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Escapades on the continent – Villa in Europe: Semi Final 1981/82 Season

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Several of those in Villa’s European conquering squad have since recalled how they felt better after winning the semi-final than the main event in Rotterdam, the month after. Allan Evans says, “I was more excited that night than I was when we won the final”.

In the picture above, the Villa players celebrate reaching the last two of Europe’s elite.

Semi-Final First Leg

Aston Villa 1-0 Anderlecht

7th April 1982

Villa Park – 38,539

With a maximum of just three games to play before the possibility of lifting the European Cup could become a reality, Villa faced Anderlecht in the last four of the competition.

The last time Villa had faced opponents from Belgium, they lost 5-1 on aggregate to Antwerp. A defeat which saw them crash out in the first round of their inaugural European season.

Not only was the opponent different, but the challengers were also too. Aston Villa had been transformed into a fighting force in Europe, initially by Ron Saunders – through the acquisitions of Gordan Cowans, Jimmy Rimmer and Peter Withe to name a few, before Tony Barton had guided the team into the latter stages of the competition.

Anderlecht however, were still favoured. Their 17 Belgian titles were coupled with vast experience in the European game. Barton knew this was to be the toughest test yet, in his budding managerial career.

In a match that scarcely produced anything worthy of note, Tony Morley scored the winner before the half-hour mark, allowing Villa to comfortably defend their lead for the remaining 62’ minutes.

For all his efforts in securing the goal for Villa on the day, Morley will forever remember the chance he missed early on in proceedings.

“I had a good chance in the first ten minutes, a one-on-one with the keeper. I miscued my shot and it hit the corner flag” Morley recalls.

“As I walked back up the touchline, a supporter had a real go at me. When I scored I ran over and gave the guy a bit of verbal”, he went on to say.

The following morning, Anderlecht and (in particular) their manger were scathed mercilessly by media both sides of the channel.

The Birmingham Evening Mail dubbed the visiting Yugoslav coach – Tomislav Ivic – a “negative thinker” and someone who “found footballers of undoubted skill and turned them into a collective farm where everyone does as he is told, and free expression is allowed only if it is ordered”. Later in the article, cementing his remarks, the journalist labelled Ivic’s ‘unpopular’ style of play, “Football Communism”.

Semi-Final Second Leg

Anderlecht 0-0 Aston Villa

21st April 1982

Emile Verse Stadium – 21,253

If the first leg was quick to escape the mind, the reverse meeting between these two sides was anything but. Unfortunately, whilst the football played on the pitch was as dire as it had been in Birmingham, fan violence drew the attention of the majority for almost the entire match.

Upon arrival at the stadium, the Villa team found themselves in a precarious position. Gary Williams spoke on the “hostile atmosphere”. “Their supporters were chucking beer cans and other objects at the bus as we arrived.”

Elsewhere on the coach, Ken McNaught recalled how he saw riot police with shields attempting to guard the visitors. Kenny Swain also stated how during the match, he became aware of policemen occupying the side-line, coupled with growling dogs.

In the first half, a spectator invaded the playing surface before lying down in the penalty area. Upon later questioning, he stated that he had simply been escaping the violence that was constantly ensuing upon the terraces behind the goal at his end.

Regarding the match, Gary Shaw saw a shot that was headed for the top corner diverted wide, before Cowans set off celebrating after he’d fired home a villa opener, only to look across and see every player’s worst nightmare.

“When I realised the flag was up, I went mad at the linesman”

The six-minute delay that had occurred earlier in the match, however, through the pitch invader, became the talking point of Europe for the next eight days.

Antwerp officials claimed that the hold-up by the Villa supporter meant that the game should be re-staged, or even Villa stripped of their 1-0 aggregate lead! The length at which the competition directors took to deliberate on the Anderlecht appeal forced Villa into a painful waiting game.

Hopes of a European final lay on the line as a Villa established a report, aided by the UK sports minister, the former minister for sport, FA chairman and club secretary, who formally criticised Anderlecht’s handling of the match; claiming that the Belgians had ignored UEFA guidelines for crowd control.

In the days that followed, Steve Stride, a director of the club at the time, was joined by MP for Small Heath (a lifelong Villa supporter), as they flew to the UEFA headquarters in Zurich to present the club’s case.

Villa received a fine of 50,000 Swiss francs (just over £40,000 today) and received orders stating their next European home game was to be played behind closed doors. Not that anyone cared about that now!

Villa progressed, and the biggest night in the club’s history beckoned.

Rotterdam was the destination, and Bayern Munich awaited…

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