Coronation festivities

John Russell looks back at how Villa marked the previous Coronation.

Unlike the 1951 Festival of Britain, which led to a plethora of clubs inviting continental clubs to these shores for the first time, the Coronation festivities two years later did not encourage a repeat of what had been a disappointing experiment, and perhaps because of the June date for the ceremony those clubs who could be bothered opted instead for local derbies.

This was the case with Aston Villa who invited Birmingham City to Villa Park for a one-off game in support of football charities. After the almost customary pre-Christmas flirtation with relegation Villa had risen to a comfortable mid-table finish and had even stirred dreams of former glories by reaching the sixth round of the FA Cup before surrendering to Dave Hickson and second division Everton in B6 in the sixth round. This was the notorious day when Villa supporters were seemingly overwhelmed by blue and white in the 60,658 crowd.

An end of season ‘friendly’ with Birmingham City was never going to be a feast of football and the surprising thing is that 35,000 thought the game worthy of their attendance, perhaps more in hope than expectation. They cannot have been disappointed because they paid their money, they knew what they had let themselves in for. It was as dire as any match ever played between the cross-city rivals. It finished, as if by pre-arrangement, in a 1-1 draw, Billy Goffin shooting home for us after 19 turgid minutes before Boyd did likewise for the Heathens,

Probably the only player who had nay cause to remember the game was Roy Chapman, who had made the journey across Witton island from Kynochs to make his debut. Later he was to come remarkably close to appearing in the 1957 cup final; his two sensational goals in the match at St. Andrews leading up to that big game will never be forgotten by those who were there. Naturally the Coronation match did not feature on the pools coupons, which had now been given over to the results of obscure Australian football matches for those in desperate need of a gambling fix.

But the Villa season did not end there. The players still had the little matter of our customary annual summer holidays in the south of Ireland. Dave Walsh did not play against the Blues, hence Chapman, because Waterford-born he was a guest playing for his home town team against his former club, West Bromwich Albion, which the Baggies won 5-4. The following week it was our turn to appear at Kilcohan Park, where we were to play not against the local side but against an invitation eleven from players who had any connection with Waterford. This amounted to two players from Everton, three from Arsenal four from Manchester United, a certain O’Doherty although the ‘O’ fooled nobody because it was none other than the legendary Peter Doherty, then player-manager of Doncaster Rovers. And finally a guest from Aston Villa themselves, none other than Con Martin.

Such scratch elevens are always at a disadvantage, but it was a massive disappointment to the home crowd that they were overrun by eight goals to one. Always with something to prove if he was to get a place in the Villa team, Derek Pace went ‘nap’ as they used to report in those far off days. Highlight of the day for the home fans was probably a raffle for a ball autographed by all the players from the famous Matthews cup final played a few days earlier.

The following Sunday – they played on Sundays in that part of the world long before television came up with the idea – we moved on to what became the last of our then regular friendly meeting with Shamrock Rovers. This time we faced stronger opposition. Almost in accordance with tradition we had to make do with a 1-1 draw. Pace after 34 minutes, before they equalised on 74.

I cannot let this report go by without mentioning that my diary also includes reference to the most infamous defeat in the entire history of Warwickshire County Cricket Club, when we were beaten in less than a day by an inning and 49 runs at The Oval by Alec Bedser and Jim Laker. Warwickshire 45 and 52, Surrey 146. You could not make it up.