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'Ron Saunders at 80': I'm a Villan - just like you!
Look-back at the legend of Ron Saunders.
6th Nov 2012
'Ron Saunders at 80': I'm a Villan - just like you!


Ron Saunders is 80 today. Here, we bring you his thoughts on the fans who follow Villa and his affinity to them. He also discusses players who helped shape the team for him in the early 1980s. Below he discusses Dennis Mortimer, Gordon Cowans, Des Bremner, Tony Morley, Ken McNaught, Allan Evans, Peter Withe, Gary Shaw and Jimmy Rimmer, Gary Williams and Kenny Swain - and himself Mr 110%! The quotes are taken from the book: 'Ron Saunders Aston Villa Scrapbook', which was published soon after the title-winning season of 1980-81.

Ron on Midfielders

In my opinion, Villa have the best three midfield players in the country.

Between them, they have everything that is necessary in a midfield trio and they complement each other as well as highlighting each other's strengths.

Season 1980-81 saw them having their first full season together and I have no doubts that this experience will enable them to fulfil their tremendous potential together in succeeding seasons.

I refer, of course, to Dennis Mortimer, Des Bremner and Gordon Cowans.

Since he joined from Coventry, Dennis has been an automatic choice.

And the rare exceptions have been the times when he has had to miss a match through injury.

Dennis is the type of player who relishes every game - the more often he's in action the better he likes it.

As a schoolboy, Dennis did a fair amount of long-distance running and in schools cross-country races he could usually be relied upon to finish in the first three.

That stamina stood him in good stead when he signed on as a professional footballer, yet as well as being able to stay the course he has tremendous turn of speed when he goes on an attacking foray from midfield.

And he has great vision, when it comes to reading situations in matches.

All in all, I felt he had the qualities I was looking for and eventually I made him the team skipper!

In midfield we also added the talent of Scot Des Bremner.

There came a time when Des looked like going to Newcastle, during Gordon Lee's days as manager but nothing materialised.

I had been keeping tabs on Des for quite a while and one Saturday, when he went out to play against Celtic, he was tipped off that he would be under scrutiny by an English club. That club was Aston Villa!

Twenty-four hours later, Hibs manager Eddie Turnbull phoned Des and told him to catch a plane the next morning from Edinburgh to Birmingham...and by the Monday evening I had talked to him and he had become a Villa player.

In his early days with Hibs, Des played at right-back but when he was pushed into midfield later on.

His ability in this vital department of the side became all too apparent.

Dennis and Des are joined by a player who shows all the signs of going to the top - Gordon Cowans, another of Villa's home-produced starlets.

I use the word advisedly because even now with so much experience behind him, Gordon still has plenty to learn! But he will learn and he will become even better.

He first played in the senior team at 17 but he had first attracted our attention at the age of 11 - yes, you have to be quick off the mark spotting budding talent, these days.

As a manager there is nothing I enjoy more than watching the development of youngsters and then seeing them make the big breakthrough!

Tony Morley turned out to be the surprise package of the First Division in 1980-81.

What transformed him from an in-and-out winger into a player who set the crowd alight with his exciting bursts down the flanks and his power-driven shooting?

Was it good luck, good management or just that Tony finally found himself?

Certainly it wasn't down to good luck, although inevitably, that factor plays a part in all our lives.

Basically two things have helped Tony to blossom. First he has become more involved in every game and secondly, he has the priceless asset of being able to score some spectacular goals.

Gary Shaw

Ron on Forwards

Gary Shaw was a scoring striker - a scoring machine, in fact - when he was a mere nipper of nine.

In 54 games he rattled up 69 goals. And he had been a Villa fan since the age of six.

At one time in his young life, Gary used to stand with his pals on the Holte End at Villa Park...now he was scoring goals and winning cheers from his mates.

The signing of Peter Withe was another instance of a manager having some good young talent on his books - but moving into the transfer market for the ready-made product because, at the time, such a signing promised to bring closer the day Villa fans could cheer as their team got among the honours.

Peter had nothing to prove to me when I asked him to join Villa from Newcastle. He had played his part in taking Nottingham Forest to the top and I knew that his manager there Brian Clough was just as demanding as myself.

I also felt Peter should still be playing in the top-flight - hence my sortie into the transfer market to take him from Second Division Newcastle.

Of course, I wasn't paying out all that cash to do Peter a favour - it was Aston Villa which came first to me.

But I'm glad to say that for player and club, the partnership has been profitable.

Ron on Defenders

At the end of season 1976-77 the best young centre-half in the country, in my opinion, was Ken McNaught of Everton - and I'd had a chance to see him at close-quarters as we played the Goodison Park club in the final of the League Cup.

I decided I wanted to take him to Villa Park but money was a bit tight so it was obvious that if I were to spend more than £200,000 on Ken McNaught I couldn't afford to keep Big Chris Nicholl - who was a big favourite with the supporters.

Equally it would be not fair to Chris to bring someone in when that someone would be clearly encouraged by me to take his place.

Fortunately the dilemma was solved when Southampton manager Lawrie McMenemy phoned to ask about his chances of signing Chris so a joint-deal was set up and everyone was happy.

Or so it seemed!

It took 12 months for Ken to win over the Villa supporters even though I wasn't deterred right along the line.

I knew that, in the end, the big, craggy Scot would justify his big-money signing.

Ken made his debut for Villa against Manchester City in August 1977.

He had been a first team regular for Everton during the previous 18 months, never missed a game for them in season 1976-77and was so strong and good in the air that trying to knock him off the ball was like waving a feather to knock down the side of a house.

He came to win over his critics and, with Allan Evans, form a central-defensive partnership which gave the team the kind of backbone I had been looking for.

With Ken Swain at No.2 and Gary Williams on the left-flank, Villa had probably the finest back-four line in the country. And no disrespect to Liverpool or Ipswich!

Talking about the second man in Villa's central-defensive partnership: Allan Evans, who at 6ft 4in is another craggy Scot.

It's one of the oldest sayings in football that if you chicken out of a tackle you're far more likely to finish up being the injured party than if you go in 100%. In my book, Alan is one of the 100 per centers!

Ron on Goalkeeper

I wouldn't swap Jimmy Rimmer for Peter Shilton, Ray Clemence or Joe Corrigan.

And that statement says just about everything in my assessment of the worth of this goalkeeper to Villa over the past few years.

Not that he was the first goalkeeper I signed...but he certainly turned out to be the best!

Saunders

Ron on Himself

I'm the odd man out!

The one who, as a youngster, had no burning ambitions about becoming a professional footballer and scoring that winning goal at Wembley.

Yet when I look back upon my appearances at the famous stadium, leading out cup-final teams four times with three different clubs, that seems completely in character because by the time I was 24 or 25 I had become obsessed with the idea of managing a professional club and making my mark on that side of the game.

Every game is a battle when you're coming in the best league in Europe by which I mean the English First Division.

And every time Villa go out to play, I make a specific demand on the players and the fans.

The expression I use has become something of a trademark of mine and I know some people have stuck it on me as a nickname.

They call me Mr 110% - because that's what I ask the players to give and I urge the supporters to lend the same kind of backing to the team.

Ron on The Fans

I make the claim that those who follow the fortunes of the team which wears claret and blue cannot be bettered.

I'm a Villan - and there are many thousands like me.

Generally speaking I believe it is fair to say that when it comes to decent behaviour our supporters are the tops.

I rate them so highly that I consider myself one of them, with the rider than I am also fortunate enough to be the manager of Aston Villa and in that way I represent them.

I must admit that when I walk along the track to the dugout I feel somewhat embarrassed as people put their arms out to touch me or shake me by the hand.

I just consider myself lucky that I happen to be the manager of their club and, as I said earlier, I regard myself as one of them.

Make sure you're here to roar on the lads against Manchester United.

 

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