves and congratulating each other. And that was sort of what it was like in those days. But I guess, if I was to sum up, like, 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.
We were coming home and we sort of stopped at Hemel Hempstead because the traffic was so bad. There were so many Villa fans getting back, but it had also been the rugby league playoff at Wembley, you know. So, the only road, the only motorway out of London to the North was just so packed.
So my Dad stopped and we got off at Hemel Hempstead and he’s just like, “let’s just let the traffic die down”. So we found the first pub, you know, it’s May. And he says “sit here”, we’re in the beer garden. He says “I’ll be back in a minute”. So he goes in and comes out - and he came out with two pints. And he put one in front of me and he’s like “there you go, you’ve earned that today”. So that was my first alcoholic drink at aged 11.
And he said, there you go, it doesn’t get any better than this. And then obviously 12 months later when we’d just won the European Cup I got my second pint and he said “there you go, 12 months ago I obviously lied”.
You know, I consider myself lucky. There’s plenty of thirty year old Villa fans that have never seen us win anything more than the League Cup. So I feel very lucky to support a team like Villa and I’ve seen us win everything. I mean the only thing I’ve never seen us win is the FA Cup which is the only thing left.
James: Do you think you fully appreciated the significance of winning trophies at the time?
Andy: No, of course not. Of course not, I was eleven! I thought this was what it was always like, you know?
James: Many thanks to Andy Jackson for sharing his story. By Association is produced by me, James Parkinson. I’m @JamesRParkinson on Twitter. You can also follow the show @3nilpodcast.
Music featured in this episode comes from Chris Zabriskie, Doctor Turtle and Mountain Range under Creative Commons.
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