Saunders’ champions – Aston Villa 1981

SEVENTY-PLUS years had passed since Aston Villa had last won the Football League Championship, their six title triumphs ended in 1910. In the intervening decades, Villa had known despair at times, spending  two years in Division Three at the start of the 1970s. In 1975, under the ultra-disciplinarian, Ron Saunders, Villa returned to the top flight, also winning the Football League Cup in 1974-75.

Villa made good progress in Division One and in 1976-77 finished fourth and won the League Cup again. Much of their success was dependent on two talented forwards,  Andy Gray and Brian Little. By 1980, neither player featured in the Villa line-up – Gray had been sold for a huge fee and Little was a victim of injury.

But Saunders built a strong team that had the solid foundations that he always demanded of his sides but also benefitted from considerable flair. Villa, after finishing seventh in 1979-80, became title contenders in 1980-81. Saunders had added Peter Withe to his squad, a journeyman striker who had won the League with Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in 1978. He paired this tall target man with a promising and spritely youngster, Gary Shaw, to form a partnership that immediately paid dividends.

Consistency was the key for Villa – they used just 14 players all season with seven of their squad playing all 42 league games. This continuity was vital as Saunders’ team went head-to-head with Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town for the title.

Villa started the season well but lost their first game at Ipswich at the start of September. After a second defeat a few days later at Everton, they went on a 12 game unbeaten run that ended at Liverpool on November 22. By this time, Villa were top of the table, two points ahead of Ipswich who had two games in hand. Most of the pundits expected Ipswich to be champions in 1980-81, but the Suffolk side suffered from fixture congestion and a lack of strength in depth in their squad.

As 1980 ended, Liverpool were also in contention but like Villa they had played more games than Ipswich. Villa came out of an indifferent period and in January hit form again, but the title had started to evolve into a two-horse race. Ipswich were top at the end of January, but they had distractions in both the FA Cup and UEFA Cup. They had knocked Villa out of the FA Cup at the third round stage.

While Ipswich struggled to fight on three fronts, Villa only had the Football League title to focus on. But as February ended, Ipswich were two points ahead at the top and both teams had played 31 games. The smart money was still on Ipswich.

Villa went on another long unbeaten run that took them to mid-March. It ended on March 21 at Tottenham, but Ipswich spurned the chance to take advantage of their rivals’ slip-up and were beaten at Manchester United. They stayed one point ahead of Villa and were now a game behind.

At the end of March, Ipswich appeared to implode and lost two key games, at Leeds and West Bromwich. At the start of April, Villa were top with 53 points from 36 games, Ipswich second with 52 from 36.

When the two sides met at Villa Park on April 14, Villa had a three point advantage but Ipswich had six games still to play to Villa’s five. Ipswich won the big clash in front of more than 47,000 people by 2-1, Shaw scoring very late on for the home side. It looked as though Ipswich now had the initiative.

But four days later, Villa beat Nottingham Forest while Ipswich slipped again, this time at home to Arsenal. Villa had gone three points clear and Ipswich were running out of games. On April 20, both contenders seemed to be getting tired – Villa drew 1-1 at Stoke and Ipswich were beaten in the East Anglian derby with Norwich. Saunders’ men now had a four-point margin. Five days later, the title looked to be secure as both sides won. Ipswich had to win both of their remaining games to be champions and hope for Villa to falter. On May 2 at half-time, the issue was still open as Villa were losing at Arsenal and Ipswich were winning at Middlesbrough. By full-time, both challengers had lost, so the trophy went to the Midlands.

There was widespread sympathy for Ipswich, who for a long time had promised to win the title, but few people denied Villa their first championship in several generations. Their usual team was: Rimmer; Swain, Gibson, Williams, Evans, McNaught; Cowans, Mortimer, Bremner, Morley; Withe, Shaw.

Aston Villa’s captain Dennis Mortimer shows the trophy to a crowd of thousands outside the Birmingham Town Hall. Aston Villa won the league championship for the first time since 1910.

Jimmy Rimmer (33): Experienced goalkeeper who joined Villa in 1977 from Arsenal, but also spent some time with Manchester United earlier in his career. Won one England cap when he was with Arsenal.

Kenny Swain (29): A versatile player who started out as a forward at Chelsea, his first professional club. Swain was converted to full back by Ron Saunders and was an immediate success. He had cost Villa £ 100,000 when he joined them halfway through the 1978-79 season. Went on to have a notable coaching career.

Colin Gibson (21): Left-back or midfielder who was an England under-21 international. Played for Villa until 1985 when he joined Manchester United.

Gary Williams (20): Full back who played for Villa between 1978 and 1987 before moving to Leeds United.

Ken McNaught (26): Scottish central defender who joined Villa from Everton in 1977. A rugged centre back who later played for West Bromwich Albion.

Allan Evans (24): Scottish international (4 caps) who was signed from Dunfermline Athletic in 1977. A marvellously consistent central defender who formed a dependable partnership with McNaught at the heart of the Villa back-line.

Gordon Cowans (22): County Durham-born midfielder who won plaudits for his exciting performances. Became an England international, winning 10 caps before leaving Villa in 1985 to join Bari in Italy. His career was blighted by injury and he rarely scaled the heights of his early years.

Dennis Mortimer (29): Liverpool-born midfielder and captain who was considered to be one of the best players never to be capped by England. Signed by Villa in 1975 from Coventry City and stayed with the club for a decade before signing for Brighton.

Des Bremner (28): Villa paid Hibernian £ 275,000 to sign Bremner in 1979. Capped once by Scotland, he spent more than five years with the club before joining Birmingham City.

Peter Withe (29): A much travelled and frequently under-rated centre forward who had already won the title with Nottingham Forest in 1978. His aerial power complemented Gary Shaw’s style and the duo netted 38 league goals between them. Was also the match-winner in the 1981-82 European Cup final.

Gary Shaw (20): A richly-talented forward whose career was stymied by crippling injuries. A local lad, he won England Under-21 caps and was tipped to add full caps to that haul. He was named PFA Player of the Year in 1980-81.

Tony Morley (26): A fast and tricky winger who also knew how to score spectacular goals. Morley joined the club from Burnley in 1979, costing Villa £ 200,000. He was capped six times by England. Moved to West Bromwich in 1983.

Football League Appearances

Bremner, D 42 Gibson, C 19+2   Shaw, G 40
Cowans, G 42 McNaught, K 42   Swain, K     42
Deacy, E 5+4 Morley, T 42   Williams, G 21+1
Evans, A 39 Mortimer, D 42   Withe, P 36
Geddis, D 8+1 Rimmer, J 42

Goalscorers:  Withe 20, Shaw 18, Morley 10, Evans 7, Cowans 5, Geddis 4, Mortimer 4, Bremner 2, Own Goals 2 Total: 72

Football League Results

Aug 16 Leeds United Away W 2-1 Morley, Shaw 23,401
Aug 20 Norwich City Home W 1-0 Shaw 25,970
Aug 23 Manchester City Away D 2-2 Withe 2 30,017
Aug 30 Coventry City Home W 1-0 Shaw 26,050
Sept 6 Ipswich Town Away L 0-1 23,192
Sept 13 Everton Home L 0-2 25,673
Sept 20 Wolverhampton W Home W 2-1 Own Goal, Geddis 26,181
Sept 27 Crystal Palace Away W 1-0 Shaw 18,398
Oct 4 Sunderland Home W 4-0 Evans 2, Morley, Shaw 26,914
Oct 8 Manchester United Away D 3-3 Withe, Cowans (pen), Shaw 38,831
Oct 11 Birmingham City Away W 2-1 Cowans (pen), Evans 33,879
Oct 18 Tottenham Hotspur Home W 2-0 Morley 2, Withe 30,940
Oct 22 Brighton & Hove A Home W 4-1 Mortimer, Withe, Bremner, Shaw 27,367
Oct 25 Southampton Away W 2-1 Morley, Withe 21,249
Nov 1 Leicester City Home W 2-0 Shaw, Cowans 29,953
Nov 8 West Bromwich A Away D 0-0 34,195
Nov 12 Norwich City Away W 3-1 Shaw 2, Evans 17,050
Nov 15 Leeds United Home D 1-1 Shaw 29,106
Nov 22 Liverpool Away L 1-2 Evans 48,114
Nov 29 Arsenal Home D 1-1 Morley 30,140
Dec 6 Middlesbrough Away L 1-2 Shaw 15,597
Dec 13 Birmingham City Home W 3-0 Geddis 2, Shaw 41,101
Dec 20 Brighton & Hove A Away L 0-1 16,425
Dec 26 Stoke City Home W 1-0 Withe 34,658
Dec 27 Nottingham Forest Away D 2-2 Own Goal, Shaw 33,930
Jan 10 Liverpool Home W 2-0 Withe, Mortimer 47,960
Jan 17 Coventry City Away W 2-1 Morley, Withe 27,020
Jan 31 Manchester City Home W 1-0 Shaw 33,682
Feb 7 Everton Away W 3-1 Morley, Mortimer, Cowans (pen) 31,434
Feb 21 Crystal Palace Home W 2-1 Withe 2 27,203
Feb 28 Wolverhampton W Away W 1-0 Withe 34,693
Mar 7 Sunderland Away W 2-1 Evans, Mortimer 27,278
Mar 14 Manchester United Home D 3-3 Withe 2, Shaw 42,182
Mar 21 Tottenham Hotspur Away L 0-2 35,091
Mar 23 Southamptom Home W 2-1 Morley, Geddis 32.467
Apr 4 Leicester City Away W 4-2 Withe 2, Bremner, Morley 26,032
Apr 8 West Bromwich A Home W 1-0 Withe 47,998
Apr 14 Ipswich Town Home L 1-2 Shaw 47,495
Apr 18 Nottingham Forest Home W 2-0 Cowans (pen), Withe 34,707
Apr 20 Stoke City Away D 1-1 Withe 23,511
Apr 25 Middlesbrough Home W 3-0 Shaw, Withe, Evans 38,018
May 2 Arsenal Away L 0-2 57,472

FA Cup: Round Three
Football League Cup: Round Two
Average home attendance: 34,117

Pos   P W D L F A Pts
1 Aston Villa 42 26 8 8 72 40 60
2 Ipswich Town 42 23 10 9 77 43 56
3 Arsenal 42 19 15 8 61 45 53


 Photos: PA


We are the Champions: 1985-86 – Liverpool

Photo: PA

AFTER dominating the period from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, Liverpool at last won the coveted “double” with possibly their least impressive team from that period. However, credit was due to Liverpool for timing their run to the finish perfectly, remaining unbeaten in the last 12 games while their rivals slipped up.

It was a season that saw various teams have their moment – neighbours Everton were favourites to regain the title they won in 1985, West Ham United enjoyed their best-ever league season and Manchester United started the campaign in all-conquering form but fell away as the season progressed. Chelsea, too, were also cast in the role of championship contenders until the new year.

Liverpool went into the season under new management for the second time in three years, Kenny Dalglish taking over as player-manager in the close season of 1985. Unlike his predecessors, Dalglish didn’t have European football to look forward to, for at the 1985 European Cup final, Liverpool fans were involved in the Heysel Stadium tragedy that resulted in 39 Juventus fans being killed. English clubs were banned from Europe until 1990.

The events in Brussels could have cast a long shadow over Anfield, but Liverpool were determined to regain the crown they lost to Everton. In fact, the two Merseyside clubs dominated the domestic season.

Liverpool started slowly, though, only adding to their squad in September with the acquisition of Aston Villa’s midfielder Steve McMahon. At the time, Manchester United were making the early running and by mid-October, they were 10 points ahead of Liverpool.

As the end of 1985 loomed, Liverpool’s form was still unpredictable, with goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar coming in for criticism for his performances. Indeed, one newspaper went as far as saying that the Zimbabwe international had cost Liverpool as many as 15 points.

The year ended with Liverpool in fourth place and when Everton won 2-0 at Anfield in February, with Grobbelaar again under pressure, the Reds’ championship hopes looked forlorn. Everton were eight points ahead of third-placed Liverpool.

The derby defeat seemed to act as a spur for Dalglish’s team ran into their best form and also set on a path for the FA Cup final. They beat Chelsea, Norwich, York and Watford to reach the semi-final where they disposed of Southampton. While Liverpool were now over their inconsistencies, Manchester United and Chelsea dropped from view leaving West Ham to battle the championship race out with the Mersey duo.

Liverpool found their goal touch in the closing months, recording big wins against Oxford United, Coventry City and Birmingham City. They went top of the table at the end of March after winning 2-0 against Manchester City, but the crunch weekend came at the end of April when Everton slipped up at Oxford United while Liverpool were beating Leicester City. Liverpool had one game to go, away at Chelsea, and won 1-0, thanks to a well-taken and typical goal from Dalglish. This meant that Everton and West Ham could not overtake Liverpool’s 88 points.

A week later, Liverpool beat Everton 3-1 at Wembley to win the FA Cup and complete English football’s fifth double.

Liverpool’s team in 1985-86: Bruce Grobbelaar; Jim Beglin, Mark Lawrenson, Gary Gillespie, Alan Hansen, Steve Nicol; Craig Johnston, Steve McMahon, Kevin MacDonald, Ronnie Whelan, Jan Mølby; Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Paul Walsh

Bruce Grobbelaar (28): Joined Liverpool in March 1981 from Vancouver Whitecaps, costing the club £ 250,000. A flamboyant goalkeeper, occasionally prone to bizarre mistakes, he became something of a folk hero at Liverpool. Born in Durban, South Africa, he was a Zimbabwean international.

Jim Beglin (22): Bob Paisley’s last signing for Liverpool in May 1983, costing the Reds £ 20,000. Played 15 times for the Republic of Ireland, but his career was compromised by a badly broken leg in 1987. He moved to Leeds in 1989.

Alan Hansen (30): Signed from Patrick Thistle in 1977 for a £ 100,000 fee, Hansen established himself in the Liverpool defence in his second season at Anfield and proved to be an excellent reader of the game. He won 26 caps for Scotland and was later named Liverpool’s club captain.

Gary Gillespie (25): Scottish defender who was Liverpool manager Joe Fagan’s first signing in July 1983, costing £325,000 from Coventry City. Took time to settle at Liverpool, but in eight years made 156 league appearances. In 1985-86, he netted a hat-trick for Liverpool in their 5-0 win against Birmingham. Went on to win 13 caps for Scotland and left the club in 1991 for Celtic.

Mark Lawrenson (28): Joined Liverpool in August 1981 from Brighton for a £900,000 fee. Played for Preston North End earlier in his career and won 39 caps for the Republic of Ireland. A tough tackler, he was also a very skilful and fast defender.

Ronnie Whelan (24): A hard-working and consistent midfield player who was signed from Irish club Home Farm in 1979 for £ 35,000. Dublin-born, Whelan was being courted for some time by a number of English clubs, including Manchester United. He developed a reputation for being the man for the big occasion and won 53 caps for Ireland in his long career.

Steve Nicol (24): Joined Liverpool in 1981 from Ayr United for £ 300,000. A versatile player who could play in defence or midfield, he took time to establish himself at Anfield but went on to make 343 Football League appearances. Capped by Scotland 27 times.

Craig Johnston (24): South African-born Australian who joined Liverpool from Middlesbrough in March 1981 for £ 650,000. A busy, skilful midfielder who had an eye for goal. He was capped at under-21 level by England.

Kevin MacDonald (24): Scottish midfielder signed from Leicester City in November 1984 for £400,000. Spent almost five years at Anfield, never commanding a regular first team place. Nevertheless, he played his part in the 1985-86 campaign. Broke his leg in 1986 and never regained his place.

Steve McMahon (24): Signed by Liverpool in September 1985 from Aston Villa for £ 350,000. Started his career with Everton but joined Villa in 1983. A combative player, he played a key role in Liverpool’s “double” season, although was not involved in the FA Cup final. Left the club in 1991 for Manchester City, by which time, he had won 17 caps for England.

Jan Mølby (22): Danish midfielder who was signed from Ajax Amsterdam in 1984 and struggled in his first season with Liverpool. A skilful player, strong and competitive, his lack of pace was often evident, although his ability to score vital goals was highly valued. Capped 33 times by Denmark, he stayed at Liverpool until 1996.

Kenny Dalglish (35): Dalglish arrived from Celtic in August 1977 and became one of the club’s most popular and celebrated players, winning over 100 caps for Scotland and becoming player-manager in 1985, leading Liverpool to the coveted “double”. Named Manager of the Year in 1985-86.

Ian Rush (24): Arrived at Anfield from Chester in March 1980, costing Liverpool £300,000. Became one of the most prolific goalscorers in the history of the game and in two spells with Liverpool, netted 346 goals for the club. He scored 33 goals in all competitions in 1985-86.

Paul Walsh (22): Joined Liverpool in 1984 from Luton Town for £ 700,000 after starting his career with Charlton Athletic. A skilful forward with good dribbling skills, Walsh played four times for England. He remained at Liverpool until 1987 when he joined Tottenham.

Football League Appearances

Beglin, J 34 Kennedy, A 8 Neal, P 11+2
Dalglish, K 17+4 Lawrenson, M 36+2 Nicol, S 33+1
Gillespie, G 14 Lee, S 13+2 Rush, I 40
Grobbelaar, B 42 MacDonald, K 23 Walsh, P 17+3
Hansen, A 41 McMahon, S 23 Wark, J 7+2
Johnston, C 38+3 Mølby, J 39 Whelan, R 37+2

Goalsscorers: Rush 22, Mølby 14, Walsh 11, Whelan 10, Johnston 7, McMahon 6, Nicol 4, Dalglish 3, Gillespie 3, Lawrenson 3, Wark 3, MacDonald 1, Beglin 1, Neal 1 Total: 89

Football League Results

Aug 17 Arsenal Home W 2-0 Whelan, Nicol 38,261
Aug 21 Aston Villa Away D 2-2 Rush, Mølby 20,197
Aug 24 Newcastle United Away L 0-1 29,670
Aug 26 Ipswich Town Home W 5-0 Nicol, Rush 2, Mølby, Johnston 29,383
Aug 31 West Ham U Away D 2-2 Johnston, Whelan 19,762
Sept 3 Nottingham F Home W 2-0 Whelan 2 27,135
Sept 7 Watford Home W 3-1 Neal – pen, Johnston, Rush 31,395
Sept 14 Oxford United Away D 2-2 Rush, Johnston 11,474
Sept 21 Everton Away W 3-2 Dalglish, Rush, McMahon 51,509
Sept 28 Tottenham H Home W 4-1 Lawrenson, Rush, Mølby 2 41,521
Oct 5 Queens Park R Away L 1-2 Walsh 24,621
Oct 12 Southampton Home W 1-0 McMahon 31,070
Oct 19 Manchester Utd Away D 1-1 Johnston 54,492
Oct 26 Luton Town Home W 3-2 Walsh 2, Mølby 31,488
Nov 2 Leicester City Home W 1-0 Rush 31,718
Nov 9 Coventry City Away W 3-0 Beglin, Walsh, Rush 16,947
Nov 16 West Bromwich Home W 4-1 Nicol, Mølby, Lawrenson, Walsh 28,407
Nov 23 Birmingham City Away W 2-0 Rush, Walsh 15,062
Nov 30 Chelsea Home D 1-1 Mølby – pen 38,842
Dec 7 Aston Villa Home W 3-0 Mølby, Walsh, Johnston 29,418
Dec 14 Arsenal Away L 0-2 35,048
Dec 21 Newcastle United Home D 1-1 Nicol 30,746
Dec 26 Manchester City Away L 0-1 35,548
Dec 28 Nottingham F Away D 1-1 MacDonald 27,141
Jan 1 Sheffield Weds Home D 2-2 Rush, Walsh 38,964
Jan 12 Watford Away W 3-2 Walsh 2, Rush 16,967
Jan 18 West Ham U Home W 3-1 Mølby – pen, Rush, Walsh 41,056
Feb 1 Ipswich Town Away L 1-2 Whelan 20,551
Feb 9 Manchester Utd Home D 1-1 Wark 35,004
Feb 22 Everton Home L 0-2 45,445
Mar 2 Tottenham H Away W 2-1 Mølby, Rush 16,436
Mar 8 Queens Park R Home W 4-1 McMahon 2, Rush, Wark 26,219
Mar 15 Southampton Away W 2-1 Wark, Rush 19,784
Mar 22 Oxford United Home W 6-0 Rush 2, Lawrenson, Whelan, Mølby, 2 – 1 pen 37,861
Mar 29 Sheffield Weds Away D 0-0 37,946
Mar 31 Manchester City Home W 2-0 McMahon 2 43,316
Apr 12 Coventry City Home W 5-0 Whelan 3, Mølby, Rush 42,729
Apr 16 Luton Town Away W 1-0 Johnston 15,390
Apr 19 West Bromwich Away W 2-1 Dalglish, Rush 22,010
Apr 26 Birmingham City Home W 5-0 Rush, Gillespie 3 – 1pen, Mølby – pen 42,021
Apr 30 Leicester City Away W 2-0 Rush, Whelan 25,799
May 3 Chelsea Away W 1-0 Dalglish 43,900

FA Cup: Winners
Football League Cup: Semi-Finals
Average home attendance: 35,316

    P W D L F A Pts
1 Liverpool 42 26 10 6 89 37 88
2 Everton 42 26 8 8 87 41 86
3 West Ham United 42 26 6 10 74 40 84