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Little at 60: Even police escort was a breeze in perfect final
Brian Little on life as Villa gaffer.
25th Nov 2013
Little at 60: Even police escort was a breeze in perfect final


Brown

Talk about Brian Little's managerial career with Villa and the League Cup final win in 1996 comes easily to mind.

Wembley showpieces are generally nerve-wracking, tense affairs from start to finish, with players, managers and supporters unable to either sleep easily the night before or stop fidgeting on the day itself.

But for Little, the 1996 final was a "breeze" - the easiest day of his time at the helm in claret and blue.

In fact, he said the most concerning element of the monumental afternoon was the coach journey to Wembley across the car-strewn capital - but even that went without a hitch.

"The final was fantastic. Everything just went right on the day," said Little.

"Nothing went wrong. I remember we stayed at the far end of London and the police escort told us: "What the hell are you staying out here for?" We were in Croydon which is quite a trek into Wembley.

"The policemen were moaning about having to take us through the capital. But even they were smiling when they arrived on their motorbikes because they'd enjoyed the easy journey themselves.

"We breezed through traffic and the escort was fantastic. I love motorbikes so I was sat at the front watching them weaving through the traffic. Even to this day, I adore motorbikes. I was fascinated with the way they helped us through.

"I know they were worried beforehand about taking us through - but even that went well.

"We got into the dressing room and we were off. I can't remember anything on the day which was a nuisance. We cruised through the game.

"It was one of the best winning performances I think you'll see at a Wembley final. It was a terrific performance from the players who had put in some tremendous displays that season.

"The balance of the team was spot on and it was a terrific day without a doubt.

"It was also the easiest game to sit and manage. I just sat there and never felt under pressure or nervous because we got a grip of the game straight away.

"It was such contrasting emotions from their side to ours - they knew they had been blown away. From our point of view, it was perfect."

Little

If Little's managerial pinnacle was easy, his arrival into the hotseat could hardly have been more controversial.

In the wake of Ron Atkinson's departure, Villa quickly identified Little as the man to revive their fortunes but the business of getting him away from Leicester City, the club he had guided back to the top-flight, was no easy matter.

Leicester were adamant they would not release him from his contract and ultimately he was forced to walk out in order to fulfil his dream of managing Villa.

Little admits that in the end it was "an opportunity he couldn't refuse" although he did have worries about taking the job.

"To have got back to Villa was great," Little added. "I was manager of Leicester and doing well and Ron Atkinson had left the club. An opportunity arose and at first I was unsure I have to say.

"I thought about the fact I'd been able to go back to Villa Park and people remembered me as the football player and people would say 'It's great to see you Brian.' Having had the sack very early in my management career at Wolves, there was that thing about 'if I go back and don't do very well what effect will that have on my relationship with this great football club.

"But it was an opportunity I couldn't refuse. Although by the end of my three years I was tired, I really enjoyed it. I wouldn't swap it for the world."

History shows, of course, that he did take the Villa job - and just like Atkinson before him, he had to endure a hostile reception at his former club when he took Villa to Filbert Street in only his third game in charge.

With Villa hovering around the relegation zone at the time of his appointment, Little's brief was simply to retain Premier League status with a team of quality - but aging - players.

He achieved that objective as Villa secured safety with a 1-1 draw at Norwich on the final day.

He then set about reshaping the side around three major summer signings - defender Gareth Southgate, midfielder Mark Draper and striker Savo Milosevic.

Little did this to such great effect that the 1995-96 campaign turned out to be the most successful of the Premier League era. They finished fourth in the league, reached the FA Cup semi-finals and won the League Cup.

That Wembley win saw Villa return to European competition the following term and although they fell at the first hurdle it was another good campaign on the domestic front.

Villa finished fifth to once again secure a UEFA Cup place.

Incredibly the following season he was gone, resigning unexpectedly with the club languishing in 15th spot.

Many said he walked too early but, as a claret and blue man through and through, he simply wanted the club to prosper and no longer felt he was the right person to lead that fight.

Even in devastation, he still looked after his beloved Villa.

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