Two days before the biggest match of their lives, Aston Villa flew to the Netherlands. Preparations were reaching their final stages, before the European Cup final.
The 27th European Cup tournament fused clubs from across the continent, representatives included teams from Iceland and Northern Ireland, to Romania and Albania. The final was to be played at the De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam – home of Feyenoord – and 32 teams competed to reach its now hallowed turf.
After months of gruelling mid-winter league matches in their respective countries, Aston Villa and Bayern Munich were the surviving two that remained in Europe’s elite competition.
The Germans had an exemplary record when it came to finals. Having won twelve of their last twelve, and winners of this competition three times in the last decade.
Villa knew they were outright underdogs from the beginning.
Added to their imposing finals record was the world-class team that Bayern had at their disposal. Paul Breitner, German captain at the time and a man who has since been named in the FIFA World Cup all-time team – as well as European player of the year Karl-Heinz Rummenigge were two of the men lining up against Villa that night.
Despite this, the Villa players were the most relaxed around. From his co-commentary position, an astonished Brian Clough observed, “I can’t believe this team have come to a European Cup Final, we’ve had players on the pitch taking photographs of each other!”. Whilst it may have seemed unthinkable to Clough, who had lifted the trophy as Nottingham Forest manager in 1979, and 1980, the laid-back approach was exactly what Villa boss Tony Barton was looking for.
Even Barton may have been on edge, however, upon hearing that Tony Morley wasn’t even in the ground half an hour before kick-off!
“Some lads I knew wanted tickets, so I met them outside the stadium. The Germans were warming up and I wasn’t even in the ground!”
Morley went on to describe how he never liked being ready for a game for a long time – in fact, he would only get changed twenty minutes before kick-off!
The European Cup Final
In the opening minutes of the game, Villa began brightly. Allan Evans headed a shot inches over the bar before Peter Withe met a Cowans free kick in the air, and headed the ball over again.
The early promise at the top end of the pitch was met with a stark contrast in the defensive half, however.
Jimmy Rimmer had been struggling with a neck injury since Villa’s last league match of the campaign. Having woken up on the day of the game unable to move his neck, the Villa shot-stopper was given several painkilling injections before kickoff.
For all the medical team’s efforts though, Rimmer had a problem. “I knew after two or three minutes that I wasn’t going to be able to play the whole game. Rummenigge hit a shot from long range and although it went wide I realized that if he’d been on target, I wouldn’t have got there.”
The “mental agony” that Rimmer endured for the following few minutes culminated in signalling to Gary Williams to let the bench know he needed to be withdrawn.
“I realized it was useless trying to continue so I shouted to Gary to let the manager know. I’d played in every other game and this should have been the crowning moment of my career, but it was all over after nine minutes.”
Spink enters Villa Folklore
The departure of Rimmer meant that 23-year-old, Nigel Spink, was to come on as his replacement. Despite only playing for the reserves that season, Spink began etching himself into Villa folklore as Bayern mounted more attacks on the Villa goal with every passing minute.
As the German giants failed to capitalize on yet another assault on the Villa goal, Spink collected the ball and threw it to Williams on the left. Passed inside to Cowans, Villa players began moving further upfield as the ball was moved to the feet of Peter Withe. After retaining the ball under pressure, the ball moved on to Mortimer, who found a perfect one-touch pass into the feet of Gary Shaw. As he took the ball under pressure, he drifted wide to the left, before cutting sharply inside and sending his marker (Dremmler) sliding into the stands. Now free of his man, Shaw accurately passed the ball through the channel to the left of the penalty box – where Morley had made a run forward.
That moment, that goal
In a moment that will forever be immortalized by those in claret and blue, Morley turned the defender inside out and crossed low into the six-yard box for Withe to covert at the far post.
Who better to describe that moment, than the man himself – Peter Withe.
“Tony Morley turned a defender one way and then the other. Klaus Augenthaler was marking me, but he sensed the danger and moved across to the goalmouth, but it seemed to happen in slow motion. I said to myself, ‘Concentrate!’ The ball hit a divot as it reached me and it half hit my shin and half hit my ankle before flying against the post and in”
“I was too close to the goal to run to our supporters, so I ran into the net to celebrate”
Jubilation erupted from the stand behind the goal as Withe celebrated. Villa were now ahead with just over twenty minutes to play.
Now with an even greater incentive to score, Bayern launched more men forward with every move. Having matched all of the German’s attacks up to this point, the Villa defence looked beaten at last, as Hoeness hit the back of the net with a low drive. Thankfully, the linesman had his flag raised as the apparent goal scorer was offside in the build-up.
Four agonizing minutes later, the final whistle blew. Aston Villa had beaten the odds and conquered Europe.
Dennis Mortimer remembers, “All I could think about in the last few minutes was getting my hands on that trophy. When the whistle went, it was joy, joy, joy. I couldn’t wait to get up those stairs to collect the cup.”
“Once I was holding the cup, I didn’t want t let it go. I kept it in my hands for as long as possible to make sure there were lots of photographs of me with it.”
“Every time I watch the final on TV even now, I always find it a very special moment when the trophy is presented. I think, yes, I’ve been there, done that. It still gives me a magical feeling.”
The class of ’82
The class of ’82 will forever be remembered as Villa’s greatest team, for lifting the European Cup – the greatest achievement any club in world football can ever accomplish. The memories they gave to so many Villa fans that night continue to shape the club today.
Dean Smith was chosen by Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens to lead the club back to where they once were. A man who was on the terraces, supporting his beloved Villa that night, tasked with perhaps not doubling the clubs European Cup tally (just yet), but certainly in restoring Aston Villa to the realms of footballs biggest stage. The ultimate aim for Villa is to win the historic competition again.
Nevertheless, whilst the future is forever changing, the past can never be forgotten, or re-written.
Aston Villa, Champions of Europe, 1982.