John Russell goes through some hidden treasures.
Three or four years ago an edition of the programme came from the grounds of Aston Hall. With Villa Park in the background one of our brethren proudly displayed his two programmes from the first League Cup Final in 1961. They were valued at £500 the pair.
I was singularly annoyed by this incident because unlike the interviewee I had attended both matches and not only still had the two programmes. but also my ticket from the first game at Rotherham (it was pay at the game for standees at Villa Park) and a rare British Railways handbill for our trip north- the only occasion when Villa and Blues supporters went together on the same train. The Blues contingent, such as it was, were en route to Nottingham. Later the game ticket went the way of Ebay and garnered £300.
This has set me thinking as to what other items I might have which could be classed as ‘antiques’ or at least worthy of Bargain Hunt. Nowhere near as many as might be supposed, but here goes.
First has to be a framed ticket from Digbeth Civic Hall 1968, one event which contrary to recent belief actually did happen on 21st November. The only snag to this is that officially there were no tickets for this life-changing event. Life changing, at least, for anyone reading this. It was turn up and go in. They had simply been printed by Stan Buggins, a member of the platform party mistakenly believing they might be needed. I subsequently handed about a hundred of these tickets to people I knew had been there and later to fellow supporters as a souvenir of my part in it all, the second batch of which I signed on the back.
Next comes a framed Villa share certificate, the ultimate consequence of the Digbeth meeting. Attending the morning meeting at Stumps in which briefly Villa threatened to become a top 100 Stock Exchange company, as I walked back to New Street station I passed Charles Schwab stockbrokers in the Old Square. Totally on the spur of the moment I went in and asked a broker if he would please sell my shares for me as they were never likely to be worth anything like the £1,000 each that was being quoted. The shares continued to appear on the red page of Ceefax, had there been a Ceefax at the time for month on month. Interestingly Doug Ellis only paid £55,000 to buy the Villa but with money even he did not have at the time. It occurred to me later, much later, that perhaps Brian Evans, myself and the other conspirators might have approached Pat Matthews ourselves and so become owners of our very own seats in the directors box.
Next comes a framed photograph of the FA Cup-winning team from 1957, affixed to the wall above by my bedside cabinet. These days not so much a reminder of what was then a great achievement but more a reminder of the subsequent 66 years of total failure to repeat the moment. Losing earlier this year to lowly Stevenage was second in ignominy only to being defeated by Aldershot in the dark days of the 1960’s.Significantly sharing the frame with the cup winners but forever unseen is a photograph of the three local semi-final teams taken in front of the bowling green clubhouse at Villa Park.
Next come four large scrapbooks from 1956–1967 containing newspaper reports and photographs taken chiefly from the Birmingham Post and Mail. These include mention of my own pre -Christmas adventure to Plymouth in 1960. The programme of the game is more valuable to me than those versus Rotherham having been autographed by many of the players. Also the railway handbills advertising my other away excursions by train and the tickets and timings for the trips by the Stockland Coaches ‘rail replacement service’.
This brings me to sixty-plus years of match programmes, especially and including some from the end of the war. Every effort used to be made to ensure that the programmes were kept in pristine condition – never buy one from a seller who licked his fingers. Many of these programmes quite possibly have a rarity value in excess of the Rotherham items. I do not have recent editions because having been made redundant I opted to cut back on my outgoings.
My one regret is that I no longer have the book written by my biggest hero, Robert Dennis Blanchflower. I lent the book to a friend years ago and as in the manner of friends he never gave it back to me. Sore at the loss of this gem I have as a small consolation Going for Goal by another hero, Peter McParland. Thin on content and not exactly a literary gem it serves as a reminder that on numerous occasions Peter singled me out at away matches for a complimentary ticket.
When it comes to books, that by Peter Morris was an invaluable forerunner in its day but I am flattered to be able to put my hands on two books with my name on the cover plus loose leaf files containing my articles now, such as this and many more. Aston Villa must be one of the most written-about clubs in the country but several of the books belong in the fiction section at the former Aston Town Hall.
It is a cause for some regret that I threw away my old season tickets books as soon as they had served their purpose. The current plastic credit card-sized versions are nothing like so nostalgic.
My ultimate ticket is the invitation to the City of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for the inauguration of the People and Places exhibition in which I feature as the Face of Aston Villa. My only disappointment is that I was not also invited to be the Warwickshire Country Cricket Club representative, something for which I feel equally qualified but nobody at Edgbaston knew about the exhibition.
I am not blessed with much Villa regalia. No autographs and it never occurred to me to buy a shirt as I was never going to be fully entitled to wear it. I still have my rosette and scarf from the 1957 cup final plus the very tiny ‘Prepared’ badge, which was about as much as supporters could acquire in the days before commercialism ruled.
I also a very rare and unique baseball cap, bought it at a cap shop in Cleveland, Ohio. I had problems explaining to the proprietor quite who Aston Villa are and then spent some time going through all his cottons trying to decide on the best shades for the claret and blue when I had nothing to compare them with. I had to go back next day to collect the precious purchase. But not quite so precious because I have been forbidden to wear it at a match again after I explained that Villa had lost on all three occasions when I had first worn it; and so it rests unloved in a wardrobe drawer. You are most likely to see me instead at a game in a New York Mets cap. Anonymity and discretion rules for anyone who has to travel to home games on a train passing through Wolverhampton.
Finally. but not quite Villa I must mention a reprint of a painting by R H Calvert of trams outside Ansells Brewery on Aston Cross. Pure nostalgia and a reminder that I passed that way and Villa Park for every of my years at the grammar school and my early days at work. Nostalgia, pure and unadulterated.