My worst match

John Russell remembers an afternoon best forgotten.

Tempting though it is to write about the recent debacle with Crystal Palace, I will leave that to a similar scribe to myself, perhaps when looking back in thirty years hence. But by definition a ‘worse match’ has to be a goalless draw although it was that dross the other week which is the inspiration for what now follows.

Despite all the eulogies by the likes of Shearer and Lineker, the cup final between Chelsea and Liverpool definitely qualifies because it was no less than one hundred and twenty minutes of failed attempts at goal, not least in the penalty shootout where the, to me, anonymous player who took the fifth Liverpool kick ought to throw his winner’s medal into the River Mersey because he did nothing to deserve it.

But given the possibility that they will join us in the top flight next season, my nomination for the worst ever match has to go to 2nd October 1954. Aston Villa 0 Huddersfield Town 0.

It was our eleventh game of the season and with the exception of 1951 we were already making our customary post-war attempt at suggesting we might need a last-minute escape from relegation. There was something of an excuse for what happened, if excuses are acceptable, because Robert Dennis Blanchflower (as always, respect where due) and Peter McParland were away in Belfast on international duties against England – no cancelling games for such a spurious reason in those days.

Also ,Mike Pinner who had deputised for an unfit goalkeeper Dennis Parsons in game ten was unavailable being also away on amateur international duty. Not something you could expect to read these days. But replacement Keith Jones was destined to become our Man of the Non-Match and stuck around for the remainder of the season. Amos Moss, a regular replacement (there were always groans when his name was announced), and KO Roberts were called upon to replace them. Both workmanlike eventhough hardly likely to set the terraces ablaze, and neither did they.

As the ad hoc Villa eleven struggled to put together even a solitary cogent move, what little attacking there was in this drab encounter came from the visitors. So much so that if anyone was keeping record of such things Jones probably established a record of some sort when he spent most of the first half taking an inordinate number of goal kicks.

Playing the offside game which was in vogue during the mid-fifties, Huddersfield easily contained our lack lustre attack at the same time infuriating most of the 20,435 who had deemed this encounter worthy of an afternoon spent in Aston. Tactics which almost inevitably also led to a certain amount of needle on the field as the game was played out.

Actually the game ought not to have ended goalless because the blue and white stripes were awarded a penalty by well-known referee Frank Cowan from Manchester, whose misfortune it was to be allocated this match to officiate. Keith Jones not only saved the resultant kick by Metcalfe but he distinguished himself from the inevitable rebound. And in our only worthwhile attack of the entire game Johnny Dixon thrashed the tatter against the crossbar.

The final whistle was a relief to all concerned and the race for the buses was more of a longing to get home to tea than out of joyfulness at what we had just witness. The remarkable thing is that depressing game was an unexpected precursor to a revival which saw us rise from a then eighteenth to finish sixth.