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All Time Villa Inter Generation Cup Competition


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Given that we are all bored / fed up / excited / overwhelmed / underwhelmed / <insert random other emotion> by possible links, dubious rumours, lazy journalists, fake ITKs, possible ITKs, etc - I thought I would try to spark a separate stream of debate, argument, controversy and hopefully some interest too.

So here is the basic premise - I have invented a time machine that allows me to go back in time to "collect" some Villa legends and bring them into a timeless world where we can arrange an All Time Villa Inter Generation Cup (kind of like a "Bill & Ted's Most Excellent Villa Adventure" if you like).  Basically, five teams, five eras.  I haven't decided the format of the competition yet - quite frankly that can be sorted later or not at all.  Just for the sheer hell of it I have set the generations as Team A: Pre 1930, Team B: 1930-1970, Team 😄 1970 - 1985, Team 😧 1985 - 2000, Team E: Post 2000.  I have also elected to use a default 4-4-2 formation which causes some problems assigning players to positions (particularly for the earlier teams when the formations were completely different and detailed information about players' attributes are less complete (so apologies to any proper Villa historians if I have selected any players in a completely unsuitable position - or have created a team that has no balance whatsoever!!). 

I will post the Team line ups over the next few days and invite constructive (or if merited, abusive) feedback and alternate suggestions for different positions.  Obviously football is all about personal opinions so I am sure that some of my selections and some players I have excluded will not sit well with all.  I do hope that everyone enjoys it and hopefully I will be able to introduce the names of some Villa legends that may have slipped people's minds.  Needless to say there is no actual way to compare players from different dynasties and there is no guarantee that stars of yesteryear would cope with modern football.  So this is why I have tried to keep the generations together.

Oh and please no suggestions for other team lineups until they are published - it would be useful to keep debate largely limited to one team at a time!  Thanks.  Oh and obviously if this has been done to death in the past then get a mod to close me down before I bore everyone!!

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TEAM A (Pre 1930) {Needless to say I didn't see any of these legends play so my selection is based on their club stats and the limited information I have been able to dig out about them.}

GK: Billy George (1897 - 1911: 401 appearances, 0 goals).  Only Nigel Spinks has played more games for Villa between the sticks.  "Quick on his feet, splendid reach, full of resource, punches the ball with great power, fields well, and a grand kick." (The Villa News and Record).  A class keeper with good distribution skills.... ideal.

RB: James Cowan (1889 - 1911: 354 appearances, 27 goals).  He's listed as a centre-half / half-back but I have decided to play him as an attacking right back.  "Was a formidable competitor and an imposing figure, his tackling was legendary for both its ferocity and accuracy. However, Jas, as he was affectionately known, was more than just a spoiler, and in addition to directing the Villa defence he was also an extremely constructive player."   (The Essential Aston Villa).  He once skipped 5 matches to train for a sprint race - which he went on to win.  So a tough tackling, speed merchant with a decent eye for goal looks like my idea of the perfect right back.

CB: Tommy Smart (1920 - 1934: 452 appearances, 8 goals)  He is listed as a right back but I have pushed him inside to make use of Cowan's pace and Smart's physique (he was 6ft 2) and a "barrel-chested... fierce tackler, whose sheer size used to cause apprehension" (Lerwill-Life.org.uk).  Not sure how good he was in the air but he sounds like a beast so we will get the coaches working on that.

CB: Thomas Mort (1921 - 1935: 368 appearances, 2 goals).  He is listed as a left sided back so I am assuming that he will work well as a left footed centre back in the modern system.  To be honest I didn’t get much further when looking into him than the fact that his partnership with Tommy Smart meant that the duo became known as “Death and Glory” (Aston Villa Player Database).  He therefore immediately claimed his place on my team sheet even before I read John Lerwill’s comment about him being famed for his sliding tackle.  I do love a good sliding tackle!!!

LB: Howard Spencer (1892 - 1906: 292 appearances, 2 goals).  Nicknamed the “Prince of Full Backs” he was described by John Lerwill as “one of the greatest defenders to play for Aston Villa and perhaps the best defender of all before WW1”.  Sounds like a ringing endorsement to me.

RW: Charlie Athersmith (1891 - 1901: 307 appearances, 85 goals).  A goal every 3.5 matches from a wide position sounds perfect.  It is rumoured that he once scored a goal against Sheffield United whilst playing under an umbrella he had borrowed from someone in the crowd.  He also scored a hat-trick on debut against Wolves!  "Charlie Athersmith is arguably the fastest player ever to have played for Aston Villa.” (The Essential Aston Villa).  Given that I have James Cowan (the sprint champion) playing behind him I expect any left-sided opponents to be bricking it against this pair of speed demons.

CM: John Devey (1891 – 1902: 304 appearances, 187 goals).  OK so I am expecting some challenge here as Devey also played as a centre forward.  However, his best position was inside right where he formed a formidable partnership with Athersmith.  "Fast and clever, he could work the ball through the defence at a greater rate than most men, and he usually made a bee-line for the goal. At his best he could dodge and dribble adroitly, and he had a good idea of finding where the posts stood.  Devey had a genius for getting the ball out to his partner (Athersmith), and it must be said that he had a partner well worth feeding."  (Association Football and the Men Who Made It)

CM: Frank Moss (1914 - 1929: 283 appearances, 9 goals) (Captain).  Former Villa and England captain who will provide the steel in the centre of the park for Team A.  He had a troubled career at Villa where he was stripped of the captaincy and had numerous altercations with the board.  However, he was a popular player with the fans and was "A player of wonderful pluck, perseverance and intelligence and England’s greatest right-half of the mid-1920s.” (lerwill-life.org.uk).

LW: Denny Hodgetts (1886 - 1896: 215 appearances, 91 goals).  He is described as a powerful and alert player with two good feet and an eye for goal / incisive pass.  “A born football player. Remarkably clever with his feet, and possessed many original ideas. Effective in combination, an admirable coach, his skill and unselfishness having the happiest results.”  (The Villa News and Record).  He has two other claims to fame: firstly he scored Villa’s first ever FA Cup Final goal and secondly he is the only player in history to play in three FA Cup Finals for the same team (Villa) against the same opposition (West Brom).

ST: Billy Walker (1919 - 1933: 531 appearances, 244 goals).  Only one person has worn the Villa shirt more often than Billy and no-one has scored more goals for Villa.  So it is no surprise to see him in my line up.  As an aside Billy Walker holds the record for the biggest period between FA Cup wins as a manager (Wednesday & Forest – 24 years apart).

ST: Harry Hampton (1904 - 1920: 376 appearances, 242 goals).  Many, many moons ago on Villa Talk we had a thread about the greatest ever Villa player.  I put forward ‘Appy ‘Arry as my suggestion – I don’t know whether a record of this still exists in an archive anywhere (I tried searching unsuccessfully) but if not check out the Player Profile on lerwill.life.org.uk as it quotes my profile piece.  In 150 fewer appearances he only scored 2 goals fewer than Billy Walker.  He is Villa’s all-time leading league goalscorer.  He is Villa’s record hat-trick scorer (14 in 10 seasons up until the start of WW1).  Most goals in a league match… Hampton with 5 against Sheffield Wedesday.  Quite simply Villa’s greatest goal machine of all time.

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TEAM B (1930-1970)

GK: Nigel Sims (1956 - 1964: 308 appearances, 0 goals).  Sims joined a struggling Villa in 1956, helping the team avoid relegation, before winning the FA Cup, promotion back to the top flight and the inaugural League Cup.  A keeper not short in confidence or self-belief he wrote “Without being brash, I know… I was as good as anyone, if not the best” (In Safe Hands). Rumours that both Man Utd and Arsenal tried to sign him (the latter in a deal that would purportedly have been world record fee for a goalkeeper at the time) suggest that his skills backed up his words.  He was also the first ever winner of the “Terrace Trophy” voted for by Villa supporters.

RB: Stan Lynn (1950 - 1961: 323 appearances, 38 goals)  Nicknamed “Stan The Wham” he has renowned for his powerful shots (one of which knocked out Cardiff’s keeper, Graham Verncombe).  He was the first full back to score a hat-trick in the top English division (v Sunderland).  However, as well as being one of the first “modern” right-backs in terms of attacking strength he was also a fierce defender "The memory of Stan The Wham will always be mainly concerned with how he used to stand off the winger he was to mark, and if the ball would go to that winger, in would come Stan with his sliding tackle and take the ball and the player over the touchline." (Lerwill-Life.org.uk).  Ouch!!

CB: Harry Parkes (1939 - 1955: 345 appearances, 4 goals – this excludes an additional 144 matches played during WWII).  This selection may prove controversial as Parkes is best remembered for being “one of the best uncapped English full-backs” (Obituary, Independent).  However, he was very much a utility player – apparently, the only position he didn’t play in for Villa was left back – so I am confident in picking him in a more central role.  He was a real character on and off the field and was voted Villa’s most popular player of the 1940s (in a retrospective poll in 2000).  “Parkes offered a vein of near-metronomic reliability, proving a taxing and tenacious opponent… quick and strong in the tackle, he never shirked a physical challenge and he was also ahead of his time in that he enjoyed an occasional foray into opposition territory.”  (Obituary, Independent). 

CB: George Cummings (1935 - 1949: 232 appearances, 0 goals – excluding 189 matches played during WWII) (Captain).  OK, OK…  so I have picked another full-back in the centre of defence and at 5ft 10 and 13 stone not a particularly big full-back at that.  However, as the leader of Villa’s famous post WWII defence I am confident that “The Icicle” (so named because of his ability to remain calm under pressure) would adapt to a more central position.  When I read about his ability to read the game, his tactical awareness, his leading & marshalling of the back line, him being a powerful header of the ball and his “never say die” attitude – I was reminded of a certain Paul McGrath.  Listed at 30 in Villa’s Fab 50 (see official site) I couldn’t not take the calculated gamble!!

LB: Charlie Aitken (1959 - 1976: 660 appearances, 16 goals).  Villa’s all-time record appearance holder, having represented the club in 129 more matches than any other player (for the record that is more matches than the Villa careers of: Gavin McCann {129}, James Milner {125}, Ray Houghton {121}, Derek Mountfield {120} or Dalian Atkinson {114}).  Only 7 players have reached 2/3 of the appearances made by Aitken – Gareth Barry (440), Tommy Smart (451), Nigel Spink (460), Joe Bache (474), Allan Evans (475), Gordon Cowans (527) and Billy Walker (531).  I picked him for Team B rather than Team A purely because he spent more time playing in the top flight in the 1960s.

RW: Johnny Dixon (1945 - 1961: 430 appearances, 144 goals).  Johnny Dixon was the Villa captain when we won the 1957 FA Cup and provided the cross for our crucial second goal.  He apparently originally wrote to the club for a trial just because he liked the name Aston Villa!  A goal every three matches is an incredible return.  But he was also well known for his ball control, precise passing and commitment.  “(John Dixon) may not have been the Villa’s most dominant captain, nor was he their most talented player.  But no footballer can have worn the club’s claret and blue colours with more pride or dignity.” (quoted in Obituary, The Guardian).

CM: Danny Blanchflower (1951 – 1954: 155 appearances, 10 goals).  Danny’s time at Villa was (unfortunately short-lived) and so I have to admit that his presence in this line-up is to a large degree based on what he achieved at Spurs.  It feels wrong to select a player who was voted the greatest ever player in Spurs history into a team representing the best of Aston Villa.  However, I feel that he would be the perfect fulcrum for this team – with his leadership, exquisite passing and ability to dictate the pace of the game.  He once said that “The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish.” Which is exactly what this team is modelled on.  I am prepared to compromise on the ethics of Villa greats in order to include greatness.

CM: Alan Deakin (1956 - 1969: 270 appearances, 9 goals).  Deakin came through the Villa youth set-up to be one the best of the “Mercer’s Minors”.  Unfortunately, he struggled with injuries throughout his career (he only managed to play more than 30 matches in a season twice).  Without these injuries his Villa statistics would have been significantly better.  He was also extremely unlucky to not win any England caps – in almost any other era than the early 1960s he would have walked into the team as either the left sided centre half or in a more advanced inside left / left midfield role.  I have chosen the latter based on his tackling and passing abilities.

LW: Eric Houghton (1927 - 1946: 392 appearances, 170 goals).  Houghton has been described as “Mr Aston Villa”, before that title was assumed by another character in our history (but that is another debate for another day).  He was signed originally as a striker before being moved to the wing.  Although he has a lasting reputation as a dead ball specialist (he scored 58 penalties and 30 direct free-kicks) nearly half his goals still came from open play.  “When Eric Houghton kicked a football, it was sensible not to stand in its path… He established a reputation as one of the most destructively powerful marksmen the game had seen.” (Obituary, Independent).  With Stan The Wham’s “Booming Boots” on one side and “Houghton’s Howitzers” on the other – I am not sure there would be too many takers for a spot in the defensive wall for any free-kicks won within striking distance!!!

ST: Tom “Pongo” Waring (1928 - 1935: 226 appearances, 167 goals).  Quite possibly the first name on the team sheet for Team B.  A legendary striker with a strike rate of a goal every 1.35 matches (comfortably better than even Harry Hampton’s record) he scored 49 league goals in 42 matches in the 1930-31 season.  There is an excellent summary of Pongo’s career at https://ryanferguson.co.uk/blogs/planet-prentonia/the-life-and-times-of-pongo-waring.  A true legend of the club he would have certainly challenged Billy Walker’s record if his Villa career had not been prematurely ended.

I actually struggled quite a lot with the selection of Pongo’s strike partner.  George Brown (126 apps, 89 goals), Dai Astley (173, 100), Frank Broome (151, 91) and Tony Hateley (148, 86) were all strong contenders.  But in the end, it was a straight choice between Peter McParland (1952-1962: 340 appearances, 120 goals) playing in a more fluid role with Houghton, Dixon and himself interchanging between wide and central positions and a more traditional centre forward in the form of Gerry Hitchens (1957 – 1961: 160 appearances, 96 goals).  In the end, I decided that the romance of Italy, trumped the romance of the FA Cup.  ST: Gerry Hitchens.  Although Hitchens took a while to settle at Villa, his scoring exploits afterwards were phenomenal (52 goals in 77 matches).  This resulted in an England call up, a goal within a minute of making his international debut and a double against Italy that helped earn him a move to Italy (along with John Charles, Denis Law and Jimmy Greaves) with Inter Milan.  He became the first player to be capped by England whilst playing for a foreign club, was top scorer for Inter as they finished runners up in Serie A and claimed the No 9 shirt (ahead of Jimmy Greaves) at the 1962 World Cup.  Had Alf Ramsey not introduced a policy of only selecting home-based players, Hitchens’ form in Italy would probably have earned him a spot in the 1966 squad too.  “Arguably the best number 9 ever to wear claret and blue… became England’s most successful export to Serie A.” (The AVFC Blog).

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