Escapades on the Continent – Villa in Europe – Harsh lessons learned as fans labeled ambassadors

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This article is the first in a new series, ‘Escapades on the Continent – Villa in Europe’ on the avillafan.com website. Each article in this new collection will take an in-depth look at each specific season Aston Villa spent in UEFA competitions. Published in chronological order, we start with Villa’s inaugural embarkation in the UEFA Cup.

UEFA Cup (Now Europa League)

First Round, First Leg

17th September 1975, Bosuil Stadium, 15,817

Royal Antwerp 4-1 Aston Villa

On a cold Wednesday evening in Belgium, Aston Villa took to continental football for the first time in their history.

Just six months on from securing the club’s second league cup victory, a Villa side brimming with confidence embarked on a European journey, alongside over a thousand of their supporters also making the journey.

The journey, in fact, was unpleasant, to say the least. The most affordable option to make the trip was a rail and ferry ticket costing £22.50. However, this entailed many long hours waiting onboard the modes of transport. Added to this, the train leaving Birmingham’s New Street station, on the day of the game, departed at 5:30 that morning!

In another example of the sheer devotion shown by those that travelled, upon arrival in Antwerp, the claret and blue faithful faced a half-hour walk to the stadium (which was already proving unwelcoming to the visitors…)

“The train discharged its passengers and left us to complete the journey on foot”, said Phil Coldicott, a villa fan who made the journey that night.

“We wandered in a long processional line for some time” he added.

The Villa players were also facing the perils of an away European tie too. Club record appearance holder, Charlie Aitken, recalls, “We had to walk about 300 yards just to get from our coach to the stadium”

“When we got into the dressing room it was freezing cold. Ron Saunders tried to light a gas heater on the wall and BOOM!”

Just as Saunders was blown away by the explosion in the dressing room, the Villa players found themselves in trouble on the half-hour mark, as they went a goal down. Jos Heylingen curled a freekick past poorly positioned goalkeeper Cumbes before Karl Kodat doubled the home sides lead six minutes later; then adding a third three minutes after that.

Things got worse. As the halftime whistle sounded, Villa found themselves 4-0 down, after a capitulation, 15 minutes before the interval which saw the Austrian striker Kodat, net a first-half hattrick.

In the end, the goal scored by Ray Graydon in the 77minute made a little indent on the scoreboard, although, it marked the first of 125 goals that Villa players (up to now), have scored in European ties.

Despite late efforts from Sam Morgan and Frank Carrodus, villa were to head back to the Midlands with a three-goal deficit to overcome in the second leg, a few weeks later.

First Round, Second Leg

1st October 1975, Villa Park, 31,514

Aston Villa 0-1 Royal Antwerp

In his programme notes in the week after the first leg, and before the first second city derby for a decade, Saunders wrote that he was “still confident that we are in with a chance of pulling back the three-goal deficit”.

Saunders praised Villa fans during their defeat to Royal Antwerp

Even buoyed by the confidence of a derby day victory, four days on from a 2-1 win against blues, Kodat once more restored the Belgians four-goal advantage, effectively ending the game as a contest.

The “best supporters in the world”

At the time, the reputation of British fans was the lowest it had ever been. Despite this, the Villans representing the club overseas behaved impeccably, performing far better than those representing the club on the pitch!

Ron Saunders thanked Villa supporters stating “Not only did you do Aston Villa proud, you were shining examples to Europe that Villa supporters are the best in the world”

Added to this was the first of two letters recognising the fans, firstly, from the British Consul General in Antwerp. He wrote congratulating Villa and “their supporters for their exemplary behaviour both during and after matches”, who were “Truly fine ambassadors for Britain in Belgium”

Secondly, in a letter written to the Daily Mirror by R Skelton of Dover, the 700 Villa fans that occupied his ferry were described as “impeccable” and once again, “a credit to football and to Britain”

Ultimately, Villa’s debut voyage across the channel to compete with Europe’s elite ended dismally, however, as it read in the programme the next week, “the club is now better prepared and more experienced to cater for future European engagements”.

How right they were.

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