Win our Classic Final Goals prints bundle now!
Enter here

Villa's shot at glory

England’s European dominance looked set to end when holders Liverpool were knocked out at the quarter-final stage in 1982 – but an Aston Villa side that had won the English title the previous year had other ideas. Forty years on, key players Tony Morley, Ken McNaught and Peter Withe recall a journey into the unknown for the biggest prize of all

WORDS Simon Hart

History
They don’t do post-match interviews like they used to. Forty years ago, the captain of the European Cup winners stood in the dressing room in Rotterdam’s De Kuip, clad only in a towel, for an interview broadcast back to his home country. His name was Dennis Mortimer and he was captain of Aston Villa. Gary Newbon, the interviewer, told him: “I don’t think many people in their heart of hearts really thought you could beat Bayern Munich.”

Mortimer’s response captured the mood surrounding a Villa team participating in the competition for the first time. “That’s been the pattern really since we started playing the hard teams like Dynamo Berlin, Dynamo Kyiv and Anderlecht in the semi-finals. We weren’t favourites for any of them – but we won.”

Peter Withe’s winner seemed to encapsulate a season where nothing was straightforward, but Villa always found a way of getting over the line. “The goalmouth hadn’t got much grass in it,” he told Newbon. “The ball bobbled, bounced up at me, and in the end it has come off my shin and foot, hit the post and bounced in.”

Villa owed their underdog tag to where they had come from. The previous year they had won the English league title for the first time since 1910. Ron Saunders, the manager who guided them out of the Second Division in 1975 and to their 1981 championship triumph, quit halfway down the road to Rotterdam. 

His successor, Tony Barton, had never managed before. But thanks to Withe’s goal against Bayern on 26 May 1982, he became only the third Englishman to steer a team to the trophy, after Liverpool’s Bob Paisley and Nottingham Forest’s Brian Clough. Only Joe Fagan, with Liverpool in 1984, has since joined that list.

Within five years of beating Bayern, Villa were back in the Second Division. It’s a story of rise and fall that we relive here with three key figures from that team.

In May 1981, Villa managed to win their first league championship for 71 years, the culmination of a six-year period in which Saunders won the Birmingham club promotion and two League Cups.

Tony Morley, Villa and England winger: “The year we won the league we only used 14 players and we had a great bond – we all believed in ourselves. We had a manager, Ron Saunders, who drilled into us that it’s all about the team – individuals get the praise if the team are doing well. If the spine of the team is strong you can build around it and we were very powerful: [goalkeeper] Jimmy Rimmer, Big Ken [McNaught], Dennis Mortimer, Peter Withe. What a lot of people don’t remember is that when we won the European Cup we only conceded two goals. That was a phenomenal record.”

Ken McNaught, Villa and Scotland centre-back: “Saunders used to work us so much on shape, on keeping our shape no matter what happened. It was engrained and everybody knew their job. We knew collectively that we could give anybody a game.”

Saunders’ reputation as an authoritarian figure was underlined the morning after Tony Morley returned from a league match at Nottingham Forest in 1981 to discover his house was on fire.

Morley: “I slept in my car on the driveway. In the morning I got into the house and there was nothing I could save. I went into training with the clothes I had on from the Forest game. I was full of soot. He came over and I said, ‘I had a fire in my house, I’ve lost everything.’ And his words stick with me to this day: ‘We don’t pay you for that son. Get to a hostel tonight and, if you need, get to a jumble sale, get yourself some clothes and be on that bus at 11am [for a trip to Stoke City].’ He wasn’t being horrible, it was just his way.”

McNaught: “When I first arrived he was like a sergeant major. But I was with him four years and the more we got better, the more he relaxed and let us play.”

The following autumn, Villa embarked on their first European Cup campaign. This was an era with no video briefings about the opposition, enhancing the sense of a step into the unknown. They began in Iceland, the land of fire and ice, against Valur Reykjavík. Morley’s sixth-minute free-kick settled nerves – the first goal in a 7-0 aggregate victory.

Morley: “We had a bit of pressure on us, as the European Cup had been in England for the previous five years and we didn’t want to be the team to lose it. We’d never played at that level so we didn’t know what to expect – maybe we were a bit more on our toes.”

McNaught: “I don’t think we ever talked about the opposition at a team meeting. We didn’t know anything. The only tactics we went through were what we were going to do when we got the ball and how to get the ball. Basically, it was make it up as the game progressed. If there was a problem I’d try to do something about it. I’d move certain players into certain positions, because a lot of the time you can’t wait till half-time for the manager to do it. In the final, for example, I felt the main tactic was to launch diagonal balls from [Wolfgang] Dremmler into [Dieter] Hoeness, who was quite tall. I felt he was getting the better of Allan Evans in the aerial duels, so I said to Allan, ‘Look, we’ll go man for man. You take [Karl-Heinz] Rummenigge and I will compete with Hoeness. That was the one and only game that Allan Evans and myself went man for man – we’d never done it before, not even in training. I thought it would benefit us.”

Morley scored two great goals in the 2-1 second-round win at Dynamo Berlin – the first a flying volley after five minutes. The second came five minutes from time, moments after Dynamo’s Artur Ullrich had struck the post with a penalty and Rimmer with his rebound. Morley launched a solo run from inside his own half that earned him the competition’s goal of the season award.

Morley: “The first goal was technically better. The goalkeeper was 6’7” and I knew I had to keep it low. I connected well. For the second one I had time to think – ‘He’s a big lad, I’m not going to chip him’ – so I decided I’d hit it close to his legs, because big goalies struggle to get down. And it went in. But I always think it was Jimmy Rimmer’s save that won us the European Cup. If they had scored that penalty it would have been 2-1 to them. Dynamo Berlin were the best side we faced, technically. You talk about full-backs now playing in midfield; they were doing it 40 years ago. They beat us 1-0 at Villa Park. Every time I see Jimmy now I say thanks for two things: winning us the European Cup and getting me the European goal of the season. It’s that little bit of luck that gets you through.”

Peter Withe, Villa and England striker: “Morley’s job was to supply crosses and to get balls into the box – and my job was to get on the end of them. He scored some vital goals too.” 

“The next day we went to Villa Park to get the open-top bus. There were people hanging from scaffolds, they were on the roofs”
Captains Ludo Coeck and Dennis Mortimer shake hands before the second leg against Anderlecht

In February 1982, a month before their quarter-final against Dynamo Kyiv, Saunders resigned as manager after a boardroom row. Assistant manager Barton, who had scouted most of the players, was named his successor.

Withe: “Tony left it as it was and that is a big thing. If he’d tried to change things it might not have happened, but he just carried on with what Ron had been doing. He’d been involved with the club for many years and was an instigator in me joining.”

McNaught: “There were that many good pros at Villa Park at the time, and it was left to the good pros to sort things out on the pitch. There were two or three of us who had licence to change things if we thought it was needed.”

Morley: “Tony is one of only four English managers to have won the European Cup and nobody knows who the hell he is. It’s a shame. Actually Bob Paisley sent him a telegram saying, ‘Welcome to the club.’”

Owing to the cold in Kyiv, Simferopol in the more temperate Crimea was a late choice of venue for the quarter-final first leg against Dynamo Kyiv. The spartan conditions made an impression, as did the power of the Soviet champions, whose star man Oleh Blokhin struck a post in the goalless draw. 

Morley: “We were at one place and went in for our meal at night. It was chicken soup – literally chicken with the feathers still on and hot water. One of the lads opened a roll and there was a cockroach inside! It made me realise how lucky we were. On the pitch, though, I’ve never played against a team so physically strong – it was like playing against a team of boxers. Blokhin was absolutely outstanding.”

McNaught: “That season we played against two former European Footballers of the Year, one being Blokhin and the other being [Bayern’s Karl-Heinz] Rummenigge. They were similar players in that they had the freedom to go wherever they wanted to go.”

“Can you imagine now, just before the Champions League final, the players taking a stroll around town?”

Heavy rain before the second leg meant ground staff working through the night to ensure the Villa Park pitch was ready. Villa prevailed with goals by homegrown striker Gary Shaw and McNaught. Shaw would end that season with the Bravo Award, organised by Italy’s Guerin Sportivo magazine for Europe’s best young player.

Withe: “We just seemed to gel together and, being the senior player, my job was to encourage him and make sure people didn’t foul him continuously. He wasn’t the quickest player in the world – like Tony Woodcock or Trevor Francis – but he just had this knack of being in the right place and was a great finisher.”

McNaught: “I can remember Dynamo’s goalkeeper was a bit on the small side and was wearing tracksuit bottoms so, to me, he didn’t really fancy it. The ball came in and I jumped perfectly to get above him and head it into the corner.”

Morley: “I felt a bit for them. I knew their bus driver, Ray, and went to see him in the car park after the game. The curtains were drawn and there was no TV or radio on. They were a completely different side at Villa Park. The pitch was a quagmire and you had to be physically fit to get through it; we absolutely steamrollered them.”

Villa’s defence served them well again in a tight semi-final against Anderlecht won by another Morley goal at Villa Park. It was somewhat marred by crowd trouble in the second leg in Brussels where a British serviceman, serving in West Germany, invaded the pitch.

Morley: “I was leading scorer – out of the eight games I scored four and I think I made the rest! I found it easy to be completely honest with you. In England, they’d cut your service out. You’d play out wide and sometimes you just weren’t getting involved. It wasn’t like now, with right wingers playing on the left and left wingers on the right – you had to get the ball, beat your man and get a cross in. But in Europe there was man-to-man marking, which I loved.”

McNaught: “The away leg is remembered for that soldier running onto the pitch. Anderlecht were stubborn – they played the offside trap to perfection – but we knew we could defend as well as them.”

Morley: “That feeling when the final whistle blew at Anderlecht – my God, this lad who’d played in the streets in Ormskirk. To me it was the best moment.”

An estimated 10,000 Villa supporters travelled to Rotterdam for the final. Glory was in touching distance, but the players were relaxed.

Dave Woodhall, editor of Heroes and Villains fanzine: “On the day of the match I was mooching around Rotterdam and saw this group of lads coming towards us. We thought, ‘Christ, they’re Germans, we’re in trouble here.’ Then I realised they were the Villa team. Can you imagine now, just before the Champions League final, the players taking a stroll around town like they were on their holidays? They just weren’t fazed by anything.”

Morley: “I didn’t actually go on to the pitch till half an hour before kick-off. I had mates from Liverpool coming and I had tickets for them. They happened to meet some nice ladies in a bar somewhere in Amsterdam, so I had to wait. Outside the ground I had supporters coming up saying to me, ‘Are you playing?’ I said, ‘Of course I’m playing, I’m just waiting to give these tickets away!’”

Woodhall: “Football then was not the monolith it is now. They had the champions of England and Germany playing, yet you could pick up tickets around Rotterdam so easily. I ended up sitting next to a guy from New Zealand who’d come over to Europe on holiday and managed to pick up a ticket. He’d never been to a football match in his life but thought, ‘I’m in Europe, I’ve got to see a football match!’”

Villa had a setback nine minutes into the final when goalkeeper Rimmer, who had been struggling with a muscle injury to his neck and shoulder, shuffled off shaking his head. On came Nigel Spink, 23, with only one previous senior appearance to his name. 

McNaught: “I knew the physiotherapist was coming into our room to give Jimmy neck massages but he didn’t seem too uncomfortable. Obviously it was worse than he was making out. I was surprised when he came off but when I saw some of the saves that Spinky pulled off, low down to either side, I doubt that Jimmy would have been able to get down that quick. I once popped a disc in my neck heading a ball, so I know how difficult it is.”

At the back, Villa had to ride their luck both before and after the defining moment, when Morley turned Hans Weiner inside and out
before crossing for Withe’s close-range winner. 

McNaught: “I remember Rummenigge did an overhead kick and it flashed past the post, and Kenny Swain headed one off the line. The worst for me was when the ball was played through – a high ball that Bayern played quite a lot, a diagonal long ball – and I’d stepped up to play Hoeness offside, but Gary Williams was breaking his neck to get back. That was where Hoeness thrashed it into the back of the net and the referee had given offside; the only moment where I thought, ‘We’re getting away with it here.’”

Withe: “When you look back at the goal, I was one of the instigators who started the move. The ball came up to me and I brushed aside Hoeness, their big centre-forward, and then played the ball across to Dennis [Mortimer] – and it started from there.”

“The European Cup had been in England for the previous five years and we didn’t want to be the team to lose it”

Morley: “The goal was the only opportunity I really had in the right area. I’d had a couple on the halfway line but they were doubling up on me, so it was hard getting past them; they’d done their homework. This was the only chance I had to have a one against one. I knew I’d get the better of him and I just knocked the ball across. To be brutally honest, it came off Peter’s ankle!”

Withe: “The guy marking me was [Klaus] Augenthaler. I moved him to the near post and pulled away to the far post – that’s the space I created. Tony supplied the cross and I was on the end of it. To be perfectly honest, I made good contact with the ball; it wouldn’t hit your shin and go off at that speed. If it hadn’t gone where it went, the goalkeeper might have saved it – he was diving full length, it hit the post and went in.”

Morley: The other thing a lot of people don’t realise is Nike did a deal with Villa and wanted us to wear their boots. Three or four lads had to wear these boots because the club were getting money and, in the last 20 minutes, one or two of them couldn’t walk because the blisters on their feet were that big. When Nike brought boots out then, 40 years ago, they were like concrete.”

Withe: “I was the first player to wear the boots, as I’d worn them in the States [playing for Portland Timbers]. That European Cup final there were about seven players who wore them. But it wasn’t a big commercial thing; life didn’t really change. We got probably £2,500 each for winning the Cup [when the average weekly wage in the English top tier was £750]. It wasn’t a lot considering what they get now.”

McNaught: : “In the aftermath, me and Peter Withe got picked for a drug test, so we missed all the celebrations apart from the lap of honour with the trophy. I remember captain Dennis Mortimer wouldn’t give up the trophy, he kept carrying it everywhere. He’s still the same now whenever that trophy appears!”

Withe: “The next day we went to Villa Park to get the open-top bus. There were people everywhere; they were hanging from scaffolds, they were on the roofs. The health and safety went out of the window in those days. The streets were all lined. Going up to Birmingham Town Hall and on to the balcony, and looking out at the crowds, was unbelievable.” 

The following season Villa won the UEFA Super Cup against Barcelona, while their European Cup defence ended with quarter-final defeat by Juventus. But the November 1982 return of Doug Ellis for a second spell as chairman (he’d left in 1979) spelled the end. Morley and McNaught departed the following year, while Barton was sacked in 1984. In 1987, Villa suffered relegation.

Morley: “My biggest regret was Doug Ellis taking over. We were set up: the youth team had just won the FA Youth Cup; we had Brian McClair, who couldn’t get into our reserve side. But Doug came in and, at 28, I was finished. That man completely destroyed the team for his own ego. He’d left and two or three years later we’d won the league and European Cup. He hated it.” 

History
Road to Rotterdam
FIRST ROUND

Aston Villa 5-0 Valur

Morley 6, Withe 37, 68, Donovan 40, 69

Valur 0-2 Aston Villa

Shaw 25, 70

Villa win 7-0 on aggregate

SECOND ROUND

Dynamo Berlin 1-2 Aston Villa

Riediger 50; Morley 5, 85

Aston Villa 0-1 Dynamo Berlin

Terletzki 15

2-2 on aggregate; Villa win on away goals

QUARTER-FINALS

Dynamo Kyiv 0-0 Aston Villa

Aston Villa 2-0 Dynamo Kyiv

Shaw 7, McNaught 43

Villa win 2-0 on aggregate

SEMI-FINALS

Aston Villa 1-0 Anderlecht

Morley 27

Anderlecht 0-0 Aston Villa

Villa win 1-0 on aggregate

FINAL

Aston Villa 1-0 Bayern

Withe 67

Mortimer’s response captured the mood surrounding a Villa team participating in the competition for the first time. “That’s been the pattern really since we started playing the hard teams like Dynamo Berlin, Dynamo Kyiv and Anderlecht in the semi-finals. We weren’t favourites for any of them – but we won.”

Peter Withe’s winner seemed to encapsulate a season where nothing was straightforward, but Villa always found a way of getting over the line. “The goalmouth hadn’t got much grass in it,” he told Newbon. “The ball bobbled, bounced up at me, and in the end it has come off my shin and foot, hit the post and bounced in.”

Villa owed their underdog tag to where they had come from. The previous year they had won the English league title for the first time since 1910. Ron Saunders, the manager who guided them out of the Second Division in 1975 and to their 1981 championship triumph, quit halfway down the road to Rotterdam. 

His successor, Tony Barton, had never managed before. But thanks to Withe’s goal against Bayern on 26 May 1982, he became only the third Englishman to steer a team to the trophy, after Liverpool’s Bob Paisley and Nottingham Forest’s Brian Clough. Only Joe Fagan, with Liverpool in 1984, has since joined that list.

Within five years of beating Bayern, Villa were back in the Second Division. It’s a story of rise and fall that we relive here with three key figures from that team.

In May 1981, Villa managed to win their first league championship for 71 years, the culmination of a six-year period in which Saunders won the Birmingham club promotion and two League Cups.

Tony Morley, Villa and England winger: “The year we won the league we only used 14 players and we had a great bond – we all believed in ourselves. We had a manager, Ron Saunders, who drilled into us that it’s all about the team – individuals get the praise if the team are doing well. If the spine of the team is strong you can build around it and we were very powerful: [goalkeeper] Jimmy Rimmer, Big Ken [McNaught], Dennis Mortimer, Peter Withe. What a lot of people don’t remember is that when we won the European Cup we only conceded two goals. That was a phenomenal record.”

Ken McNaught, Villa and Scotland centre-back: “Saunders used to work us so much on shape, on keeping our shape no matter what happened. It was engrained and everybody knew their job. We knew collectively that we could give anybody a game.”

Saunders’ reputation as an authoritarian figure was underlined the morning after Tony Morley returned from a league match at Nottingham Forest in 1981 to discover his house was on fire.

Morley: “I slept in my car on the driveway. In the morning I got into the house and there was nothing I could save. I went into training with the clothes I had on from the Forest game. I was full of soot. He came over and I said, ‘I had a fire in my house, I’ve lost everything.’ And his words stick with me to this day: ‘We don’t pay you for that son. Get to a hostel tonight and, if you need, get to a jumble sale, get yourself some clothes and be on that bus at 11am [for a trip to Stoke City].’ He wasn’t being horrible, it was just his way.”

McNaught: “When I first arrived he was like a sergeant major. But I was with him four years and the more we got better, the more he relaxed and let us play.”

The following autumn, Villa embarked on their first European Cup campaign. This was an era with no video briefings about the opposition, enhancing the sense of a step into the unknown. They began in Iceland, the land of fire and ice, against Valur Reykjavík. Morley’s sixth-minute free-kick settled nerves – the first goal in a 7-0 aggregate victory.

Morley: “We had a bit of pressure on us, as the European Cup had been in England for the previous five years and we didn’t want to be the team to lose it. We’d never played at that level so we didn’t know what to expect – maybe we were a bit more on our toes.”

McNaught: “I don’t think we ever talked about the opposition at a team meeting. We didn’t know anything. The only tactics we went through were what we were going to do when we got the ball and how to get the ball. Basically, it was make it up as the game progressed. If there was a problem I’d try to do something about it. I’d move certain players into certain positions, because a lot of the time you can’t wait till half-time for the manager to do it. In the final, for example, I felt the main tactic was to launch diagonal balls from [Wolfgang] Dremmler into [Dieter] Hoeness, who was quite tall. I felt he was getting the better of Allan Evans in the aerial duels, so I said to Allan, ‘Look, we’ll go man for man. You take [Karl-Heinz] Rummenigge and I will compete with Hoeness. That was the one and only game that Allan Evans and myself went man for man – we’d never done it before, not even in training. I thought it would benefit us.”

Morley scored two great goals in the 2-1 second-round win at Dynamo Berlin – the first a flying volley after five minutes. The second came five minutes from time, moments after Dynamo’s Artur Ullrich had struck the post with a penalty and Rimmer with his rebound. Morley launched a solo run from inside his own half that earned him the competition’s goal of the season award.

Morley: “The first goal was technically better. The goalkeeper was 6’7” and I knew I had to keep it low. I connected well. For the second one I had time to think – ‘He’s a big lad, I’m not going to chip him’ – so I decided I’d hit it close to his legs, because big goalies struggle to get down. And it went in. But I always think it was Jimmy Rimmer’s save that won us the European Cup. If they had scored that penalty it would have been 2-1 to them. Dynamo Berlin were the best side we faced, technically. You talk about full-backs now playing in midfield; they were doing it 40 years ago. They beat us 1-0 at Villa Park. Every time I see Jimmy now I say thanks for two things: winning us the European Cup and getting me the European goal of the season. It’s that little bit of luck that gets you through.”

Peter Withe, Villa and England striker: “Morley’s job was to supply crosses and to get balls into the box – and my job was to get on the end of them. He scored some vital goals too.” 

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!
“The next day we went to Villa Park to get the open-top bus. There were people hanging from scaffolds, they were on the roofs”
Captains Ludo Coeck and Dennis Mortimer shake hands before the second leg against Anderlecht

In February 1982, a month before their quarter-final against Dynamo Kyiv, Saunders resigned as manager after a boardroom row. Assistant manager Barton, who had scouted most of the players, was named his successor.

Withe: “Tony left it as it was and that is a big thing. If he’d tried to change things it might not have happened, but he just carried on with what Ron had been doing. He’d been involved with the club for many years and was an instigator in me joining.”

McNaught: “There were that many good pros at Villa Park at the time, and it was left to the good pros to sort things out on the pitch. There were two or three of us who had licence to change things if we thought it was needed.”

Morley: “Tony is one of only four English managers to have won the European Cup and nobody knows who the hell he is. It’s a shame. Actually Bob Paisley sent him a telegram saying, ‘Welcome to the club.’”

Owing to the cold in Kyiv, Simferopol in the more temperate Crimea was a late choice of venue for the quarter-final first leg against Dynamo Kyiv. The spartan conditions made an impression, as did the power of the Soviet champions, whose star man Oleh Blokhin struck a post in the goalless draw. 

Morley: “We were at one place and went in for our meal at night. It was chicken soup – literally chicken with the feathers still on and hot water. One of the lads opened a roll and there was a cockroach inside! It made me realise how lucky we were. On the pitch, though, I’ve never played against a team so physically strong – it was like playing against a team of boxers. Blokhin was absolutely outstanding.”

McNaught: “That season we played against two former European Footballers of the Year, one being Blokhin and the other being [Bayern’s Karl-Heinz] Rummenigge. They were similar players in that they had the freedom to go wherever they wanted to go.”

“Can you imagine now, just before the Champions League final, the players taking a stroll around town?”

Heavy rain before the second leg meant ground staff working through the night to ensure the Villa Park pitch was ready. Villa prevailed with goals by homegrown striker Gary Shaw and McNaught. Shaw would end that season with the Bravo Award, organised by Italy’s Guerin Sportivo magazine for Europe’s best young player.

Withe: “We just seemed to gel together and, being the senior player, my job was to encourage him and make sure people didn’t foul him continuously. He wasn’t the quickest player in the world – like Tony Woodcock or Trevor Francis – but he just had this knack of being in the right place and was a great finisher.”

McNaught: “I can remember Dynamo’s goalkeeper was a bit on the small side and was wearing tracksuit bottoms so, to me, he didn’t really fancy it. The ball came in and I jumped perfectly to get above him and head it into the corner.”

Morley: “I felt a bit for them. I knew their bus driver, Ray, and went to see him in the car park after the game. The curtains were drawn and there was no TV or radio on. They were a completely different side at Villa Park. The pitch was a quagmire and you had to be physically fit to get through it; we absolutely steamrollered them.”

Villa’s defence served them well again in a tight semi-final against Anderlecht won by another Morley goal at Villa Park. It was somewhat marred by crowd trouble in the second leg in Brussels where a British serviceman, serving in West Germany, invaded the pitch.

Morley: “I was leading scorer – out of the eight games I scored four and I think I made the rest! I found it easy to be completely honest with you. In England, they’d cut your service out. You’d play out wide and sometimes you just weren’t getting involved. It wasn’t like now, with right wingers playing on the left and left wingers on the right – you had to get the ball, beat your man and get a cross in. But in Europe there was man-to-man marking, which I loved.”

McNaught: “The away leg is remembered for that soldier running onto the pitch. Anderlecht were stubborn – they played the offside trap to perfection – but we knew we could defend as well as them.”

Morley: “That feeling when the final whistle blew at Anderlecht – my God, this lad who’d played in the streets in Ormskirk. To me it was the best moment.”

An estimated 10,000 Villa supporters travelled to Rotterdam for the final. Glory was in touching distance, but the players were relaxed.

Dave Woodhall, editor of Heroes and Villains fanzine: “On the day of the match I was mooching around Rotterdam and saw this group of lads coming towards us. We thought, ‘Christ, they’re Germans, we’re in trouble here.’ Then I realised they were the Villa team. Can you imagine now, just before the Champions League final, the players taking a stroll around town like they were on their holidays? They just weren’t fazed by anything.”

Morley: “I didn’t actually go on to the pitch till half an hour before kick-off. I had mates from Liverpool coming and I had tickets for them. They happened to meet some nice ladies in a bar somewhere in Amsterdam, so I had to wait. Outside the ground I had supporters coming up saying to me, ‘Are you playing?’ I said, ‘Of course I’m playing, I’m just waiting to give these tickets away!’”

Woodhall: “Football then was not the monolith it is now. They had the champions of England and Germany playing, yet you could pick up tickets around Rotterdam so easily. I ended up sitting next to a guy from New Zealand who’d come over to Europe on holiday and managed to pick up a ticket. He’d never been to a football match in his life but thought, ‘I’m in Europe, I’ve got to see a football match!’”

Villa had a setback nine minutes into the final when goalkeeper Rimmer, who had been struggling with a muscle injury to his neck and shoulder, shuffled off shaking his head. On came Nigel Spink, 23, with only one previous senior appearance to his name. 

McNaught: “I knew the physiotherapist was coming into our room to give Jimmy neck massages but he didn’t seem too uncomfortable. Obviously it was worse than he was making out. I was surprised when he came off but when I saw some of the saves that Spinky pulled off, low down to either side, I doubt that Jimmy would have been able to get down that quick. I once popped a disc in my neck heading a ball, so I know how difficult it is.”

At the back, Villa had to ride their luck both before and after the defining moment, when Morley turned Hans Weiner inside and out
before crossing for Withe’s close-range winner. 

McNaught: “I remember Rummenigge did an overhead kick and it flashed past the post, and Kenny Swain headed one off the line. The worst for me was when the ball was played through – a high ball that Bayern played quite a lot, a diagonal long ball – and I’d stepped up to play Hoeness offside, but Gary Williams was breaking his neck to get back. That was where Hoeness thrashed it into the back of the net and the referee had given offside; the only moment where I thought, ‘We’re getting away with it here.’”

Withe: “When you look back at the goal, I was one of the instigators who started the move. The ball came up to me and I brushed aside Hoeness, their big centre-forward, and then played the ball across to Dennis [Mortimer] – and it started from there.”

“The European Cup had been in England for the previous five years and we didn’t want to be the team to lose it”

Morley: “The goal was the only opportunity I really had in the right area. I’d had a couple on the halfway line but they were doubling up on me, so it was hard getting past them; they’d done their homework. This was the only chance I had to have a one against one. I knew I’d get the better of him and I just knocked the ball across. To be brutally honest, it came off Peter’s ankle!”

Withe: “The guy marking me was [Klaus] Augenthaler. I moved him to the near post and pulled away to the far post – that’s the space I created. Tony supplied the cross and I was on the end of it. To be perfectly honest, I made good contact with the ball; it wouldn’t hit your shin and go off at that speed. If it hadn’t gone where it went, the goalkeeper might have saved it – he was diving full length, it hit the post and went in.”

Morley: The other thing a lot of people don’t realise is Nike did a deal with Villa and wanted us to wear their boots. Three or four lads had to wear these boots because the club were getting money and, in the last 20 minutes, one or two of them couldn’t walk because the blisters on their feet were that big. When Nike brought boots out then, 40 years ago, they were like concrete.”

Withe: “I was the first player to wear the boots, as I’d worn them in the States [playing for Portland Timbers]. That European Cup final there were about seven players who wore them. But it wasn’t a big commercial thing; life didn’t really change. We got probably £2,500 each for winning the Cup [when the average weekly wage in the English top tier was £750]. It wasn’t a lot considering what they get now.”

McNaught: : “In the aftermath, me and Peter Withe got picked for a drug test, so we missed all the celebrations apart from the lap of honour with the trophy. I remember captain Dennis Mortimer wouldn’t give up the trophy, he kept carrying it everywhere. He’s still the same now whenever that trophy appears!”

Withe: “The next day we went to Villa Park to get the open-top bus. There were people everywhere; they were hanging from scaffolds, they were on the roofs. The health and safety went out of the window in those days. The streets were all lined. Going up to Birmingham Town Hall and on to the balcony, and looking out at the crowds, was unbelievable.” 

The following season Villa won the UEFA Super Cup against Barcelona, while their European Cup defence ended with quarter-final defeat by Juventus. But the November 1982 return of Doug Ellis for a second spell as chairman (he’d left in 1979) spelled the end. Morley and McNaught departed the following year, while Barton was sacked in 1984. In 1987, Villa suffered relegation.

Morley: “My biggest regret was Doug Ellis taking over. We were set up: the youth team had just won the FA Youth Cup; we had Brian McClair, who couldn’t get into our reserve side. But Doug came in and, at 28, I was finished. That man completely destroyed the team for his own ego. He’d left and two or three years later we’d won the league and European Cup. He hated it.” 

History
Road to Rotterdam
FIRST ROUND

Aston Villa 5-0 Valur

Morley 6, Withe 37, 68, Donovan 40, 69

Valur 0-2 Aston Villa

Shaw 25, 70

Villa win 7-0 on aggregate

SECOND ROUND

Dynamo Berlin 1-2 Aston Villa

Riediger 50; Morley 5, 85

Aston Villa 0-1 Dynamo Berlin

Terletzki 15

2-2 on aggregate; Villa win on away goals

QUARTER-FINALS

Dynamo Kyiv 0-0 Aston Villa

Aston Villa 2-0 Dynamo Kyiv

Shaw 7, McNaught 43

Villa win 2-0 on aggregate

SEMI-FINALS

Aston Villa 1-0 Anderlecht

Morley 27

Anderlecht 0-0 Aston Villa

Villa win 1-0 on aggregate

FINAL

Aston Villa 1-0 Bayern

Withe 67

Mortimer’s response captured the mood surrounding a Villa team participating in the competition for the first time. “That’s been the pattern really since we started playing the hard teams like Dynamo Berlin, Dynamo Kyiv and Anderlecht in the semi-finals. We weren’t favourites for any of them – but we won.”

Peter Withe’s winner seemed to encapsulate a season where nothing was straightforward, but Villa always found a way of getting over the line. “The goalmouth hadn’t got much grass in it,” he told Newbon. “The ball bobbled, bounced up at me, and in the end it has come off my shin and foot, hit the post and bounced in.”

Villa owed their underdog tag to where they had come from. The previous year they had won the English league title for the first time since 1910. Ron Saunders, the manager who guided them out of the Second Division in 1975 and to their 1981 championship triumph, quit halfway down the road to Rotterdam. 

His successor, Tony Barton, had never managed before. But thanks to Withe’s goal against Bayern on 26 May 1982, he became only the third Englishman to steer a team to the trophy, after Liverpool’s Bob Paisley and Nottingham Forest’s Brian Clough. Only Joe Fagan, with Liverpool in 1984, has since joined that list.

Within five years of beating Bayern, Villa were back in the Second Division. It’s a story of rise and fall that we relive here with three key figures from that team.

In May 1981, Villa managed to win their first league championship for 71 years, the culmination of a six-year period in which Saunders won the Birmingham club promotion and two League Cups.

Tony Morley, Villa and England winger: “The year we won the league we only used 14 players and we had a great bond – we all believed in ourselves. We had a manager, Ron Saunders, who drilled into us that it’s all about the team – individuals get the praise if the team are doing well. If the spine of the team is strong you can build around it and we were very powerful: [goalkeeper] Jimmy Rimmer, Big Ken [McNaught], Dennis Mortimer, Peter Withe. What a lot of people don’t remember is that when we won the European Cup we only conceded two goals. That was a phenomenal record.”

Ken McNaught, Villa and Scotland centre-back: “Saunders used to work us so much on shape, on keeping our shape no matter what happened. It was engrained and everybody knew their job. We knew collectively that we could give anybody a game.”

Saunders’ reputation as an authoritarian figure was underlined the morning after Tony Morley returned from a league match at Nottingham Forest in 1981 to discover his house was on fire.

Morley: “I slept in my car on the driveway. In the morning I got into the house and there was nothing I could save. I went into training with the clothes I had on from the Forest game. I was full of soot. He came over and I said, ‘I had a fire in my house, I’ve lost everything.’ And his words stick with me to this day: ‘We don’t pay you for that son. Get to a hostel tonight and, if you need, get to a jumble sale, get yourself some clothes and be on that bus at 11am [for a trip to Stoke City].’ He wasn’t being horrible, it was just his way.”

McNaught: “When I first arrived he was like a sergeant major. But I was with him four years and the more we got better, the more he relaxed and let us play.”

The following autumn, Villa embarked on their first European Cup campaign. This was an era with no video briefings about the opposition, enhancing the sense of a step into the unknown. They began in Iceland, the land of fire and ice, against Valur Reykjavík. Morley’s sixth-minute free-kick settled nerves – the first goal in a 7-0 aggregate victory.

Morley: “We had a bit of pressure on us, as the European Cup had been in England for the previous five years and we didn’t want to be the team to lose it. We’d never played at that level so we didn’t know what to expect – maybe we were a bit more on our toes.”

McNaught: “I don’t think we ever talked about the opposition at a team meeting. We didn’t know anything. The only tactics we went through were what we were going to do when we got the ball and how to get the ball. Basically, it was make it up as the game progressed. If there was a problem I’d try to do something about it. I’d move certain players into certain positions, because a lot of the time you can’t wait till half-time for the manager to do it. In the final, for example, I felt the main tactic was to launch diagonal balls from [Wolfgang] Dremmler into [Dieter] Hoeness, who was quite tall. I felt he was getting the better of Allan Evans in the aerial duels, so I said to Allan, ‘Look, we’ll go man for man. You take [Karl-Heinz] Rummenigge and I will compete with Hoeness. That was the one and only game that Allan Evans and myself went man for man – we’d never done it before, not even in training. I thought it would benefit us.”

Morley scored two great goals in the 2-1 second-round win at Dynamo Berlin – the first a flying volley after five minutes. The second came five minutes from time, moments after Dynamo’s Artur Ullrich had struck the post with a penalty and Rimmer with his rebound. Morley launched a solo run from inside his own half that earned him the competition’s goal of the season award.

Morley: “The first goal was technically better. The goalkeeper was 6’7” and I knew I had to keep it low. I connected well. For the second one I had time to think – ‘He’s a big lad, I’m not going to chip him’ – so I decided I’d hit it close to his legs, because big goalies struggle to get down. And it went in. But I always think it was Jimmy Rimmer’s save that won us the European Cup. If they had scored that penalty it would have been 2-1 to them. Dynamo Berlin were the best side we faced, technically. You talk about full-backs now playing in midfield; they were doing it 40 years ago. They beat us 1-0 at Villa Park. Every time I see Jimmy now I say thanks for two things: winning us the European Cup and getting me the European goal of the season. It’s that little bit of luck that gets you through.”

Peter Withe, Villa and England striker: “Morley’s job was to supply crosses and to get balls into the box – and my job was to get on the end of them. He scored some vital goals too.” 

“The next day we went to Villa Park to get the open-top bus. There were people hanging from scaffolds, they were on the roofs”
Captains Ludo Coeck and Dennis Mortimer shake hands before the second leg against Anderlecht

In February 1982, a month before their quarter-final against Dynamo Kyiv, Saunders resigned as manager after a boardroom row. Assistant manager Barton, who had scouted most of the players, was named his successor.

Withe: “Tony left it as it was and that is a big thing. If he’d tried to change things it might not have happened, but he just carried on with what Ron had been doing. He’d been involved with the club for many years and was an instigator in me joining.”

McNaught: “There were that many good pros at Villa Park at the time, and it was left to the good pros to sort things out on the pitch. There were two or three of us who had licence to change things if we thought it was needed.”

Morley: “Tony is one of only four English managers to have won the European Cup and nobody knows who the hell he is. It’s a shame. Actually Bob Paisley sent him a telegram saying, ‘Welcome to the club.’”

Owing to the cold in Kyiv, Simferopol in the more temperate Crimea was a late choice of venue for the quarter-final first leg against Dynamo Kyiv. The spartan conditions made an impression, as did the power of the Soviet champions, whose star man Oleh Blokhin struck a post in the goalless draw. 

Morley: “We were at one place and went in for our meal at night. It was chicken soup – literally chicken with the feathers still on and hot water. One of the lads opened a roll and there was a cockroach inside! It made me realise how lucky we were. On the pitch, though, I’ve never played against a team so physically strong – it was like playing against a team of boxers. Blokhin was absolutely outstanding.”

McNaught: “That season we played against two former European Footballers of the Year, one being Blokhin and the other being [Bayern’s Karl-Heinz] Rummenigge. They were similar players in that they had the freedom to go wherever they wanted to go.”

“Can you imagine now, just before the Champions League final, the players taking a stroll around town?”

Heavy rain before the second leg meant ground staff working through the night to ensure the Villa Park pitch was ready. Villa prevailed with goals by homegrown striker Gary Shaw and McNaught. Shaw would end that season with the Bravo Award, organised by Italy’s Guerin Sportivo magazine for Europe’s best young player.

Withe: “We just seemed to gel together and, being the senior player, my job was to encourage him and make sure people didn’t foul him continuously. He wasn’t the quickest player in the world – like Tony Woodcock or Trevor Francis – but he just had this knack of being in the right place and was a great finisher.”

McNaught: “I can remember Dynamo’s goalkeeper was a bit on the small side and was wearing tracksuit bottoms so, to me, he didn’t really fancy it. The ball came in and I jumped perfectly to get above him and head it into the corner.”

Morley: “I felt a bit for them. I knew their bus driver, Ray, and went to see him in the car park after the game. The curtains were drawn and there was no TV or radio on. They were a completely different side at Villa Park. The pitch was a quagmire and you had to be physically fit to get through it; we absolutely steamrollered them.”

Villa’s defence served them well again in a tight semi-final against Anderlecht won by another Morley goal at Villa Park. It was somewhat marred by crowd trouble in the second leg in Brussels where a British serviceman, serving in West Germany, invaded the pitch.

Morley: “I was leading scorer – out of the eight games I scored four and I think I made the rest! I found it easy to be completely honest with you. In England, they’d cut your service out. You’d play out wide and sometimes you just weren’t getting involved. It wasn’t like now, with right wingers playing on the left and left wingers on the right – you had to get the ball, beat your man and get a cross in. But in Europe there was man-to-man marking, which I loved.”

McNaught: “The away leg is remembered for that soldier running onto the pitch. Anderlecht were stubborn – they played the offside trap to perfection – but we knew we could defend as well as them.”

Morley: “That feeling when the final whistle blew at Anderlecht – my God, this lad who’d played in the streets in Ormskirk. To me it was the best moment.”

An estimated 10,000 Villa supporters travelled to Rotterdam for the final. Glory was in touching distance, but the players were relaxed.

Dave Woodhall, editor of Heroes and Villains fanzine: “On the day of the match I was mooching around Rotterdam and saw this group of lads coming towards us. We thought, ‘Christ, they’re Germans, we’re in trouble here.’ Then I realised they were the Villa team. Can you imagine now, just before the Champions League final, the players taking a stroll around town like they were on their holidays? They just weren’t fazed by anything.”

Morley: “I didn’t actually go on to the pitch till half an hour before kick-off. I had mates from Liverpool coming and I had tickets for them. They happened to meet some nice ladies in a bar somewhere in Amsterdam, so I had to wait. Outside the ground I had supporters coming up saying to me, ‘Are you playing?’ I said, ‘Of course I’m playing, I’m just waiting to give these tickets away!’”

Woodhall: “Football then was not the monolith it is now. They had the champions of England and Germany playing, yet you could pick up tickets around Rotterdam so easily. I ended up sitting next to a guy from New Zealand who’d come over to Europe on holiday and managed to pick up a ticket. He’d never been to a football match in his life but thought, ‘I’m in Europe, I’ve got to see a football match!’”

Villa had a setback nine minutes into the final when goalkeeper Rimmer, who had been struggling with a muscle injury to his neck and shoulder, shuffled off shaking his head. On came Nigel Spink, 23, with only one previous senior appearance to his name. 

McNaught: “I knew the physiotherapist was coming into our room to give Jimmy neck massages but he didn’t seem too uncomfortable. Obviously it was worse than he was making out. I was surprised when he came off but when I saw some of the saves that Spinky pulled off, low down to either side, I doubt that Jimmy would have been able to get down that quick. I once popped a disc in my neck heading a ball, so I know how difficult it is.”

At the back, Villa had to ride their luck both before and after the defining moment, when Morley turned Hans Weiner inside and out
before crossing for Withe’s close-range winner. 

McNaught: “I remember Rummenigge did an overhead kick and it flashed past the post, and Kenny Swain headed one off the line. The worst for me was when the ball was played through – a high ball that Bayern played quite a lot, a diagonal long ball – and I’d stepped up to play Hoeness offside, but Gary Williams was breaking his neck to get back. That was where Hoeness thrashed it into the back of the net and the referee had given offside; the only moment where I thought, ‘We’re getting away with it here.’”

Withe: “When you look back at the goal, I was one of the instigators who started the move. The ball came up to me and I brushed aside Hoeness, their big centre-forward, and then played the ball across to Dennis [Mortimer] – and it started from there.”

“The European Cup had been in England for the previous five years and we didn’t want to be the team to lose it”

Morley: “The goal was the only opportunity I really had in the right area. I’d had a couple on the halfway line but they were doubling up on me, so it was hard getting past them; they’d done their homework. This was the only chance I had to have a one against one. I knew I’d get the better of him and I just knocked the ball across. To be brutally honest, it came off Peter’s ankle!”

Withe: “The guy marking me was [Klaus] Augenthaler. I moved him to the near post and pulled away to the far post – that’s the space I created. Tony supplied the cross and I was on the end of it. To be perfectly honest, I made good contact with the ball; it wouldn’t hit your shin and go off at that speed. If it hadn’t gone where it went, the goalkeeper might have saved it – he was diving full length, it hit the post and went in.”

Morley: The other thing a lot of people don’t realise is Nike did a deal with Villa and wanted us to wear their boots. Three or four lads had to wear these boots because the club were getting money and, in the last 20 minutes, one or two of them couldn’t walk because the blisters on their feet were that big. When Nike brought boots out then, 40 years ago, they were like concrete.”

Withe: “I was the first player to wear the boots, as I’d worn them in the States [playing for Portland Timbers]. That European Cup final there were about seven players who wore them. But it wasn’t a big commercial thing; life didn’t really change. We got probably £2,500 each for winning the Cup [when the average weekly wage in the English top tier was £750]. It wasn’t a lot considering what they get now.”

McNaught: : “In the aftermath, me and Peter Withe got picked for a drug test, so we missed all the celebrations apart from the lap of honour with the trophy. I remember captain Dennis Mortimer wouldn’t give up the trophy, he kept carrying it everywhere. He’s still the same now whenever that trophy appears!”

Withe: “The next day we went to Villa Park to get the open-top bus. There were people everywhere; they were hanging from scaffolds, they were on the roofs. The health and safety went out of the window in those days. The streets were all lined. Going up to Birmingham Town Hall and on to the balcony, and looking out at the crowds, was unbelievable.” 

The following season Villa won the UEFA Super Cup against Barcelona, while their European Cup defence ended with quarter-final defeat by Juventus. But the November 1982 return of Doug Ellis for a second spell as chairman (he’d left in 1979) spelled the end. Morley and McNaught departed the following year, while Barton was sacked in 1984. In 1987, Villa suffered relegation.

Morley: “My biggest regret was Doug Ellis taking over. We were set up: the youth team had just won the FA Youth Cup; we had Brian McClair, who couldn’t get into our reserve side. But Doug came in and, at 28, I was finished. That man completely destroyed the team for his own ego. He’d left and two or three years later we’d won the league and European Cup. He hated it.” 

History
Road to Rotterdam
FIRST ROUND

Aston Villa 5-0 Valur

Morley 6, Withe 37, 68, Donovan 40, 69

Valur 0-2 Aston Villa

Shaw 25, 70

Villa win 7-0 on aggregate

SECOND ROUND

Dynamo Berlin 1-2 Aston Villa

Riediger 50; Morley 5, 85

Aston Villa 0-1 Dynamo Berlin

Terletzki 15

2-2 on aggregate; Villa win on away goals

QUARTER-FINALS

Dynamo Kyiv 0-0 Aston Villa

Aston Villa 2-0 Dynamo Kyiv

Shaw 7, McNaught 43

Villa win 2-0 on aggregate

SEMI-FINALS

Aston Villa 1-0 Anderlecht

Morley 27

Anderlecht 0-0 Aston Villa

Villa win 1-0 on aggregate

FINAL

Aston Villa 1-0 Bayern

Withe 67

To access this article, as well as all CJ+ content and competitions, you will need a subscription to Champions Journal.
Already a subscriber? Sign in
close
Special Offers
christmas offer
Christmas CHEER
Up to 40% off
Start shopping
50% off
game night flash sale!!!
Don't miss out
00
Hours
:
00
minutes
:
00
Seconds
Valid on selected products only. subscriptions not included
close