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Little at 60: "Everyman" Brian always on the road to glory
Brian Little on playing life at Villa.
25th Nov 2013
Little at 60: "Everyman" Brian always on the road to glory


Brown

"If you asked Ron Saunders the question 'who was the most awkward player you ever worked with?' I think he'd probably say me. I'd be in his top ten, that's for sure! I can recall hundreds of occasions where Ron wanted to kick me and shake me before a game!"

So said Brian Little as he recalled his playing days working with the man he would eventually follow into the claret and blue hotseat.

Ironically, Saunders was asked some years later what he really did make of Little the footballer. The answer was brilliantly blunt - and utterly conclusive.

"He was brilliant, simple as that. He was, at the time, as good as anything in the country."

There lies the incredible contrast.

Little was an amazing star, as the usually placid Saunders admitted. He was a cavalier of a footballer who was an integral part of the team in the 1970s. Sporting shoulder length hair, he was a striker who endeared himself to the crowd with his flair and ability to do something out of the ordinary. He was quick, imaginative and intelligent - qualities which made him a delight to watch.

But he was also, behind it all, unassuming, undemonstrative and had the aura of the classical "everyman" - a person just like you and me.

Instead of celebrating a goal, he trudged to the centre-circle. Instead of worrying endlessly before games, he chilled out in the dressing room in his own "zone." Instead of drinking pint after pint following victories, he would savour the moment.

"I used to shrug off goals and say 'I've just scored' and walk back to the halfway line," Little continued. "I tended not to celebrate. I liked to take things in my stride - and take in the moment rather than go overboard.

"I wasn't nervous especially either. I think coaching and management is far more nerve-wracking. Playing football was just something I really enjoyed. I don't think I was ever nervous before a football match.

"I was probably in my own zone - I was tuned in and very aware. But generally speaking, playing football was something I just loved doing."

That "everyman" spirit was even there in his early years at the club.

Little, who lived a stone's throw from Newcastle United's St James's Park, joined Villa as an apprentice in 1969, turning down several First Division clubs at the time because "I fell in love with Villa. There was something magical about it."

He quickly helped Villa to the 1972 Youth Cup. By then, he had already broken into the first team - although he hadn't forgotten his mates and what was important to him.

"I was able to get on with people and was a good friend with all the lads," said Little. "Even though I was near the first team at 17 I was still one of the boys. I never forgot that.

"We won the Youth Cup when I broke into the first team. I had seen it over the years that one or two lads got near the first team and then distanced themselves away from the friends they grew up with. I didn't. That wasn't me.

"I still keep in touch with those lads to this day, some are even in Australia and Holland."

Little

That "common touch" was never more demonstrated, though, than the night before Villa's clash against Sunderland on April 26, 1975.

Promotion to the First Division was clinched the previous weekend at Sheffield Wednesday as Villa looked to show off their classy credentials on home soil.

We'll let Brian explain his unusual actions.

"I remember some great games that season. I recall the second to last game against Sunderland at Villa Park. We beat them and it was a massive crowd with thousands of Sunderland fans there too.

"Believe it or not, I actually gave two Sunderland fans a lift the night before. They were hiking on the A38. I just managed to stop.

"They were looking at me in the car and saying: "We know you, don't we?" Obviously I dropped them off in Birmingham and they half-wished me good luck.

"We won 2-0. I scored and so did Ian Ross. It was great."

That wasn't the only thing that was "great" about that historic season.

Villa, of course, went up to the top tier as a result of their second-placed finish but they also won the League Cup with a Wembley triumph over Norwich.

On a personal level, Little's international ambitions were also fulfilled.

"That season was brilliant," Little continued. "And funnily enough, that game pretty much gave me an opportunity to get into the England squad.

"I remember that performance in the final was noted by then manager Don Revie, who gave me a chance to play for my country.

"That season, as a team, we got promoted back to the First Division. We won the League Cup as a Second Division club. And I got capped for England. That was a terrific period for myself.

"That League Cup campaign was great. It was a fantastic feeling to walk out at Wembley. It's always had an aura but even more back then. It was the highlight game, going there. To win was great."

But that wasn't the end of the League Cup legend for Little.

Two seasons later, Villa were back in the final - not that anyone remembers the game. Especially not Brian, who admits he has a terrible memory.

But the third game - at Old Trafford - cemented Villa as victors with an immense 3-2 extra-time win over Everton.

Little scored two that day, including the winner in the dying embers of the game. But despite that fact, like the unassuming man he is, he still lets a team-mate - Chris Nicholl - take the glory.

"I have been in the company of that team many times when we start talking about that Old Trafford game but it takes Chris so long to talk about his great goal that I don't get chance to discuss my two.

"It takes him about 45 minutes to describe it. That's great. I enjoyed the fact I scored two goals, that we won and also more that Chris wallows in that goal because he's a great friend of mine.

"He scored a few in his time but that one was so spectacular that he deserves the opportunity to talk about it as much as he can.

"His story is even better than the goal to be honest. He's got a great build-up and it's a great story.

"It's tremendous to be in his company when he talks about it. We had a great bunch of lads, a good team, we were starting to find out feet and looked like the sort of team who could go on and do something special."

Villa certainly did that, courtesy of the 1981 and 1982 magic moments. The only tragedy was that Little wasn't around to enjoy it, having to retire in 1980 due to a knee injury.

Thankfully, that wasn't the end of his claret and blue story, as he managed to oversee some glorious moments as manager in his own right.

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