Stan Lynn and the art of penalties

John Russell recalls a master of his craft.

I am minded to compose this article after watching some of the pathetic attempts at taking a penalty on display in the Qatar World Cup.

Perhaps there is an irony that many of the kicks have been a replica of the soft shoe shuffle which was all the vogue in the USA (home of the next World Cup) precisely one hundred years ago. Maybe it has had something to do with the plimsolls that are the preferred footwear of choice for players these days.

Tapping the ball goalwards, so making it easy for the goalminder (see, I’m four years ahead already) to save is not the way to take a penalty. The only way to take a penalty is the Stan Lynn way – belt the spud as hard and fast as you can. Even if the aforementioned shot stopper gets his hands to the ball he is likely to feel the consequences for some time afterwards.

Appropriately enough Stanley joined Villa from Accrington Stanley in March 1950. Even then we were not certain what we had bought, or why. He was thought to be a right-back but we had had an automatic shoe-in in that position for several seasons, Harry Parkes. So, welcome to the Central League. But an injury to our left-back Dickie Dorsett left ‘our Stan’ as he became, free to make his debut at Huddersfield on 14th October 1950. He was not really perceived as being out of position but it was a not a very successful outing as it turns out because we were opposed by two of the fastest wingers around and lost 4-2.

Then with Trevor Ford off to Sunderland and Derek Pace not yet ready’our new manager George Martin had what he hoped would be the inspired idea of putting Stan in at centre forward. Inspired because Stan had only been playing at right-back in the reserves. Christmas came early for Stan, who scored his first goal for us in what to all intents and purposes his debut as we held Derby County to a 1-1-draw. But a couple more games leading the line and we realised that perhaps he was a right back after all.

Eventually Stan was entrusted with his first penalty in a comfortable 3-0 against Fulham, a game in which Dave Walsh made his Villa debut and in which he might otherwise have been given the honour but it was scoreless at the time and penalties were so infrequent; just to make sure Stan was in greater need of the practice.

Stans’ second penalty blast came at Highbury but controversially it was in a losing cause as a myopic linesman missed an obvious goal by Larry Cannning. At least he had done enough to be retained but Stan was a feature of Central League fixtures and was not called up again until mid-November at Craven Cottage on a pitch reminiscent of Villa Park – mud. And it was at centre forward, not right-back. But not to worry, in the third minute Stan may have scored his only ever headed goal and only two minutes later we were two up at the home of the bottom club. But Fulham refused to lie down and we had to settle for a 2-2 draw.

Then it was back to the day job the following week whereupon Stan became our regular right -ack for the remaining twenty-four penaltyless games which made up the remainder of the campaign.

Villa abandoned the Colours v Whites practice game as a curtain raiser to the season as it was felt too many of the ‘whites’ were using the game to further their own first team ambitions. Stan appeared for the Colours in August 1952 but it was his now deputy, Parkes, who appeared in the photograph of the 51,000 who attended the ground for opening game the following week v Arsenal (I’m in the photo somewhere). Stan did not make it back into the eleven until the seventh match at Wolverhampton then played another eighteen consecutive games until a painful stomach complaint led to his being sidelined The near last of his outings was a cup game against Middlesbrough when we played in shirts borrowed from Birmingham City. He was seldom seen to cross the halfway line and only had one goal to show for his efforts.

1953-54 was not a season to remember for Stan as he appeared only three times, standing in for an injured Harry Parkes, but a near ever-present in the reserves with just two goals. He remained the ultimate dependable go to player.

Not so at the start of the next campaign until an injury to Peter Aldis led to Parkes moving to the left and Stan coming in on the right for the next 46 consecutive games, including the five against Doncaster Rovers. His seven goals included five penalties, for which he had now achieved an air of invincibility with his fierce shot.

As Villa struggled at the start of 1955-6 there was not the slightest thought that what we needed was a new right-back. By now Stan seldom conceded a free kick but had learned to scare the life out of any opposing winger who dared to cross his path. On the day Robert Dennis Blanchflower made his debut for Tottenham Stan blotted his copy book, missing a penalty. But he had not been alone because Alf Ramsey also missed one for Spurs when Blanchflower, ever the gentlemen refused to take it and add to our woes.

New Year’s Eve 1955 was the setting for what many still regard as the greatest goal ever scored at Villa Park. Picking up the ball on the edge of his own penalty area Stan set off upfield and went on his way unchallenged until reaching the Huddersfield penalty area, he just kept going and rounded goalkeeper Wheeler for his place in Villa folklore. He did not quite see out the season so actually played no part in the great escape of 1956. To Ray Hogg went the glory.

You are not going to need me to bore you again with the story of 1957 but some unconsidered trifles about the season are worth reprising. Firstly Stan appeared for both sides in the Colours v Whites extravaganza as Ray Hogg continued to receive preference. When Derek Pace got injured common sense even eluded Eric Houghton and who better for centre forward than none other than Stanley? But days later when it came to the might of the British Army at Aldershot (a veritable international team in khaki) Stan was back where he belonged – 7-1.

Three goals from 39 games including the cup final and including two penalties, one against Satan City. His permanent place guaranteed Stan was almost an ever-present as every team took great joy in trying to beat the famous Aston Villa, and most did, thus effectively ending our status as ‘the world’s greatest football team’. When he was absent against Wolverhampton Wanderers Peter McParland was entrusted with a spot kick, which he converted in the approved manner.

Then on 11th January 1958 Stan achieved a very rare honour for those days when he was interviewed on television. He had just become the first full back in the seventy years history of the McGregor brainchild to score a hat-trick, two of which were penalties. He ended the season with ten goals from 44 games, six of them from excursions up field.

The embarrassing 6-3 defeat at Leicester after we had led three-nil threatened to be Stan’s last game just as it all but did for Eric Houghton. Whereupon relegation became an ever-present possibility and Stan all but missed the coup de grace until he was belatedly recalled for the fatal last two games.

Diminutive second division outside lefts were meat and drink to the formidable Stan and he was an ever present with seven goals (s penalties) from 47 appearances including the FA Cup which ended in a semi -inal defeat at the Hawthorns – so near to a notable double. But seemingly the writing was on the wall and Stan’s days in claret and blue were approaching their demise. Back in the first division he played in only 14 games. Only one penalty goal in an isolated game against Spurs. But he did take home a League Cup winner’s medal, appearing in the first leg at Rotherham.

No-one in their wildest nightmares expected him to win a second one. Likewise nobody at Villa Park wished him anything but good wishes when he chose to move on. We thought he might hang up his boots but he was made of stern stuff and instead he accepted an offer to move to St Andrews. And in doing so came back to haunt us.

Except than no-one who saw it will ever forget the penalty he took against us at Villa Park. Only the fact that we were leading 3-0 at the time spoils the saga. It should have been a match-saving save Facing the usual thunderbolt Sidebottom leapt to his right and, full length, brought off the greatest save ever seen at Villa Park. I am able to report that the ovation he received included the plaudits of most of the Blues fans.

Then after losing 3-1 in Bordesley Green Harry Burrows was never going to bring the house down and get the better against Stan, and in front of a demolished Witton Lane stand those who remained behind had to suffer the indignity of their winning a trophy at our park.

In passing would like to tell you of my own penalty experiences. I got first dib but we made a rule that a player could take them until such time as he missed whereupon he had to give way to someone else Penalties, usually for handball, were not all that common in Sunday football. After imitating Stan Lynn eight successful times I actually scored from the ninth but a fellow forward had transgressed and the referee ordered a retake.

Feeling a bit miffed I ‘encouraged’ the transgressor to take the kick instead – which he did and duly converted. Then he immediately passed the job on and I have no recollection that his successor ever missed. Penalties- easy peasy Aim, fire, celebrate.