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Ron Saunders Obituary

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Ron Saunders Obituary

Ron Saunders, widely regarded as the greatest manager in the club’s history, has died at the age of 87.

When he was appointed in 1974, Villa were playing in the old Second Division.

By the time he left six years later, the team he built were champions of England and were on the threshold of European Cup glory.

With Saunders at the helm, success was almost taken for granted at Villa Park, and it would have been fitting had he been in charge when Villa enjoyed their finest hour, beating Bayern Munich on a never-to-be-forgotten night in Rotterdam in May 1982.

Unfortunately, he had resigned three months earlier following a row with the directors over his contract.

Even the unfortunate manner of his exit, though, could not detract from his achievements over the previous eight years.

In his first season, he guided Villa to promotion back to the top flight plus a League Cup final victory over Norwich City, and his reward for the “double” was the accolade of Manager of the Year.

Villa were back at Wembley for another League Cup final in 1977, this time for a marathon against Everton which was eventually settled by Brian Little’s late winner in extra-time of the second replay at Old Trafford.

But Saunders wasn’t content with two trophies in the space of three seasons.

He was constantly striving for even greater honours and in 1980-81 he led Villa to the First Division title for the first time in 71 years.

The club employed a squad of just 14 players that season, but the team’s motivation and self-belief made them seem invincible.

Even after a home defeat by Ipswich Town in April 1981, Saunders responded to the suggestion that they had handed the initiative to their title rivals with the famous words: “Do you want to bet against us?”

Although the following campaign was disappointing on the domestic front, the same group of players carried Villa to the European Cup quarter-finals before Saunders’ untimely departure shortly before the clash against Dynamo Kiev.

Born in Birkenhead in November 1932, Saunders made a name for himself as a prolific scorer, netting more than 200 goals during a 13-year career which took him to Everton, Gillingham, Portsmouth, Watford and Charlton Athletic.

His success continued into management, initially with Yeovil Town and Oxford United before he guided Norwich City to the Second Division title in 1972 and the League Cup final the following year, when they lost 1-0 to Tottenham.

He then took Manchester City to the 1974 final, again having to settle for runners-up when they were beaten by Wolves.

But it was third time lucky 12 months later when Ray Graydon’s goal clinched a 1-0 Villa victory over the Canaries.

After leaving Villa, he remained in the West Midlands, spending four years with Birmingham City before ending his career at West Bromwich Albion.

In later years, Saunders took less interest in football as he devoted more time to his family, but his achievements were acknowledged in December 2006 when he was guest of honour at a game against Manchester United.

He was also present the following May at the celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the European Cup triumph and returned once again in 2012 for an extensive interview with the club’s media team.

Rob Bishop
By @robbishopavfc 9th December 2019