From the Archives: Memories of Villa Park's handy man
Talk to any Villa fan from the late 1940s and early 1950s and they all remember that funny guy who walked on his hands!
Simon Inglis describes the story of the mercurial playmaker in his enthralling book 'Villa Park 100 Years.'
The mystery man, he says, of medium height and build and usually somewhat dishevelled in appearance, would emerge from the Witton End about 15 minutes before kick-off.
To a huge round of applause he would run to the centre-circle, where he would toss his cap on to the pitch.
"At that point," recalled Peter Aldridge, "the man flipped over and stood on his hands, remaining motionless for a few seconds.
"Then he set off, still on his hands, dribbling his cap towards the Holte End. Arriving there, having left several phantom defenders trailing in his wake, he would then get back on his feet and kick his cap into the goal."
Arthur Smith added that "never once did he take a rest and he always raised a great roar from the crowd when he scored with the cap.
"On occasions he'd make it a cheeky back-heeler. All great fun!"
Few Villa Park regulars even knew the identity of this extraordinary entertainer.
But supporters from the Hockley area knew him well, for amazingly his real name was Lenny Hands.
Lenny Hands, or 'Andy' to his mates, was a drifter of the old school.
Born in Summer Lane just before the First World War, when his wife died he more or less took to living on the streets.
Shoppers in the old Bull Ring knew him as a hawker, while in addition to Villa Park he would regularly be seen in pubs, performing his tricks, trying to earn beer money.
"Everybody around Hockley knew our Lenny, who I believe lived in Mott Street for a while," remembered Ted Deakin.
"Sometimes he sold newspapers and other times Old Moore's Almanacs, at four pence a time.
"He'd fling open the pub door, throw the almanacs on the floor, then walk around the pub on his hands. Then the punters would buy him a half of ale or have a book off him."
Most of the time the police seemed happy to tolerate Lenny's one-match pitch invasion.
"Usually," said Peter Aldridge, "shortly after his performance began a solitary policeman who'd been patrolling the cinder track would walk slowly towards him but not so quickly as to be in danger of ever catching him up.
"As the performance reached its end the policeman would approach his quarry, who would flip up on to his feet, make a great play of eluding the policeman and promptly disappear into the crowd."
Lenny then made his way around the terraces, cap in hand, collecting pennies until by half-time he reached the Witton End, where he had started.
As the 1950 wore on, inevitably pickings grew smaller as the novelty of his act wore off.
He would die, in obscurity, it is thought, sometime during the mid-1980s.
Not a single photograph of him has survived, upright or otherwise.
But talk to any fan over the age of 60 and you can be sure, Lenny Hands provided some of the best pre-match entertainment ever seen at Villa Park.
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