Looking back as we look forward.
It seems like there’s an ever-increasing challenge to convince people that English football existed before Sky bankrolled a multibillion-pound move and morphed together rhetoric that only six or seven teams can win it. Aston Villa, alongside the likes of Nottingham Forest and Everton, are teams many feel have been left behind in the new age of football.
All are previous giants of the English game and have experienced prolonged droughts and barren spells where success has evaded them. Although this season is looking a lot more promising for Villa fans, they’re still far from the stature they previously enjoyed when some of the legendary players performed miracles on the hollowed Villa Park turf.
Villa’s current squad is one of the best in recent years. While it might not have the reputation or quality of some of the players and teams of yesteryear that we will touch on today, there’s an outside chance that Unai Emery’s men could be playing in the Champions League next year, which is incredibly exciting for Villans up and down the country.
Although the sportsbooks have Villa just behind Newcastle and Spurs to finish in the top four, it will be a close call, and Villa looks inspired this season. These live odds change all the time depending on the team’s form, and as with any Premier League bet, many mitigating factors decide what odds the bookies put out, but Villa is definitely a shout for the top four this year.
This year, the club was in mourning following the sad loss of Charlie Aitken. The iconic Scottish left-back played over 600 games for Villa. Signing for the club in the old, third division, he stayed at Villa Park for over 15 years, winning domestic honours and the hearts of Villans who grew up watching the team in the 1970s. As football develops into a game where money often matters more to players than club loyalty, players like Charlie Aitken are an even rarer breed than they were back in the 1960s. There’s a reason he’s considered one of the most legendary players that has ever graced the turf at Villa Park, and there are many players in the modern game who could take a serious lesson on loyalty from old-school legends like Charlie Aitken.
Billy Walker notched up the second-most appearances for Aston Villa. Despite making his debut over a century ago, those ardent fans know how much of a legend he is too, scoring nearly 250 goals during his time at the club. While modern football historians might not go that far back into the archive when it comes to finding club legends, these two are cemented into the club folklore and will be remembered by Villans for generations to come.
European Cup and league winners
With over 20 major trophies in the club’s trophy cabinet, there’s only a handful of other English teams who can boast the sort of heritage and success that Villa has had dating back to their inception in 1879. The crowning achievement occurred during a golden period for European English clubs, where Liverpool, Forest and Villa brought “Big Ears” back to English shores for seven consecutive seasons.
Sitting just behind this legendary pair in appearances is Gordon Cowans, who exploded onto the scene. After winning the PFA Young Player of The Year that year, he played a seminal role in the crowning achievement in the club’s history — winning the 1982 European Cup. Cowans was instrumental in this run and played an even more prominent role in the league win in the previous season. Although he didn’t go on to have the career that many believed he would, there are few players in the club’s history who are revered like Gordon. While his second and third spells back at Villa Park in the latter stages of his career didn’t generate the same monumental success, his instrumental role in Villa’s most decorated period of their history means that Villans will always remember him fondly.
Alongside Gordon, Tony Morley and Dennis Mortimer are two more legends in the club’s history, and they stand head and shoulders above the vast majority of other players who have made a name for themselves at Villa Park over the years. Allan Evans and Nigel Spink provided an impenetrable defensive unit that helped Villa take down the mighty Bayern Munich during that fateful game in Rotterdam in 1982 when Villa became one of the giants of the English game. Even 40 years on, there’s only a handful of other English teams that have added themselves to this esteemed list, which highlights just how difficult of an achievement it is, even in today’s modern game where many big teams use their financial muscle to get ahead.
Any of the players we have discussed today could take the moniker of the greatest Villan. Not only did they perform for the club when it mattered most, but they helped the club to excel among the elite of English football. Only a handful of English teams have won the European Cup, and few have seven or more titles. If it weren’t for many of the players on this list, Villa would have fewer domestic honours and wouldn’t have the monstrous stature they currently do among those who actually understand the history of the English game.
If Unai Emery can squeeze this current squad into the European Cup and collect a couple of domestic trophies, we could see an updated list featuring some of the club’s current top talent, such as Ollie Watkins or World Cup winner Emiliano Martinez. Given the current form Villa are in, notching up 14 home wins on the bounce, dispatching the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal whilst keeping a clean sheet, many fans will be optimistic that these glory days could be due for a long-awaited return. They’ll also be of the opinion that the list of legendary Villans is in line for a 21st century upgrade.