Monday, 20 December 2010

Comparing Aston Villa to Leeds United

A friend of mine, a born and bred Londoner is a Leeds United fan. He remembers their golden era, on a trip to Elland Road he made in December 2010.

Original and best: the Championship trophy

To be honest, I read his piece and while he's stoic and full of memories, it's a sad chronicle of anticlimax. We really can be prisoners to all we hold dear, can't we? For Leeds are acclimatizing to life in their new division, having only just got promoted from the third tier.

My friend says Leeds fans chant "Champions of Europe" before each game to this day - but they never were. They blew it in typical Leeds fashion. So I'm glad a) I don't support Leeds United b) I support my home team and c) mine is a glorious club with a wonderful tradition. We actually did win the European Cup!

In my lifetime, I've seen Aston Villa win football's greatest prizes. Our astonishing rise to glory in winning the league in 1981 followed by Victory in Europe a year later, affords me consolation and inner peace whenever we lose today.

And that we won it all, slap bang in the middle of Liverpool's title and European pomp makes those achievements still greater. The Mighty Reds held both titles directly before and after us. For me, Villa remain the club of miracles.

Villa European Champions
There are many echoes and parallels with Villa and Leeds; a rise and rise all the way to a European Cup Final where our opponents were also Bayern Munich, and a sudden decline shortly afterwards.

But we beat Bayern in our one and only shot in the 1982 final. Leeds, demoralised and beaten long before the final whistle, lost 2-nil in Paris.

Villa fans also sing "Champions of Europe" at anyone who needs reminding. Think Arsenal and Chelsea for starters. Now that is fun!

“Dirty” Leeds however, were punished at the final hurdle in 1975 and coupled with disgraceful post-match violence in Paris, they began a downward spiral. When relegated in the early 80′s they took nine seasons to make a return to the top flight.
Clough and Taylor: Football giants
Villa were also relegated - just five years after being crowned European Champions, but unlike Leeds, bounced back at the first attempt.

Leeds United FC was scarred with racism throughout its period of domination on the field. In Paul Reaney, they had a black player but they didn't even acknowledge he was was black! When history recalls Viv Anderson as England's first black international in the late-seventies (ironically a Nottingham Forest player under Brian Clough who Leeds sacked after 44 days), they forget Reaney played for England a decade earlier. Shameful.

Don Revie's Leeds was seemingly built on fear. But Villa weren’t scared of race, it was the most integrated of all clubs both on the terraces and the field – and our grand old marque found poetic association with the sport’s biggest prize as it ascended in harmony.

As background to our major silverware, Birmingham at the time was churning out reggae and 2-Tone hits with bands like UB40 and The Selector. I’m proud of my city and Villa; founded 1874 (a generation earlier than Leeds), co-founders of the Football League with William McGregor, our chairman as the league’s inventor.

Clough: my hero
Somehow all that Villa stood for in that golden two years came together like ghosts from the club's glorious past. Five generations deep, they came out out to play in claret and blue with the class of  '82.

And I’ll always be a Cloughite too. His “win, but win better” approach was foreign to Revie’s Leeds and his style was totally and absolutely vindicated by two European trophies at Forest. Leeds stared on, potless and bottom of the table as Clough and Taylor swept Europe aside. Still, I admire my mate's stoic approach to Leeds. It's a football fans lot to be brokenhearted - and ultimately, it's the hope that kills you. 

But secretly, he must be gutted he picked Leeds United as a child. I hear Spurs are in the Champions League and Arsenal play the Beautiful Game! You're a Londoner mate, go and buy one of their scarves. Leeds stand for nothing good. Then or now.