John Russell remembers what a crowded league programme used to look like.
Those prima donna managers from Liverpool, Manchester and the metropolis should ponder the following scores:-
Saturday 21st April 1962 Villa 8 Leicester City 3
Monday 23rd April 1962 Villa 5 Nottingham Forest 1
Tuesday 24th April 1962 Nottingham Forest 2 Villa 0
And then ponder how problematical it was for those supporters who were keen to maintain a one hundred per cent attendance record. But the truth of the matter is that we thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and were quite happy to throw in a few third, fourth, fifth and Amateur make-up games in the succeeding week if the occasion arose.
As a Methodist club Villa had an aversion to playing on Good Friday, which was also a normal working day in the city. It was deemed too costly to close down the factories on Good Friday only to have to reopen them for the Saturday (also known as the ‘Godless Day’), then close again for Sunday and Monday so instead of Friday we substituted Tuesday as a day of rest.
It was said that teams could not win the league over Easter but could certainly lose it. Also, this premise could be disproved in the event of a late Easter. The fixture list was also complicated by on which day of the week Christmas Day fell, which is why our two games against Wolves varied between Christmas and Easter until eventually the Football League did away with the back to back matches when an element of ‘payback’ time for yesterday started to creep into some fixtures.
My first memorable Easter came in 1952, when after seeing two reserve games we thrashed Chelsea 7-1 on the Tuesday, our highest score since our record scoring season two decades earlier.
The following season Albion replaced Wolves in the pecking order and nearly 80,000 saw the two games as the Baggies were chasing the title – unsuccessfully as it so happens.
The same scenario occurred the following year and this time over 103,000 were in attendance. Our Easter Monday trip to the Hawthorns more or less ensured the championship for Wolves. If we expected retribution on Easter Tuesday I can only imagine that the damage had been done to their hopes and can report that it was a wonderful day in Aston as we overran them 6-1.
Champion Wolves were back the following season more than expecting to repeat their success. After beating us 0-1 at the Molineux on Easter Monday we had no reason to expect anything different the following day but our 4-2 is the stuff of legends, spoilt only by the fact that it meant Chelsea became the worst-ever league champions.
Twelve months later we were in dire trouble. Fortunately Manchester United had already won the title with Wolves eleven points adrift in second spot We managed to play out two of the most boring scoreless games, which set the scene for six points from six at the end and bye bye Huddersfield Town – on goal average.
A late Easter in 1957 saw us having to fill out our fixtures with two games against the Wolves again; games that we would rather not have played ahead of the cup final. Two more boring games would have been more than welcome but we settled for 4-0 and 0-3.
1958 saw us playing away on Good Friday for the first time since Yalta, made worse by the fact that Bolton Wanderers were not keen to play on Good Friday either. Every club wanted to beat the cup holders, the famous Aston Villa, and our 0-annihilation saw us teetering on the brink again. Fortunately a six-game unbeaten run, including a reversal of the score v the Trotters, saw us finish a flattering fourteeth.
You know what is coming next, and a Good Friday loss at White Hart Lane virtually ensured safety for the Spurs at our expense in a morning kick-off. Despite there being a football excursion, getting to the game was problematical as the underground did not run in London on a bank holiday. Nevertheless, taking into account the return train in the evening some of us were adventurous enough to venture to see Queens Park Rangers v Notts County. After which it was up early next day for the trip to Goodison and the second defeat in what turned out to be a run of nine winless games. You can’t win the league at Easter but as sure as eggs is eggs you can get relegated.
Our triumphant return saw only one Easter game – Monday 3pm v Stoke City (2-1). Some clubs were now beginning to moan about the crowded fixture list and the game at Stoke was brought forward to a Wednesday night in September (3-3). Normal service was resumed in 1961 and Easter Monday saw us headed for Bolton again. Except that Bolton had the same problem as Birmingham did with factory closures and Easter Monday was not a Bank Holiday in the town so the game was put back from 3pm to 7.30pm. This meant that the excursion train arranged for the game had to be cancelled and some regulars having to go begging to motoring friends for a lift.
For what may be the only time ever we got to see two games in twenty-four hours because we were back at Villa Park for 3pm on Easter Tuesday. As was more traditional with Christmas fixtures the scores were reversed and Sleeuwenhoek succeeded where Dugdale had failed by holding hat-trick scorer from the first game McAdams in check.
1962 saw the games featured at the start of this article.
1963 saw the return of Wolves and unusually, three defeats followed eventually by the end of season flurry. After Bolton again on Easter Saturday (1-1) Birmingham City crept into the holiday agenda with both clubs in trouble. An embarrassing 0-3 defeat at Villa Park (as usual Stan Lynn tormented us) left us in worse trouble than they were. Not a good time to be going to St Andrews with a team of walking wounded which include Lew Chatterley in the front rank but he responded to such a disparaging remark by scoring twice and Blues only equalised with the last kick of the game (3-3). Both survived – just.
After a 3-1 success against Sheffield United on Easter Saturday 1965 it was the turn of Leicester City to come centre stage. A Monday afternoon at Filbert Street (1-1) was followed by Tuesday night at Villa Park as by now Tuesday night was better than Tuesday afternoon attendance wise – except for visiting supporters. 1-0 and were able to celebrate the end of the season with a rare 2-1 home win against Manchester United
Clubs were now starting to mess about with the Easter fixtures so Manchester United at home was brought forward from Easter Tuesday (12th) to Wednesday 6th. 1-1 but two goals in a minute, Cantwell then MacEwan. Stoke away on Easter Saturday came next (0-2) whilst the return at Old Trafford got moved several times to Monday May 9th. Nnot surprisingly after all this messing about we went down 1-6 in front of a meagre 23,200, which tell you what fans think about such changes.
And current footballers think they are hard done by these days. As if!
The Band of the Queens Own Hussars virtually saw out the traditional Easter programme when they performed ahead of the home game against Burnley in 1967. Don’t you just miss those pre-game military bands? Rather better than that insufferable noise coming from opposite the statue these days.