Welcome to the third part in our Maverick Series which focuses on some of the flair players that have pulled on an Aston Villa shirt over the years. This time, we focus on the wing wizard that is Tony Daley.
It’s 25 years since he last pulled on an Aston Villa shirt, but being immortalised in those famous lyrics ‘Tony Daley down the wing like a torpedo’ means that the iconic winger’s legacy is still as strong as ever.
Daley is a player that fans under thirty years of age won’t have much if any, recollection of seeing. But this writer was just the right age for Daley’s trickery to make a huge impression upon and he was a firm favourite of mine as a fledgeling Villan.
Daley was a local lad, coming through the youth team set up and spending ten seasons as a professional at Villa Park. During that time, he would blossom from a raw 17-year old into a full England international.
The winger’s biggest asset was his pace; he was lightning quick. And in an era where the game wasn’t predominantly focused on speed like it is now, he stood out massively and terrified opposition defences because of it.
One of the things that really stuck out to me when looking back on Daley’s career was how direct his running was. Whereas the modern trend is for wingers to cut inside more, Daley would often burn past the outside of a defender and round him. A brilliant example of this is his virtuoso goal scored in 1990 in a game at Villa Park against Luton Town. Daley ghosts past his opposing right back and into the box and slides the ball past the keeper. It was seeing this goal as a 7-year-old boy which immediately made Tony Daley my Villa favourite player.
A combination of blistering pace and confidence to attempt the impossible made Daley one of the most exciting players in England during the late 80s and into the early 90s.
Spectacular goals were a particular forte. One of the very best took place at a snowy Villa Park against Manchester City in December 1991. A huge punt upfield by keeper Les Sealey was flicked on by Cyrille Regis and Daley struck the falling ball on the volley 25 yards out and into the back of the net. After seeing this, I can’t imagine how many hours I spent throwing a ball against the wall in the garden to simulate Regis’s flick-on and attempting to connect with a volley to recreate this goal.
Daley’s international career prospects were given a boost by Graham Taylor departing as Villa manager in 1990 and directly into the England hot-seat. Sure enough, Daley’s continued good form earned him a call up in 1991. He would go on to earn a respectable seven England caps, including being part of the ultimately doomed Euro 92 campaign. Daley would play the full 90 minutes in the now-famous must-win game against the hosts Sweden. Taylor famously substituted Gary Lineker in his last ever game for England with half hour to go despite the marksman being one goal shy of Bobby Charlton’s then-record tally.
But injuries were plaguing Daley’s career. The winger had only racked up more than thirty appearances during a season once by the time his time at Villa came to an end in 1994. That was an era where 40 plus game league seasons were fairly commonplace.
Daley would end off in style though, being an integral part of Ron Atkinson’s League Cup-winning side. He played in both the epic 2nd leg battle at Villa Park against Tranmere and the final against Manchester United.
Daley saw a dream moment of scoring at Wembley being denied by the post. Although the rebound would fall to Dalian Atkinson whose shot was handled on the line by Andrei Kanchelskis. Dean Saunders converted the penalty and Daley would lift silverware in one of his final matches wearing claret and blue.
At the age of just 27, when most players are entering their prime years, Daley was battling more and more injuries. Graham Taylor, now the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers, paid Villa a decent sum of £1.25 million to take Daley over to the Black Country. Unfortunately, it turned out to be exactly the right time to let the long-time Villan leave the club. Daley would sadly go onto to make just 21 appearances over the next four years for Wolves.
Daley would continue to follow Taylor again to Watford before taking in a short stint at Walsall. He finally found some consistency and form with Forest Green Rovers who at the time were still a non-league outfit and managed by ex-teammate and Villa legend Nigel Spink.
Despite his injury battles, Daley’s success at Villa is undoubted. Clocking up 290 appearances in total for his boyhood club is impressive enough. But as well as his League Cup Winner’s medal, he can also look back fondly on being an important part of two runners up campaigns in 1989/90 and 1992/93. Whilst that might not seem much to shout about, it’s an achievement that no other player for Villa can boast since and makes him one of our most successful players in the modern era. His ability was such that it isn’t an understatement to suggest that a consistently fit Daley may well have made the difference in at least one of those title-chasing campaigns.
Of course, we can’t wrap things up without mentioning the trademark flamboyant haircuts which made him instantly recognisable and were ever-changing. If you’re not familiar with them, a quick google will reveal all! And for me, Daley becomes even more iconic simply due to scoring such incredible goals in some of our best ever kits. The late 80s Hummel efforts were beautiful, as was our first Umbro kit. Especially the amazing white away shirt with the black and blue blocks on the sleeves.
There is a superb video on YouTube which puts together some of Daley’s most magical moments and it is well worth the 7 minutes watch. I haven’t even mentioned the infamous ‘Daley’s Dazzler’ goal, a flying volley against Everton at Villa Park. For those who have never really seen much of him, it will seriously impress you. For those who remember him fondly, it will bring back some great memories.
After football, Daley has become a highly respected fitness coach. And after a long association back at Wolves in that role, Daley is now balancing working with his own client base as well as very much being back involved with Villa as their online matchday co-commentator.
For anyone in any doubt about his allegiances, also check out his reaction at our playoff final victory. The hysterical screaming when both Villa goals were scored is something I’m sure we can all relate to on that particular day!
Daley is underrated as a true Villa legend. His contribution to the club’s relative success. His ability to get the crowd on their feet. His journey into international football. All achieved in his beloved claret and blue.