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The Cup - 50 Years Ago


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It's 50 years since we last won the FA Cup, and on the 16th February of that year - 50 years almost to the day - Villa went to old Second Division Boro and won 3-2 to enter the third round proper.

That was a match in which we had gone in at half-time 1-2 down (due to Brian Clough) and yet we came back strongly in the second half - with Johnny Dixon wrapping it up. It was, I think, about then that hopes of a good run in the Cup gained momentum, especially when we learnt that we were to be drawn against another Second Division side - Bristol City - in the third round. The remarkable thing in those days, however, was that Second Division teams Boro (Brian Clough) and Bristol City (John Atyeo) both played centre-forwards that were selected for England, so these games were no push-overs.

In 56/57, I went to nearly all the Cup games... those at home plus the match at Burnley in the days when that other claret-and-blue team of Jimmy McIlroy and Jimmy Adamson were a real force. I missed the home replay, though, and also the semi-final replay after Villa's battling draw at Molineaux with the 'Baggies' - old rivals West Bromwich Albion, who were also a very good team. Villa had been re-built under the stewardship of manager (and former Villa star) Eric Houghton. His major signings were Nigel Sims (goal) from the Wolves, and Jimmy Dugdale (centre-half) from West Brom, both of whom were pillars of the defence for the next 3 or 4 seasons. An additional and very useful signing was Jackie Sewell, a scoring inside-forward from Sheff. Wednesday, who only 3 or 4 years before had been the most expensive player in England.

That scheming maestro, Jimmy McIlroy of Burnley, wrote the following account of their 1957 sixth round encounter:

"Against the Villa, we took an early lead, and without playing really well, held it until a few minutes from the end of the game. Then, the most dangerous man in soccer at converting the pass to the far-post, Peter McParland, popped up to head the equaliser from his favourite position. But there should never have been any replay. In the first ten minutes or so, I squared two passes across the face of the goal, both taken by Ian Lawson in his stride. From very close range, Ian side-footed the ball wide each time.

"The pitch at Villa Park [in the replay] was in a shocking state. There were pools of water on the surface, and where there was no water, there was mud - gallons of the stuff! In one corner, in fact, there was a patch of filth giving off a most nauseating odour, causing us to wonder if this famous football ground had been used for sewage disposal. Thus was the stage set in terrible conditions for one of the most vital Cup-ties in the history of either club. Aston Villa at that time were being assailed on all sides for their vigourous style of football. They tackled hard, used their weight to the maximum advantage, and generally bothered little with the frills of soccer: although their manager Mr Eric Houghton repeatedly refuted charges that Villa were over-robust, there is no denying they were formidable opposition. In marked contrast, Burnley were a team of flyweights, with one of the smallest forward lines in the entire League.

"The Midlanders, who later went on to win the FA Cup, beat us 2-0, with goals coming from Johnny Dixon and inevitably, my old Irish pal Peter McParland. I say inevitably, because Peter makes a habit of scoring whenever he plays against me. Indeed, he has scored more goals while playing against me than as my partner in the Irish team...even though we have played many more times together than as opponents. Burnley were out of the Cup, well beaten on a terrible pitch by an efficient, workmanlike team. The match was not a classic, my main recollection of it being the rather odd-looking playing strip sported by the Burnley players. We wore navy blue shirts and navy blue shorts, and with the referee in his customary all-black outfit it was not surprising that he was given more passes than anyone in our team! We wondered at the time why return passes never came. Fortunately, he changed into a purple shirt at half-time, although I am still not certain whether this simplified or further confused the issue!"

However, McIlroy did not provide the whole story for the dark outfits they wore. Peter McParland takes up the story:

"It was a foul afternoon," he recalls. "Wet and dark. A really filthy day. So Burnley decided to wear black! With almost no natural light and against the dark background of the crowd it was impossible to make their players out. Eric Houghton, our manager, came into our dressing-room before the kick-off raging. He went to see the referee and complain but all the ref did was ask to borrow one of our purple away-shirts to wear!"

Having watched Houghton's men battling through the gloom, the board was convinced that floodlights were necessary. (Seventeen months later, at half-time of Portsmouth's visit to Villa Park, came the historic moment. With the match level at 1-1 and the late summer light fading, chief electrician Eric Farmer threw the switch on the brand new £31,280 system.)

After Burnley, another tremendous encounter saw McParland again (with two goals) force local rivals West Brom to a replay in the semi-final, which Villa went on to win - just! The Albion side contained an array of talent, including Ronnie Allen and Bobby Robson, so Villa did exceedingly well against them. The semi-finals that year also saw the presence of Birmingham City (who were in the 1956 final), who lost to Man Utd. Three Birmingham sides in the semi-finals in one year!

So, in 1957 it was on to Wembley and the match with Manchester United. The great 'Busby Babes'. I'd seen Villa lose at home to the Babes, 3-1 that season, in the league, but Villa had drawn at Old Trafford as their confidence picked up on a long cup run. So, the scene was set for a great Final (we hoped). Villa's rather corny cup song that season (to the tune 'It's a long way to Tipperary') was:-

It's a long way to get to Wembley,

It's a long way to go,

It's a long way to get to Wembley,

But we'll get there, I know!

Goodbye Bristol City,

Goodbye Middles-brough,

It's a long, long way to get to Wembley,

But we'll get there, I know!

For Jimmy Dugdale it was to be his second final, having played for the Albion in their win of 1954 (the year they almost won the 'double'), but for 'Doc' Pace it was a year of misery. He was something of a favourite with the Villa fans, yet a Billy Myserscough had come up on the ropes to snatch the centre-forward place from 'Doc'. I and a number of fans still think that was a poor decision on the part of Eric Houghton, but, because we won the Cup, that matter was forgotten about. It was 'Doc' that was sold later that year to make way for Gerry Hitchens, and forever afterwards, 'Doc' was a thorn in the side to Villa when he was at Sheffield United.

The Final came round, and we prepared to watch it on 'black and white' T.V. Manchester United had already won the league, and were going for the 'double'. Villa had been the last club to win the double way back in 1896/97 (exactly 60 years before), and so we hoped that United would be stopped in their tracks. Peter McParland was at the height of his game at that time and had scored some explosive goals that season...would he win it? Well, he did...he scored both Villa's goals in the 2-1 win, BUT accidentally put out United's goalkeeper after only 15 minutes of the match. United were effectively down to 10 men for 75% of the match. Nevertheless, Villa played some good football in the second half, and made their pressure tell. Captain Johnny Dixon was a worthy winner.

So, we thought that a new era was starting ! But not entirely in the right direction, as things turned out...! But, first, there was the matter of the Munich air crash, and the demise of several of the Busby Babes. Everyone cried as a result of that event. Villa sold wing-half Stan Crowther to United to bolster their team, and they even got to the Cup Final again in '58 - but they lost again.


John Lerwill

Note: Most of the above comes from my website.

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John as ever a great read.

Its a real sobering thought to think that it has now been 50 years since we won the cup and even in that time we have only reached one final. When you think that we have done reasonably well in the league cup and of course the European cup its not as though the club hasn't been a "cup team".

I have a DVD of the 57 final - courtesy of VT - must watch it again

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Thanks Drat.

More sobering, though, is the fact that we've only won the Cup once in 87 years!!!

We've only won the league once in 97 and that's still more than sha have won either in 132 ;-)

Excellent piece John and a good read thanks

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