Escapades on the continent – Villa in Europe: ‘The standard of Cambridge United’ 1982-83


A packed-out Villa Park was what the class of 82’ were dreaming of.

It was the first match of Villa’s European cup defence and the visiting side were Besiktas, of Turkey. However, the official attendance measured jut 167 people, all of whom were either club officials, stewards, or police officers!

After crowd trouble in the previous season’s semi-final at Anderlecht, UEFA ruled that as punishment Villa were to play the opening tie of their next campaign behind closed doors.

In one of the few (now collectable) match programmes from that day, Tony Barton wrote, “It will not be easy for the players to adapt to the strange atmosphere, but I am sure that as good professionals, our lads will adjust to the circumstances”.

How right he was.

First Round, First Leg
15th September 1982, Villa Park, 167

Aston Villa 3-1 Besiktas

Villa were ahead after just four minutes when Peter Withe met a volley, beating the helpless goalkeeper.

Minutes after taking the lead, Villa scored on their second attack of the game. This time, Tony Morley reaped the rewards in front of an eerily silent Holte End.

To cap off a disastrous first half for the visitors, Dennis Mortimer cut inside, onto his right, and fired home a third from just inside the penalty area.

Early fears over the perceived lack of motivation caused by the absence of fans had been long extinguished at half-time with Villa comfortable, three goals to the good.

With the second leg still in the balance, Besiktas found a sudden urgency. A deflected 25-yard drive found the back of the net, leading Villa to a nervy ending.

Despite a feared fightback, the Birmingham Evening Mail wrote that Besiktas merely represented the ‘standard of Cambridge United’, and the match ended in a 3-1 victory for Villa.

First Round, Second Leg
29th September 1982, Inonu Stadyumu, 28,654

Besiktas 0-0 Aston Villa

Club Secretary, Steve Stride, described the Inonu Stadium as ‘frightening’, ‘intimidating’ and as hostile as anything he had experienced before.

The home fans rammed through the gates, arriving at the stadium several hours before kick-off.

Working for the Evening Mail, Martin Swain depicted a “Screaming cauldron of Turkish fervor”.

Unfortunately for the home crowd, their team was unable to produce anything worthy of troubling Villa’s aggregate tally.

In fact, the visitors were unlucky not to add to their two-goal lead as Mortimer hit the post. In a game of few chances, the game petered out into a goalless draw.

Villa marched into the second round and were drawn with Dinamo Bucharest, of Romania.

Second Round, First Leg
20th October 1982, 23 August Stadium, 37,682

Dinamo Bucuresti 0-2 Aston Villa

In the tenth minute of the game, Dinamo saw a shot smash onto the crossbar of Jimmy Rimmer’s goal.

Seemingly incensed by such an altercation, Villa responded with a goal, courtesy of Gary Shaw after a sweeping counter-attacking move.

For all their early efforts, Villa were now in control. After missing a variety of chances throughout the match, in the final ten minutes Villa secured all three points.

Shaw headed in number two, to the delight of the travelling supporters.

He recalls, “to score two away goals in a European game has to be very satisfying”.

Second Round, Second Leg
3rd November, 1982, Villa Park, 22,244

Aston Villa 4-2 Dinamo Bucuresti

Alarm bells were ringing before the second leg of this tie.

The hotel housing the Dinamo players was evacuated during the night after fire alarms were sounded. Despite accusations of Villa fans being behind the incident, no wrongdoing was quickly established.

Be it down to the bad night’s sleep from the visitors or not, six minutes into the game, Dinamo were dismantled. Shaw picked up where he left off with a fine diving header to take the game out of reach. Although after half an hour, Dinamo did find a breakthrough.

In the 55’ minute of the game, Shaw was on hand to deliver more misery for the Romanians and just ten minutes after that, he struck home his fifth goal of the tie!

Dinamo reduced the deficit late on, only for substitute Mark Walters to round the game off with a Villa fourth.

Aston Villa were becoming an established European team, and in the Quarter-final stage, they faced competition favourites – Juventus.

Quarter Final, First Leg
2nd March 1983, Villa Park, 45,531

Aston Villa 1-2 Juventus

Since overcoming Dinamo Bucuresti in November, Villa had travelled to Tokyo for the World Club Championship (where they lost 2-0 against Penarol of Uruguay), and had beaten Barcelona in the Super Cup!

When the European Cup quarter-finals came around in March, Villa were as UEFA battle-hardened a club could be over a twelve-month period.

Paulo Rossi scored the opener on a chilly evening as Villa found themselves behind for the first time in a European Cup match.

Almost as daunting as the sudden reality of going behind, the lineup boasted by the Italians that night bolstered some of the world finest.

Zbigniew Boniek and Michel Platini lined up alongside six world cup winners of the previous summer – Rossi, Dino Zoff, Antonio Carbrini, and Geatano Sccirea to name a few.

Against all the odds, Villa thought they were level when Ken McNaught headed home an equalizer, only for the referee to rule it out for a mysterious, still evasive, foul in the buildup.

As Gary Shaw was scythed down in the penalty area just before the interval, no penalty was given and claims of cheating ran riot in the terraces.

Although, Villa did find themselves level after the break. Cowans sent a header rifling into the net to draw the game again.

The hard-work was all but undone though as Platini split the Villa defence open with a perfect through ball for Boniek to convert.

Villa would be heading to Turin with dreams of retaining the European Cup on a knife-edge. As Nigel Spink remembers, “We knew we were losing our grip on the trophy when Boniek scored that late winner”.

Quarter-final, second leg
16th March 1983, Stadio Olimpico, 65,941

Juventus 3-1 Aston Villa

Few expected Villa to overturn the deficit facing them on a rainy night in Italy and those that did were quick to change their mind. Spink made a disastrous error in goal with the ball squirming through his legs – adding to the scoreline for the opposition.

Before the half-hour mark, Villa had conceded a second and the game was all but set in stone.

In fact, with the rain lashing down all the more in the second half, Villa’s resistance dissolved further. Platini made it three and Villa were heading out of the competition.

Not all was lost for Peter Withe though, the hero of Rotterdam headed home a Colin Gibson cross, giving the Villa faithful something to cheer about.

There was no shame in the result, Juventus were widely regarded as the best team in Europe at the time, with the Daily Express describing them as “A World Cup-winning team thinly disguised as a club side”. To the shock of many, they were defeated by Hamburg in the final.

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