I had an unexpected present earlier this year when I took my mom and dad to visit their sister-in-law Iris. Aunty Iris is the widow of my dad's older brother Bill who died a few years ago. Bill was a lifelong Villa season ticket holder and when I was a lad in the 1960s and 70s he used to take me to Villa Park on a regular basis in the days of Chico Hamilton, Charlie Aitken, Willie Anderson and Bruce Rioch. I remember watching Villa get promotion back from the 3rd Division and a Villa youth team including Brian Little win the FA Youth Cup. In those days a nipper like me could be lifted over the turnstyles and I'd sit on Bill's knee in the seats to watch the game!
But this historical Villa programme goes back a few more years before I was even born, to 1957 when the Villa beat the famous 'Busby Babes' Manchester United side 2-1 in the FA Cup final at Wembley. Uncle Bill had apparently won his cup final ticket in a poety competition. Iris tried to recall a few lines from memory and has promised me she'll try to find the whole poem which is in a box or cupboard somewhere.
The programme is a great piece of football history. Costing one shilling at the time, it clearly leans towards the Manchester United side which is described as the season's "Team of the Century". A journalist named Albert Sewell suggests that the Babes can be the youngest cup winners, having become the youngest League Champions the previous season. Having said this, Sewell goes on to warn caution to Manchester United, citing Busby:
"So long as they remember that the medals have still to be earned, that Villa are not here simply to make up the number, Manchester United should justify their position as firm favourites. Manager Busby will have warned his young men against the risks of being Cup Final favourites and the dangers of over confidence. He was right half in the Manchester City side rated certain to beat Everton here in 1933. Instead they lost 3-0. He remembers how the eager young Wolves were shattered 4-1 in 1939 by a Portsmouth team who were given no time outside Hampshire. Last year it was Birmingham's turn as the favourites who failed at Wembley. The ball is at your feet, United. A year ago you were the youngest League Champions. Now you can add the "Youngest Cup winners" title, too!"
In a supposedly impartial Cup Final programme, it is interesting to note the beginnings of the Manchester United supporter arrogance which has only increased over the past 52 years!
Whilst not exactly calling it a 'right of reply' as such, later on in the programme there is an editorial from another journalist named Rod Davies, who does at least lay out Villa's own glorious history going back to the days of Scotsman George Ramsay when Villa first won the FA Cup against West Brom in 1887 at Kennington Oval. In fairness to the Baggies, Davies also recalls how the Albion took revenge by beating Villa in the Cup Final in 1892.
"Then began a golden era" says Davies "in which they were five times League champions and twice winners of the Cup in seven seasons. When they won the Cup in 1895, they lost it - literally. Someone stole it from a Birmingham shop window. In 1897 they equalled Preston North End's 1889 feat of winning Cup and League. It was a wonderful period in the club's history, marked in 1897 by the opening of Villa Park, still one of the greatest grounds in the country".
Davies goes on to remind readers that if Villa were to win the Cup today against United, they would set a new record of winning it seven times.
"Today they are represented by a team of eleven players who are sound footballers, good club men and battlers to the last ditch - very proud of their record of coming from behind with the odds against them!"
If you examine the scanned copy of Uncle Bill's programme above, you may note that he was good enough to scribble in the final score next to the teams on the front cover with his fountain pen. And yes, Villa did of course go on to win the match 2-1 and just for all United fans all over Britain from Brighton right up as far north as Watford, here's a picture of the victorious underdogs.