On this day: Happy 50th birthday to Kevin Richardson
Villa would like to wish former skipper Kevin Richardson a very happy 50th birthday today.
Richardson was a footballer who went about his business without ever commanding massive headlines but it's only right we recognise his major milestone today.
He was described in the 1993 Aston Villa Review as "the quiet man who prefers to lead by example" and it is difficult to think of a better description of him.
A grafting midfielder, he constantly helped to break up opposition attacks before providing sensible passes to more creative team-mates.
If he was never a star, however, the unassuming Geordie's contribution was essential, both to Villa and the clubs for whom he played before and after his time in claret and blue.
Think of the great Everton midfield of the Eighties and the names Bracewell, Reid, Sheedy and Steven spring to mind. Arsenal supporters linger affectionately over the likes of Rocastle, Davis, Thomas and Marwood when recalling the championship-winning core of 1989. Yet Kevin Richardson was an integral part of both.
In 1988-89 he played a part in all but five of Arsenal's 48 matches, while he was a stand-in on 14 occasions when injury struck Everton's first-choice quartet four years before.
And when Villa challenged strongly for the inaugural Premier League crown in 1992-93, he was frequently talked about as potentially the first player to win Football League winners medals with three different clubs.
That third medal eluded him as Villa finished runners-up to Manchester United but he added another honour to his collection the following season when he captained the side to a 3-1 victory over the Red Devils in the 1994 League Cup final. And he was voted the Wembley Man of the Match.
Richardson left his mark on colleagues and opponents more indelibly than he did on neutral observers.
"He did what very few footballers did, the simple things well," said Andy Gray, Villa's assistant manager when Richo was in claret and blue.
"There is a tendency to overcomplicate the game that he always resisted. As a result he didn't take the eye, he didn't beat four players on a 50-yard run, but ask Ron Atkinson or the Villa fans which player they would least like to have left out of the side in the early 1990s and nine out of ten would have said Kevin Richardson.
"The one quality that stood out about Kevin was that he was a winner. Off the field he's very pleasant but on it he was a real competitor."
Gray, who played with Richardson at Everton, was a strong advocate in his favour when Villa were looking to fill the gap in their midfield caused by the transfer of David Platt to Italy in 1991.
Richardson, acquired from Real Sociedad, provided the strength, Garry Parker, from Nottingham Forest, the pin-point passing. The two were bought for a fifth of the £5.5m Villa received from Bari.
Atkinson's brief was simple. "I want him to make it difficult for the opposition in midfield," the manager said and Richardson was a consistent irritant from that moment on.
A fiery player whose temper always appeared likely to boil over in his Highbury days, he mellowed with acquiring the captaincy at Villa and comparisons were often made with Dennis Mortimer, a high accolade.
Richardson was the bolt holding the team's shape together, sweeping in front of his back four.
"He was a players' player," said Des Bremner, a member of Villa's championship-winning side in 1981.
"The crowd may not have always noticed what he did but you can be sure his team-mates were aware of him. He worked very hard, ran all over the pitch and his passing was excellent."
He eventually followed Big Ron to Coventry when Brian Little took over the hotseat.
But his contribution to the claret and blue cause will never be forgotten - even if it was sometimes underemphasised when he actually played here!
We'd also like to wish 'God' Paul McGrath a happy 53rd birthday!
Snap up your tickets and back the boys against Stoke.
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