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'Ron Saunders at 80' spotlight: I wanted to stay at Villa forever!

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'Ron Saunders at 80' spotlight: I wanted to stay at Villa forever!

Ron Saunders is 80 today. As a special feature, we bring you his thoughts surrounding the 1980-81 League Championship success. The words below are taken from his book 'Ron Saunders Aston Villa Scrapbook.'

MR 100%

Am I an egoist, oblivious to the feelings of my players and staff?

Am I too inflexible in my attitude towards other people, too insensitive when it comes to letting others express their opinions?

I don't believe the answer is 'Guilty' on any of those counts, although I am well aware that such charges have been made, from time to time.

I like to think I am a PLAYERS man through and through. I honestly believe that throughout my career my dealings with players have proved this to be the case.

But if I am a players man, let me add that I demand a great deal from them in return.

More than one of the Aston Villa players has gone on record as saying I won't stand for anything less than 100% commitment from those who play for the club I manage.

WRONG! I want 110% effort as I repeat in almost every one of the programme notes I write before matches.

I have my faults - who doesn't? It has been said that I have a rugged style of that as it may, I am convinced that my managerial methods provide overwhelming evidence of my ability to work with and get the best out of my players.

So far as I am concerned, there is NO hiding place on any part of the football field for a player and if I feel that someone is ducking out of the action - giving less than total commitment - he must be made aware of it.

By the same token, when I know I'm getting what I demand then I'll back my players to the hilt.

I cannot honestly say that I know whether or not my players like me. I'm not one bit concerned, either, about being the winner in a popularity contest.

I hope and believe that my players RESPECT me not only as a person but as a professional manager who knows his trade inside-out.

THAT, to my way of thinking, is what really matters.

Football, I will concede, is a matter of opinion and everyone is entitled to their view.

However, when I walk out of the dressing room after a game and I'm asked for my comments on the way things have gone during the 90 minutes, I don't expect to get a salvo of opinions from the people asking the questions.

On one occasion, I closed a press conference rather abruptly because one man persisted in telling me what HE thought, after having initially asked for my views.

If I'd wanted to know his, I'd have asked for them.

Since I hadn't and since I'd been asked to say what I thought I felt I should be allowed to express my opinion and call it a day.

If that's being insensitive or intolerant then all I can say is I disagree with anyone who thinks so!



Since my arrival at Villa Park, I have fought my share of battles, suffered in silence at times and had my way on one or two very important occasions.

The current team is the third I have built and, I believe, is the best.

Towards the end of the 1980-81 season, there were times when my name was linked with the England job.

I'll just say that I have never sought the position and don't want it.

My greatest wish is to remain at Aston Villa for the remainder of my managerial career.

It was a momentous occasion when Villa carried off the First Division Championship for the first time in 71 years and I honestly believe it is more difficult for a Midlands club than for most others to achieve such a feat.

The reason? You have to play so many derby games!

Out of the 42 league matches, eight are against clubs who are exceptionally close rivals - West Brom, Wolves, Birmingham and Coventry.

In addition, there are games against close neighbours such as Nottingham Forest and Stoke City.

For my money, those eight derby games make it twice as difficult for a Midlands club to finish up as champions.

And when you drop only one point those matches - as Villa did, at The Hawthorns, in season 1980-81 - I believe you're entitled to claim that such a performance is rather special, in the context of chasing the supreme prize, the First Division Championship.


Towards the closing stages of season 1980-81, we beat West Brom at Villa Park and, as the anticipation of our clash Ipswich began to build up, people throughout the Midlands appeared to realise, as if almost for the first time, that the League Championship was indeed a possibility for Aston Villa.

All the excitement during the 48 hours before that game was unbelievable...unfortunately on the night we were by no means at our best and conceded two sloppy goals to Ipswich.

In spite of the fact that we created five or six good chances, we were able to put only one of them away, so we lost 2-1.

Immediately everyone assumed that the title belonged to Ipswich.

But even though we had played badly by our standards, I felt even more convinced that Aston Villa would finish up as champions.

Indeed, at the after-match press conference, I suggested to the media that I would stand any bets they cared to place against us.

There wasn't one taker!

On the following Saturday we entertained Nottingham Forest while Ipswich were at home to Arsenal.

While each and every one of the Aston Villa players showed tremendous character, coupled with undoubted ability, to produce an exceptional performance so that we won 2-0, Arsenal were beating Ipswich by a similar margin at Portman Road.

So, once again, we were three points clear at the top.

On the Easter Monday, as Ipswich played a derby game at Norwich, we travelled the shirt distance to Stoke's Victoria Ground and played in a game which had all the atmosphere of a cup final.

Stoke gave us a tremendous game and at the end of the 90 minutes we were grateful to have gained a hard-earned point with a 1-1 draw. Especially when the result from Carrow Road showed that Norwich had beaten Ipswich 1-0.

Ipswich still had a match in hand but the end of the road in sight for them, as well as for Villa.

They played Manchester City at Portman Road and won 1-0 while we romped to a 3-0 victory over Middlesbrough on our ground - a result which our supporters really cheered because there was some apprehension beforehand because Boro were seen as our bogy team.


The final Saturday of the season saw Ipswich at Middlesbrough and Villa at Arsenal with Ipswich still having a home match to come against Southampton.

We had totalled 60 points and a point at Highbury would clinch the title, even if Ipswich won their last two matches.

Twenty-thousands supporters made the trek from the Midlands to Highbury, which housed close on 60,000 people.

During the week before the game, we had kept our training low-key and avoided putting pressure on the players...unfortunately on the day nerves got the better of a few of them and we produced nothing like the performance I knew we were capable of.

Meanwhile, Arsenal raised their game and scored two goals.

During the last 20 minutes our feelings were inexplicable, as we got the news that Middlesbrough, having been a goal down, were holding Ipswich 1-1. As it turned out Boro hit a winner!

So at the end of the match against Arsenal, although we felt disappointed in our performance on the day, it was a fantastic feeling for everyone concerned to know that we were the new champions of the First Division.

I will just add that at the start of the season we had fixed a target of 60 or 61 points as being necessary to win the First Division Championship.

Over the 42 league games, we had totalled 60 points.

A lot had been said and written about us not having as much ability in our side as some other teams in the country.

The game of the game is winning...and our results said we were worthy champions!

Make sure you're here to roar on the lads against Manchester United.


AVFC Official
By @AVFCOfficial 6th November 2012
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