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Blog: Bodymoor banter no issue for lovable Ehiogu

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Blog: Bodymoor banter no issue for lovable Ehiogu

Dressing room humour can be as cruel as it is hilarious, as Ugo Ehiogu discovered during his time in claret and blue.

Ehiogu was a towering figure at the heart of Villa’s defence for the best part of a decade. 

One of the most highly consistent footballers in claret and blue, he did have the very occasional below-par performance. 

And in Ugo’s case, one wasn't so much a poor display, it was a real stinker.

Throughout the game against Norwich City in November 1992, he simply seemed incapable of doing anything right. 

Every pass he made seemed to have an opponent’s name on it, and to make matters worse his performance was highlighted on BBC’s Match of the Day.

Even one of his own team-mates wouldn’t let him forget his Canaries catastrophe.

Sometime later, I happened to be in one of the dressing rooms at Bodymoor Heath and I was intrigued by the black felt-tip messages which appeared alongside the clothes hooks allocated to each player.

There were cutting comments about several member of the squad, with Mark Bosnich, Shaun Teale and Kevin Richardson among those subjected to ridicule.

One of the most witty messages of all appeared next to Ugo’s hook. 

It read: “Norwich City Player of the Year 1992/93.”

EhiohuWebMainI never got around to asking Ugo how he felt about the jibe but my guess is that if he had been offended, he certainly wouldn’t have shown it. 

He was that kind of guy, a gentle giant who said little but concentrated on his job.

That game against Norwich, when he stood in for the injured Teale, was one of his first senior appearances for the club and we didn’t see him in the first team again that season.

But manager Ron Atkinson knew he was making a shrewd signing when he snapped up Ehiogu from Albion in the summer of 1991, and Big Ron’s coaching staff were equally convinced they were working with a defender of immense potential.

So it proved. Ugo was involved in 17 Premiership games the following season and missed only four in both league and cup throughout 1994/95, when Villa narrowly avoided relegation.

And he was a pivotal figure in the magnificent 1995/96 campaign which saw Brian Little guide the club to a League Cup triumph, the FA Cup semi-finals and a fourth-place finish.

Before his departure to Middlesbrough for a reported £8m in October 2000, Ehiogu had broken into the England team as well as becoming one of an elite band of players who have made more than 300 appearances for Villa.

He also contributed 15 goals, and although he was booed every time he touched the ball on his return to Villa Park with Boro in February 2001, he did what he always did – got on with the job. 

On that occasion, it included heading the visitors’ equaliser in a 1-1 draw.

EhioguTeamMainWebUgo was always willing to get involved with off-the-field events, too. 

Just before the start of that superb 1995/96 season, Villa’s players and staff were invited to a private screening of a new Bruce Willis movie at The Odeon in New Street.

Although I was working for the Birmingham Mail at the time, I was also asked if I would like to attend, so I took along my daughter Helen, then a star-struck 15-year-old, in the hope she might meet a few of her favourite players. 

Sadly, only one of them turned up – but she still treasures her photo with Ugo on a night out at the cinema.

Rob Bishop
By @robbishopavfc 21st April 2017