Tony Morley, England’s flying blond winger, won the Championship and European Cup with Aston Villa.
England’s flying blond winger will be at Villa Park tonight probably wondering when the club can next emulate his team’s championship triumph of 1981.
Tony Morley had already won the league championship with Aston Villa when he made his England debut in a crucial World Cup qualifier against Hungary at Wembley. But a month after setting up Villa’s European Cup final winner, the winger was left out of the 1982 World Cup squad.
Then - Why did it take so long for you to make your England debut?
The early 1980s were an era where wingers and people with flair weren’t really wanted. I had scored 13 goals for Aston Villa when we won the title in 1980/81 and didn’t get a look-in. But when we started doing well in Europe the next season, I got my chance.
The debut couldn’t have been more high-profile. England hadn’t played in the World Cup since 1970 and we needed at least a point in our final qualifying game against Hungary to qualify for Spain ’82.
There was a lot of pressure and a full house of 92,000 at Wembley but we won the match 1-0. Overall, I would say I was disappointed to win only six caps, in another era I think I would have won more.
I think it was down to tactics more than natural ability. To be brutally honest, I never felt it was that hard playing for England.
Now - When will Villa emulate your championship side of 1981/82?
I can’t see it the near future to be honest. But the only saving grace is the club have some very good young players, similar to Manchester United a few years ago.
We won the FA Youth Cup a couple of years ago and the team is walking away with the Central League (reserve league). There are a crop of half-a-dozen who could be good Premiership players; Stefan and Luke Moore, Liam Ridgwell, Stephen Cooke, Peter Whittingham. Players like that give us hope.
I still get to Villa Park regularly and will be there against Portsmouth on Tuesday night. A few former players like myself and Gary shaw share the commentary of The Villain, which is Aston Villa’s digital radio station.
Then - Was it a blow to be left out of the 1982 World Cup squad?
Just a month before I had helped Villa win the European Cup, I was our top scorer in Europe and a leading magazine had just chosen me as the best attacking left-sided player in Europe. So to be left out was devastating, I went from the ultimate high to a real low in a month.
I knew that the World Cup could push a player from being well-known in England to well-known around the world. It happened to David Platt didn’t it in 1990.
He scored a fantastic goal against Belgium and that really gave his career a mammoth lift. In 1982 though, Ron Greenwood’s assistant Don Howe was at Arsenal and they opted for two Arsenal players Kenny Sansom and Graham Rix on the left-hand side. It was a case of ‘better the devil you know’.
Now - Are you still recognised for your past achievements?
My main job is coaching kids from seven to 16 around the Midlands area. Usually, the mums and dads know who I am but the kids don’t have a clue. They know about David Beckham but not me! Particularly the younger ones.
Then - Do you think the Villa championship side was under-rated?
When we won the league, only one of our players was a current international – our central defender Allan Evans who played for Scotland. Could you imagine now the winners of the Premiership only having one international.
Peter Withe eventually got called up by England and I had a few games after 1981 but if you added up the total caps of our European Cup side you would only get to about 25. It was crazy really.
The hardest opponent I came up against was Pat Rice of Arsenal. His awareness was so good, he knew all about angles and made it hard to get crosses in.
Now - There are glut of good left-sided players in the Premiership like Duff, Pires, Robert, Giggs and Kewell. Which do you admire?
Have you noticed there isn’t one Englishman in that list? It’s a disgrace really. I would say Ryan Giggs is the one I admire the most simply because he has done it at the top level for the last 10 years. But none of them are out-and-out wingers like I was, the game has changed. My job was to hug the touchline and beat the full-back.
The modern players with ability can drift a bit to influence the game, out of the ones you mentioned Damien Duff is the one who stays out wide the most. In my day, Peter Barnes, John Robertson and myself used to just try and beat the full-back and get crosses in. Winning a corner was considered a failure.
Then - You beat Bayern Munich 1-0 in the 1982 European Cup final, they had players like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Dieter Hoenness in their team. When did you think you could be European champions?
About one minute before the end of the final! We knew we had a good side, and when we got to the quarter-finals we began to think we might have a chance.
Our team all played for each other and we only conceded one goal away from home.
Our two best matches were behind the Iron Curtain. We beat Dynamo Berlin 2-1 in absolutely freezing conditions and then got a 0-0 draw in Dynamo Moscow.
That was a typical European trip, we were delayed seven hours and then the Russians changed the venue and made us travel somewhere else.
Now - Do you envy modern players?
Envy is the wrong word but it must be fantastic for attacking players these days. Defenders aren’t allowed to tackle you and the pitches are superb for good football. I love watching the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United, weren’t Arsenal fantastic on Sunday against Leeds?
Then - What do you remember about the goal you made for Peter Withe in the final?
I thought he had missed it – it came off his right foot which he used for standing on.
He said it was all intended but what I think really happened was that the ball hit a divot and bounced up and hit his shin.
If he had connected properly, the goalkeeper might have made a save but the way it bounced off his shin, he had no chance. Bayern had eight internationals – they were a fantastic side.
Now - Do you and the old Villa side ever meet up?
We have a charity team that plays every other Sunday and there is often three or four of us from the 1982 side – once there were eight of us! But it’s hard to get the full compliment out, Jimmy Rimmers is in China now and Peter Withe is living in Australia. Ken McNaught is in Scotland at Gleneagles.