The Big Interview: Ormondroyd on GT, Dr Jo, God and Birchy
Cult hero Ian Ormondroyd is unequivocal when he's asked about the best manager he worked under - Graham Taylor.
Boss Taylor paid a club-record fee of £650,000 to praise the striker-cum-winger from Bradford City in 1989.
It was a purchase designed to help Villa - languishing in the lower reaches of the First Division - push up the table and eventually challenge for honours.
The masterplan worked a treat as Ormondroyd played his part in reviving the claret and blues in the latter half of the 1988-89 season before scoring some vital goals the following term.
Villa finished a highly-respectable second behind all-conquering Liverpool before Taylor was handed the 'Impossible Job' of managing England.
Ormondroyd looks back fondly on his time under Taylor and the battle for the top-flight crown.
He credits Taylor's meticulous approach and sergeant-major style with bringing the pride back to B6.
And he only regrets that Taylor didn't stay longer at a time when he felt big domestic honours were on the horizon.
"I look back with great fondness. I had a great time at Villa. But it was very difficult to start with. When I first joined, I found it hard to get used to the fact I was playing in the top league.
"It was a big fee at the time, too, and it did weigh heavy on me for a while.
"I was coming to Villa - a club with a huge, huge history.
"The dressing room had some big name players too, like Gordon Cowans and David Platt. I was overawed to start with.
"But as the first season panned out, we managed to stay up and then the following campaign I got into the groove, played more regularly and really enjoyed it.
"There were rumours flying around at Bradford City for a month or two before I joined that Villa were interested in me.
"It was a weird situation in the end. The manager at the time, Terry Dolan, did the deal for me to move to Villa and then in the next breath he was sacked. It was the same day! His final job was to oversee my move. I'm delighted he did.
"It was the biggest club I played at, with the best manager I've played under and the best players I played with.
"Graham was the best manager I had by a mile. He was so professional and so thorough.
"It was just so organised. Look at away trips. The players knew down to the finest detail what was going to be happening - timings, venues, that kind of thing.
"He was meticulous. He was tactically so astute too. You'd be playing 4-4-2 some games and it wouldn't be happening. He'd just change it to 3-5-2.
"Everything he did, more often than not, changed things in our favour.
"He wasn't an arm around your shoulder kind of manager - that was more John Ward and Dennis Booth. John was the coach and Dennis was the comedian. There was a nice blend.
"Graham was the sergeant major. He was really tough, old-skool. But you knew the things he was doing were to get the very best out of the players for the good of the club. He did that totally.
"We could have won the title that season but unfortunately we were beaten to it by Liverpool. Then Graham left for England. We were disappointed big-time. But you aren't going to turn down the England job are you?
"I think we'd have had a good chance of winning the title the following season if Graham had stayed.
"Obviously it would have depended on a few factors, like transfers and injuries. But I think we would have brought in two or three really good players and we'd have had a real chance.
"I think we would have won silverware in those following seasons. That would have been superb. But that's life I suppose."
The turnaround for Villa during Ormondroyd's first two terms in claret and blue couldn't been more startling, finishing just above the dropzone before impressing many as runners-up for the title.
But 'Sticks' - as he was known by his playing pals - saw the talent in the dressing room very early on.
"We had a lot of good players. There were a lot of lads who were very underrated.
"Paul McGrath was unbelievable. He was the best player I played with, as I'm sure many, many others say. His ability was incredible.
"He didn't train that often. He had issues with his knees.
"You wouldn't see him until Friday, he'd train the day before the game and then he'd be the best player on the field on Saturday. He was unbelievable. He was superb.
"Graham brought Kent Nielsen in too who was superb.
"It was getting the best out of the lads who were there.
"Platty was brilliant. He was a goalscorer and did that superbly that season. Everyone stepped their levels up. That's how it worked.
"Dales was such an enigma. Some days he was unbelievable but others he didn't quite hit the same levels. But what I will say is that Dales still caused problems on an off-day.
"He'd run 70 yards with the ball to relieve the pressure, even if he didn't always put a fantastic ball into the box at the end of it. He was class.
"Derek Mountfield was a good player as was the likes of Gagey and Birchy.
"These were very solid, reliable players. We had a lot of versatile players too.
"Sid was in his prime. He was unbelievable. I have never known such an artist in the middle of the park. His passing was breathtaking with both feet.
"He pinged it around the field for fun. It was a sight to see. He would always get you the ball perfectly. It was frightening.
"In that championship-chasing season, we just had a lot of lads who raised their standards. It was a great season. I thoroughly enjoyed it."
If the contrast in those first two seasons was vast, it was the same story in two weekends with Villa hunting the championship.
After beating Tottenham at White Hart Lane, the players felt they could win the title. Following defeat to Wimbledon days later, they were never quite the same again.
"I scored against Tottenham with my right-foot which was unusual for me. Tottenham were very decent. But I remember the lads getting on the bus for the journey home and we were buzzing.
"Without getting too carried away, we were definitely thinking 'we can win the title here.'
"The crucial game was the following weekend where we lost 3-0. They were the Crazy Gang. You knew they were going to turn up and put a shift in.
"If we'd have won that game, I think we would have won the league.
"But it went downhill from there. Liverpool had loads of games in hand and went on to win it comfortably in the end. But that was the turning point."
Following Taylor's exit, the players waited eagerly for news of his successor, thinking - quite rightly - that assistant manager John Ward wanted the high-profile job.
In the end, the board decided to go continental and opted for respected Czech national coach, Dr Jo Venglos.
It was a brave move but one that was doomed to failure.
"It was strange. It was a weird, weird scenario.
"Jo couldn't get his thoughts and ideas across. He couldn't speak English and he didn't even have an interpreter, which you'd have nowadays. It was all broken English.
"His tactics and training methods were alien for us too.
"Everyone thought John Ward was going to get the job. He certainly wanted it.
"But they gave it to Jo. It was a gamble and it didn't really pay off.
"He was a highly-rated coach, of course. But it just didn't work with the players we had. We had what I would refer to as 'old-school English players' with old-school ways. They didn't take to his training methods. Tactically we didn't understand what he was trying to do.
"I remember the time he picked 12 players for a post-season game in Malaysia.
"One of the lads - I think it was Stuart Gray - pointed out he'd chosen one extra player.
"I was pretty quick on my feet so I turned to the gaffer and said: "Boss, I will be sub, no problem.' It was too hot to play football. The heat must have got to him too!"
Ormondroyd was quickly deemed surplus to requirements when charismatic boss Ron Atkinson was installed after Venglos's ill-fated solitary season at the helm.
But Ormondroyd was thankful for Big Ron's honesty - and generosity!
"Ron came in after Jo. He was funny. He was good with me. He pulled me into his office one day during pre-season. He said 'I don't want you. I am bringing others in like Dalian and Cyrille. I will find you another club, no problem.'
"I liked his honesty. I prefer managers to be like that. He didn't want me to waste my time in the reserves and I thank him for that.
"I liked Ron. He made me laugh. He was funny. He was bright. He was a good manager who got the best out of his players. He did well at Villa. He was a character, certainly.
"I remember we were playing at Southampton at the Old Dell one afternoon. Myself and Ian Olney were on the bench - two I.Os on the bench, that won't happen again, by the way!
"Big Ron was in the dugout five minutes before kick-off, topping up drinks for his backroom staff with brandy.
"He came over to me and said 'Do you fancy some of this?' He gave me a double slug of brandy. I can't remember if I came on as sub. I was probably drunk!"
Interestingly, this wasn't the funniest moment he encountered in claret and blue.
That came on the eve of the championship-chasing campaign, with Villa on tour in Berne, Switzerland.
"One evening we had been out for a few drinks. I roomed with Birchy and we got back to our hotel room and went to sleep.
"Next thing we know, Platty and Gagey are in our room and have thrown a huge bucket of water over us. It absolutely drowned us.
"So the next night, Birchy and I thought 'right, time for payback.'
"So we snuck into the room next door through the balcony and did the same with a massive bucket of water. Big mistake!
"What we didn't realise was that Platty and Gagey were two rooms down from us. We had just drowned a honeymooning couple!
"The next morning the gaffer had to explain and apologise. Birchy and I admitted the prank. But we just about got away with it. We didn't even get fined!"
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