This week marks 38 years since the most famous night in the history of Aston Villa.
A 1-0 victory against German giants Bayern Munich at the De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam saw Villa lift the European Cup.
Here, tales from that famous night are told via an excerpt from Rob Bishop’s book Euros & Villans featuring the players who etched their names into Villa's history books…
“It must be. It is. Peter Withe!”
Brian Moore’s succinct description will remain forever etched on the memory of anyone of claret-and-blue persuasion. Those who watched the match on ITV were probably too engrossed in what was happening to take a great deal of notice of the commentary at the time, but those three brief sentences have become synonymous with the greatest moment in Villa’s history.
And if the goal was nowhere near the best Peter Withe scored for the club, he couldn’t have cared less. With arguably the most awkward contact of his career, he had scored the most significant goal in Villa’s history. Withe’s 67th-minute strike was enough to secure victory over Bayern Munich at the De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam – and Villa were champions of Europe. So who better than the man himself to recall exactly how it happened?
“Tony Morley turned a defender one way and then the other,” said Withe. “Klaus Augenthaler was marking me, but he sensed the danger and moved across to cover, which left me unmarked as I reached the six-yard box. Tony drove the ball hard across the goalmouth but it seemed to happen in slow motion. I said to myself: ‘Concentrate!’ The ball hit a divot as it reached me and it half hit my shin and half hit my ankle before flying against the post and in. I’m convinced that if I’d hit it properly the keeper would have saved it, but he didn’t expect that.
“I was too close to the goal to run to our supporters, so I ran into the net to celebrate. Gary Shaw was the first to reach me and then Gordon Cowans jumped on my neck and dragged me to the ground. I must have resisted a bit because he kept saying: ‘Get down, you ********!’”
Cowans’ forceful utterance was very much a term of endearment which was echoed by every one of Villa’s players. All the same, Withe’s unconventional goal has been the butt of some affectionate mickey-taking down the years. Cowans, a keen golfer, has always described the crucial strike as a “shank”, insisting: “Withey did his best to miss it but somehow it went in!”
Given Withe’s penchant for scoring with his left foot, it came as surprise that the most important goal of his impressive collection should be struck with his right. “Withey didn’t score too many with his right,” said Des Bremner, “Watching that one, you could see why! But it doesn’t matter how they go in. It was marvellous that Peter scored at the end where our supporters were massed.”
The haphazard nature of the winner arguably reflected Villa’s approach to the final in Rotterdam. Although it was the biggest game of their lives, they were genuinely relaxed about the whole thing. Before the game there was an almost carefree air about the players as they waved to their wives and girlfriends in the crowd before a few of them produced cameras and started taking photos on the pitch.
The laid-back approach didn’t go unnoticed by the legendary Brian Clough, who was commentating alongside Moore for ITV’s live coverage. “I can’t believe this team have come to a European Cup final,” Clough observed. “We’ve had players on the pitch, taking photographs of each other!”
Tony Morley was more relaxed than most. “I didn’t even get changed until 20 minutes before kick-off,” he said. “Some lads I knew wanted tickets so I met them outside the stadium. The Germans were warming up and I wasn’t even in the ground! The guys I had got the tickets for were a bit concerned, and asked if I was playing. I told them it would only take me 10 minutes to get changed. I never liked being ready a long time before a game.”
Villa had arrived in Rotterdam two days before the final, their training sessions attracting around 200 locals, who made it clear they were backing Tony Barton’s boys to beat the Germans. No-one, though, was under any illusions about the size of the task. Bayern had won the trophy three times during the 1970s and boasted a team packed with world class players – classy sweeper Klaus Augenthaler, lethal marksman Dieter Hoeness, inspirational skipper Paul Breitner and European player of the year Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Yet there was a quiet belief in the Villa camp that their name was on the cup, and skipper Dennis Mortimer was certainly full of confidence. “In the week leading up to the final I started thinking about how Liverpool and Nottingham Forest had won the previous five finals between them,” he said. “It occurred to me: ‘Why not us?’ I’d seen Phil Thompson lift the trophy and he was in the year below me at school, Brookfield Secondary in Kirkby. I started to imagine what it would be like for that school to have two former pupils lifting the European Cup.”
Just nine minutes into the final, Villa’s self-belief was tested to the limit. No-one had paid much attention the previous day when Jimmy Rimmer ricked his neck in training, and even when he was given pain-killing injections before kick-off it barely raised a comment. But with the match settling down, Gary Williams suddenly became aware that all was not well with the experienced keeper. “I was the first to realise something was wrong,” said Williams. “Jimmy shouted at me ‘I need to come off’. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
Although they had known about the injury, Barton and his assistant Roy MacLaren were also taken aback. The manager later revealed: “We didn’t take a calculated gamble in playing him because a decision of fitness can only be taken by the player. Jimmy said he was okay and I was perfectly satisfied because he had gone through an intensive work-out that morning, without any sign of discomfort.”
Rimmer’s injury meant that Barton had to send on 23-year-old Nigel Spink, who had played only one first-team game and whose domestic football during the 1981-82 campaign had amounted to 36 reserve games. But now the No 2 keeper was being thrust into the biggest game in Villa’s history – with words of encouragement from his fellow substitutes ringing in his ears.
“Even when Nigel had to go on, he didn’t seem too worried,” said Pat Heard, who was also on the bench. We just joked with him and I said: ‘Go on, Spinksy, you’ll be all right – don’t let one in! Somehow I knew he would be okay. I’d played in the reserves with him and I knew exactly what he could do.”
Despite the enormity of the occasion, the boy from Chelmsford did everything that was asked of him, and more. His only previous senior game had been against Nottingham Forest two-and-a-half years earlier but his performance at the stadium known as De Kuip – The Tub – made him an instant claret-and-blue hero.
“When I went on, it came totally out of the blue,” he said. “I didn’t have a clue that Jimmy had a problem. I didn’t think for one minute that he wouldn’t play the whole of the final so I was very relaxed in the build-up. I’d been out on the pitch an hour before kick-off to warm up. I wanted to get as much of the atmosphere as possible. That warm-up probably did me good when I had to go on.”
It was half an hour before Spink was seriously tested, diving to his right to hold Bernhard Durnberger’s low drive, but he made numerous crucial saves in a second half dominated by Bayern. And even when he was beaten by an Augenthaler header, Kenny Swain was perfectly positioned to clear off the line. And if Spink’s heroics were a major factor in Villa’s triumph, an early tactical switch also contributed significantly to quelling the German spearhead.
Ken McNaught explained: “Allan Evans and I used to take sides and if the opposition only played with one striker, he would mark the guy and I would pick up the pieces. But we were very flexible. After a few minutes of the final we realised that Hoeness and out-jumping Allan and Rummenigge was outstripping me. So we decided to go for man-to-man marking and it worked.”
For all their resilience, Villa endured some anxious moments as the match drew agonisingly slowly towards its conclusion, and three minutes from time they were caught out by long through ball from Kurt Niedermayer, which was headed on by Gunther Guttler for Hoeness to drill a low shot past Spink. Thankfully, a linesman’s flag was raised to indicate that Hoeness was offside when the ball was headed forward.
“We got away with a lot that night,” admitted Evans. “I swapped shirts with Rummenigge and as I went up the steps to collect my medal I saw the German players sitting around the centre circle, looking dejected. I couldn’t understand why Rummenigge felt so bad, because he had my shirt!”
Victory was sweet for every member of the side, but particularly so for the man with the honour of being presented with the cup. “All I could think about in the last few minutes was getting my hands on that trophy,” said Dennis Mortimer. “When the final whistle went, it was joy, joy, joy. I couldn’t wait to get up those stairs to collect the cup but all the lads were behind the goal, celebrating with our fans. One of the UEFA delegates asked if I could gather the players together. I thought: ‘You must be joking!’
“Once I was holding the cup I didn’t want to l let it go. I kept it in my hands as long as possible to make sure there were lots of photographs of me with it! To have won such a prestigious tournament was wonderful. Every time I watch the final on TV I always find it a special moment when the trophy is presented. I think, yes, I’ve been there, done that. It still gives me a magical feeling.”