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Aston Villa Private Signing Summer 2011

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In the summer of 2009, a meeting was held between the newly-formed company Midlands Memorabilia and the Aston Villa Former Players Association. The two parties agreed to become business partners – an arrangement which would provide many benefits to both organisations. The main plus for us was the promise of access to any former Villa players of our choice for signing sessions.

Over the next two years, we worked hard to put together various sessions and, in early 2011, we planned the largest signing session ever conducted with the players from Villa's golden period in the early 1980s. Many companies had previously staged such get-togethers but only with certain players. With help from the AVFPA, we managed to track down all 14 lads who took part in the 1980-81 League Championship winning season and all 19 who took part in the victorious 1981-82 European Cup campaign. The exciting dates took us all around the country with a trip over the sea to Ireland as well.

Midlands Memorabilia proprietor Danny Drewry explains here what the sequence of signings was and gives a brief description of what the Villa legends are up to now: 

“Once we had contact details for the former players, we started to plan dates for signings and thought it only right to start with the player who wore the no 1 shirt for Aston Villa during the early 1980s.

Jimmy Rimmer - I travelled to Gorseinon Rugby Club just outside Swansea to see Jimmy with a van full of shirts and freshly designed prints. The owner Mick had kindly set up some tables in the corner of the club house for us to use. The signing took around three hours and every minute was a joy listening to Jimmy regaling tales from his career and his life since retiring. He has travelled the world extensively, coaching in faraway places such as Canada and China, and is now happily settled in Wales, where he does some media work covering another of his former clubs, Swansea City.

Gordon Cowans - I didn't have to travel far to see Sid as he popped round to the home of my Dad, who is a Villa fan in his early 60s and was star-struck at having one of the greatest players ever to pull on a claret and blue shirt sitting in his front room enjoying a cup of tea and chatting away. Sid's association with the club goes back over 40 years, since being spotted playing for his school in Mansfield as a ten-year-old in 1968, a decade hasn't passed without Sid being involved with the club in some capacity. He has played at all levels for the club, coached the youth teams, reserve team and senior team, and now holds the title of First Team Coach.

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Gary Shaw - another short journey for us to meet up with the only Birmingham-born player to take to the pitch on that glorious May night in Rotterdam in 1982. I met him at The Holte Pub, where former general secretary of the AVFPA Karl Court had ensured we had use of a private room upstairs. As a kid, the first football chant I was aware of was the ‘Gary Shaw, bound to score’ one, so it’s amazing for me to think all these years later I have got to know him well and have heard all his stories first-hand. Gary now works locally coaching kids as well as carrying out match-day media duties.

Dennis Mortimer - the same day as the Gary Shaw signing, we also saw the skipper. When you speak to Dennis, you can straightaway see why Ron Saunders picked him as leader of his team. It was illuminating to hear Dennis and Gary talking about the past glories. The reasons Dennis gave for the team being so successful rang very true with me. He talked about what a great 'team' the lads were in every sense. They could trust each other to do a specific job and, even with such different characters, once they were together on the pitch, they gelled perfectly. Dennis still lives locally and visits Villa Park as often as possible. He now works for the FA following a stint for
the PFA as regional director of coaching in the Midlands area.

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Tony Morley - We met Tony and his best mate Wagga at The Holte Pub on the same day that we were seeing Peter Withe and Ken McNaught. Tony is great fun and, whenever I am in his company, he has me laughing. One thing I have noticed while spending time with the lads from that era is the banter – and Tony is usually at the centre of it. He keeps fit by running round Sutton Park and plays for the Old Stars team on a regular basis. He now works as a football coach for local kids as well as making regular appearances in the local media.

Ken McNaught - while Wagga oversaw the signing with Tony, I sat with Ken. I
didn't know it then but I would be seeing a lot more of the former centre-half as he has now been appointed the full-time General Manager of Aston Villa Former Players Association. Ken will be perfect in this role as he not only had an outstanding playing career, winning the League Championship, European Cup and European Super Cup with Villa, but was also Head of Events & Corporate Services for 12 years at The Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland - one of the world’s most coveted five-star hotel, golf and leisure resorts. He also spent time coaching in China with former team-mate Jimmy Rimmer.

Peter Withe part 1 - my Holy Grail! Back in 2009, we managed to attract 15 of the 1982 European Cup winning squad. The only one missing was the most important – the goalscorer! He has spent many of the last few years living in Thailand and Indonesia, where he coached the national teams, and now resides in Australia, so is very rarely in the UK. That makes his signature even more desirable, so you can imagine my excitement when I received a call from the AVFPA Chief Executive Neil Rioch confirming Peter would be in the country and had agreed to do an exclusive signing with Midlands Memorabilia. Peter walked into the room at The Holte Pub while I was with Ken McNaught with my back to the door. I turned round to see him and struggled to get any words out by way of a greeting! It was great to finally meet him properly and listen to his thoughts on that goal. We had far more stock relating to him. We still had items from 2009 that needed signing and, because the goal image is one of the most cherished items for a Villa memorabilia collector, we had many of those to get through. Finally, it was agreed that we would meet again a couple of weeks later, otherwise he would have been there until well into the night.

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David Geddis - The Holte Pub was again the venue and was becoming a second home. We were spending much of our working time there, which is no bad thing! David travelled down from Cleveland with his wife Christine, both immaculately dressed as usual. Just like the Villa in the early 1980s, they make a great team. Christine did a fine job by pulling the shirts tight and making them easier for David to sign. I have to say she was a lot quicker than us! David now works for the FA and the banter was soon flowing when Tony Morley popped in to see his old mate.

Gary Williams - We travelled to Elland Road, home of Leeds United, to meet Gary and his good friend Brendan Ormsby. We couldn't find the lads at first, so we went on a walkabout to look for them and I managed to get myself thrown out of Ken Bates’ end-of-season party after wading into it by mistake! Gary was great company and the banter bounced between him and Brendan. They are such close friends that they are Godparents to each other’s children. Gary who was born in Wolverhampton still has a slight Midlands twang and is, along with Gary Shaw, the only Villa fan from childhood to have played in a European Cup final for the club. Since retiring as a player, he has worked in the computer industry in Yorkshire but still follows the progress of his boyhood team closely.

Brendan Ormsby - That day in Leeds was the first time I met Brendan and, a few hours later, it felt like I had known him ages. He is a funny guy with some fantastic stories about the shenanigans off the pitch as well as on it. Brendan grew up in Ladywood, following the Villa from an early age, so, although he played in the early rounds of the European Cup campaign, it was a bitter-sweet experience to miss out on the final 16 in Rotterdam and then watch his team lift the biggest cup of them all. Since hanging up his boots, he has stayed in football, working various roles at another of his former clubs, Leeds, as well as having a spell managing Irish club Waterford United. He currently works as a postman in Leeds, alongside doing some junior coaching.

Pat Heard - we were back in our second home, The Holte, for this signing. Pat is another of the lads who still turns out for the Old Stars team and with him also being a summariser for local radio station BRMB, he is someone I have seen and heard a lot. He has had an interesting life trying different career paths as well as being involved in the game still. He told us of his experiences playing in Malaysia and the time he spent with a young Gazza at Newcastle United. Off the field, he has run pubs, performed as a stage hypnotist and now runs his own driving school in Birmingham. So, if you know someone who fancies learning how to drive alongside a former European Cup winner, you know where to go!

Colin Gibson - for this signing, we met once again at my Dad's house as Colin lives close by. He is definitely one of the liveliest of the lads and, just like Brendan Ormsby, had hilarious stories about the goings-on around the Villa Park dressing room in the early 80s. It was entertaining listening to his various accents when telling stories, especially when he used his false teeth as a prop to recall some of the more vicious challenges he was involved in with some genuine hard men of the day. Colin still turns out for the Old Stars team and now works as a financial adviser.

Andy Blair - we were back at my Dad's for the signing with Andy, who rivals David Geddis in the sartorial stakes. He is turned out very neatly in a smart suit whenever I see him. Andy has a great attitude towards life and sense of fun and is very humble about his time with Villa, preferring to give the other lads credit for the cup win. He now runs his own sports clothes shop in Coventry.

Terry Donovan - I travelled to Cleethorpes Golf Club to meet Terry, who was helping out there with a charity golf day. While the competitors were on the course, we conducted the signing in the bar area. Terry had left Villa to go on loan to American side Portland Timbers by the time the European Cup final came around but had contributed to the cause with 2 goals in the First Round of the competition. Following the signing, Terry asked if I would like to join him and his Dad for a fish dinner. Anyone who knows me will confirm I never turn down a meal, so we tucked in. Don Donovan is also an ex-footballer, reaching legendary status as Everton captain in the 1950s and, like his son, turned out for Grimsby Town for many years. The Donovans are much loved around Humberside. I stayed at the golf club for a further few hours following the signing, just talking football with the two of them – an experience I will never forget. Don was at Everton when a young Ron Saunders was there and spoke of him very highly, saying he was always a determined young man with a high work ethic, which is something you could definitely see in the Villa teams he went on to produce. Terry cruelly had his career ended early through injury and set up his own mortgage advice company, which is still going strong today.

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Allan Evans - following my trip to the east coast, my next destination was the other end of the country, namely Home Park, the home of Plymouth Argyle. I met Allan on a Sunday, so we had to thread the van through a car boot sale held at the ground to get our boxes of stock inside. Allan mucked in with the unloading and I struggled to keep up with him. He still keeps himself in great shape and has a very active life. He is in charge of the Centre of Excellence at Plymouth and, as one of the youth teams were playing that day, many of the staff and young players were about. He told me he doesn't let on to the young players of his achievements in the game unless asked, so, when he brought a group to Villa Park for a game last season, they were all amazed at the recognition Allan received, with everyone recognising him and treating him like the legend he is. As well as working at Home Park, Allan runs his own driving school just outside Plymouth.

Des Bremner - After clocking up the miles, our next signing meant a short hop down the A38 from our premises in Erdington to Villa Park to meet up with Des Bremner and Kenny Swain. Des is another of the lads I see often as he still lives locally and turns out regularly for the Old Stars team. I love speaking to Des as his knowledge on the local football scene is second to none and his passion for the Villa shines through whenever he speaks about the club. Following his retirement as a player, he worked for the Professional Footballers' Association, subsequently becoming managing director of the financial division of the organisation, a position he still holds.

Kenny Swain - I always enjoy meeting Kenny as he is a great laugh and knows more than virtually anyone about the young players we are producing as a nation as he has worked as a head coach at the English FA with youth teams for many years. He is full of praise for the set-up at Bodymoor Heath, which is geared to producing players for Aston Villa. He says the club have an exciting crop of youngsters coming through. Kenny has a great job and spends a lot of his time taking youth teams round the world to compete.

Ivor Linton - I had never met Ivor before and was amazed he didn't know about The Holte Pub when I spoke to him on the phone to arrange to meet. When he turned up, he was full of praise for the transformation of Villa Park since his last visit, which was back in the 1990s. I knew he only lived down the road in West Bromwich, so I had to ask why it was so long since his last visit. His reason was sound enough: he had been living in Finland for a long time and is a big Baggies fan! We got on famously and he was very open about his time at Villa. His first love is certainly the Albion but he has very fond memories of his time at Villa and readily admitted the club holds a special place in his heart. He spoke fondly of the infamous nights on the town with the likes of Brendan Ormsby, Gary Shaw and Tony Morley. I think if those lads got together again for a night out, not much would have changed! Following the signing, we had a drink and meal in the pub, where he told us all about the life he made for himself playing in Finland. He now works as an electrician
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Nigel Spink - It was fitting that the last of the players to sign our collection of 1982-related shirts and prints was Nigel as he is one of the reasons I got into the memorabilia industry. At the age of 14, I was invited to the Nigel Spink Testimonial Evening at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall in 1988, when I collected the signatures of he, Peter Withe, Des Bremner and Allan Evans on the back of my invitation card. It is one of the few things I have kept from my childhood to this day. We completed the signing at my Dad's house when Nigel had a day off from his role as first-team goalkeeper coach at Sunderland and, as is always the case when I see him, the Premiership was soon being talked about. I asked him his thoughts on the (then recent) Darren Bent transfer and he was very positive about what Darren could bring to Villa, although I don't think our Rotterdam substitute keeper was too happy about the way the striker had left Sunderland!

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Eamon Deacy - There was one former player I was desperate to meet because, every time his name came up during a signing with one or two of his ex-colleagues, there would be smiles instantly. Often they would be followed by a story told in an Irish accent about an innocent young teetotal from Galway who, after writing to Ron Saunders for a trial, found himself in a dressing room with some streetwise characters who liked the odd practical joke and a drink or two. We had a phone number for Eamon in Ireland which he had recently changed, so we had no way of contacting him to let him know of our plans. One evening, approaching the deadline for when I had to put trade orders out, I decided to turn detective with information gleaned from Tony Morley and Google. I put a file together containing maps to his home address and details for shops where he may be working and drove to Holyhead to catch the ferry to Ireland. Of all the days to choose, it just happened to be the one of The Queen’s visit to Dublin! I eventually got through all the security around the ferry-port at 5am and hit the motorway. By 9am, I was parked up in Galway town centre and, after a 20-minute walk, found one of the shops I was looking for. The first person I saw was the man himself! He was shocked when I explained why I was there and was so humble that someone would travel all that way to see him just to get some shirts and prints signed. I had to get Tony Morley to confirm my credentials over the phone, then I arranged to meet Eamon after work, so he could take me to his house. Once we started the signing, Eamon was really keen to hear about how all the other lads were and told of his happiness and pride at playing for Villa at that time. He was keen to show me his son's bedroom as it was kitted out in claret and blue. I have to mention the amazing hospitality of the Deacy family. Mary (Eamon's wife) made me a delicious meal and, while I was tucking into that, she even prepared a packed lunch for me for the ferry journey home! When it was time to go, Eamon insisted on showing me to the motorway – a ten-mile drive. When I was dozing off on the ferry later, I found it hard comprehending what had happened over the last 24 hours. Eamon made a big impression on me and I can see exactly why he is remembered with such affection by his former team-mates.

Peter Withe part 2 - I was a bit more relaxed this time as most of the hard work had been done. Peter and I met at The Holte Pub on the Friday before the last game of 2010-11 (against Liverpool). Peter was going to be at Villa Park that day anyway as one of his sons, Steve, who is lead singer in the rock band Paradise Forum, was doing a photo shoot attended by Mat Kendrick of the Birmingham Mail. Steve then joined us and showed a keen interest in our collection of Villa memorabilia. I sometimes have to pinch myself when I look back at the hours spent listening to the thoughts of the player who scored the most important goal in my club's history. Following the Liverpool match, Peter was heading for New York to attend the wedding of another of his sons before returning home to Australia.

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There are many people I need to thank for helping set up these valued signing sessions. First of all, there are the players because without their magnificent, memorable performances during the early 1980s, none of this would have been possible – or necessary. And, of course, we should pay further tribute to the managers who guided the team, Ron Saunders and Tony Barton. To put together a signing of this scale takes a lot of preparation and organisation and it would have been an awful lot more difficult without the hard work of Neil Rioch, Karl Court and Mark Burke from the AVFPA in tracking each player down. The people who helped me during the signings also deserve a mention – Kieran Lavin from Kings Norton, who is a good mate and staunch Villa fan, volunteered to help me with most of the signings. Also helping out on occasions were my best mate from childhood, Sean McDermott, my Dad Bill and Wagga.

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All signed items displayed can be bought here - Aston Villa 1982 European Cup Memorabilia

Aston Villa 1982 European Cup Squad Private Signing completed by Midlands Memorabilia, Summer 2011. The 19 players who participated are listed left to right - Jimmy Rimmer, Kenny Swain, Ken McNaught, Allan Evans, Gary Williams, Des Bremner, Dennis Mortimer, Gordon Cowans, Tony Morley, Gary Shaw, Peter Withe, Colin Gibson, Nigel Spink, Andy Blair, David Geddis, Pat Heard, Brendan Ormsby, Terry Donovan and Ivor Linton.

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Aston Villa - 1982 European Cup - Private Signing - Picture Proof - Article - Legends - Jimmy Rimmer - Kenny Swain - Ken McNaught - Allan Evans - Gary Williams - Des Bremner - Dennis Mortimer - Gordon Cowans - Tony Morley - Gary Shaw - Peter Withe - Colin Gibson - Nigel Spink - Andy Blair - David Geddis - Pat Heard - Brendan Ormsby - Terry Donovan - Ivor Linton - Montage - Signed Shirt - Danny Drewry - Bill Drewry - Kieran Lavin - Sean McDermott - Wagga