Aston Villa may no longer be in the Premier League but that exile is surely only temporary. Founder members of the Football League, winners of seven First Division titles and seven FA Cups, and owners of the ninth largest ground in England, Aston Villa Football Club has a claim to be one of English football’s biggest clubs.
That claim also rests on an even more significant achievement. In 1982, the Villans became only the fourth English club to win the European Cup and to this day they belong to a select band of five English clubs to have achieved mastery of Europe.
The story of Aston Villa’s European triumph is a remarkable one. Having ended a wait of 72 years to be champions of England by winning the First Division in 1981, manager Ron Saunders’ famous side, with Gordon Cowans running the midfield and Tony Morley, Gary Shaw and Peter Withe forming a deadly attacking trio, made a slow start to their title defence in the 1981-82 season. Their campaign was then rocked by the resignation of Saunders before their European Cup quarter-final.
Chief scout Tony Barton took over and steadied the Villa ship in the First Division before leading them to victories over Dynamo Kiev and Anderlecht en route to the European Cup final, where Aston Villa took on the mighty Bayern Munich. There was early drama in the game when goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer had to go off after ten minutes but his replacement, Nigel Spink, who went on to become a club legend, played superbly to deny the Germans, and Peter Withe scored the only goal of the game.
Reaching the summit of European football was a tremendous achievement and Villa added the European Super Cup the following year when they beat Barcelona 3-1. However, in exiting the 1982-83 European Cup at the quarter-final stage, they also discovered, as this blog from 888sport makes clear, how difficult it is to defend a European title.
Aside from the Intertoto Cup in 2001, European glory has eluded the club since those heady days in the early 1980s and, having dropped to the second tier of English football in 2016, the Villa boys are a long way from European competition.
However, many bookmakers rated Aston Villa among the favourites to earn promotion from the Championship, which is a testament to the fact that the club remains one of the country’s biggest. A return to the top tier of European football is a way off yet but with new owners in the Chinese Recon Group and an experienced manager in Steve Bruce, the chances of returning to the big time look good for the club.
The experience of fellow Midlands club Leicester City, winning the Premier League and qualifying for the Champions League just two seasons after winning promotion from the Championship, should also bring encouragement to Aston Villa fans who want to see their famous old club competing at the top level of European football once again.