52 years on: First League Cup finalists Aston Villa and Rotherham meet again

Members of Aston Villa's winning side tell Jack Pitt-Brooke about the triumph – and tragedy – of beating Rotherham

For some, Aston Villa hosting Rotherham United in the second round of the Capital One Cup may be of little interest – a low-key midweek run-out for Paul Lambert's team, a fun quick night on the big stage for the third-tier visitors.

But for others, this means a lot. This tie evokes history, as it was the first ever final of the League Cup, in 1961. It evokes glory, for those who were part of Joe Mercer's good, young Villa side – "Mercer's Minors" – who won 3-2 over two legs after extra-time in the second game. And it evokes tragedy, for Bobby Thomson, Villa's feisty forward who was involved in a car accident immediately after the win in which he lost a close friend.

It was not obvious, back in 1960, that the new League Cup would last as long as it has. Five of the bigger sides – Arsenal, Sheffield Wednesday, Tottenham, Wolves and West Bromwich Albion – did not even enter that first year. But the players, especially those at Villa, were delighted to take part. "There was a lot of talk saying that we had enough football," Peter McParland, who scored the winning goal for Villa in the final, told The Independent. "But we were happy with it, if we had this midweek competition it meant we didn't have to train."

Thomson, who played up front with McParland, relished the entry into the new competition. "The League Cup was special to us, we'd just got promoted and won the Second Division, we went into every game wanting to play. I loved the cup ties, they were always a bit spicier, referees seemed to let you get away with a little bit more than normal."

So Villa, alongside their First Division campaign – in which they finished ninth – played an extra 12 midweek games on their way to the trophy. They beat Huddersfield Town, Preston North End, Plymouth Argyle and Wrexham (needing three replays in all) before they met Burnley – reigning First Division champions and European Cup quarter-finalists that year – in the semi-finals.

"They were going for the Treble that year," remembered Thomson. McParland called them "the sort of side that would give you a right run-around if they got on top of you." Villa never liked playing at Turf Moor much but they drew there and drew again back at home, taking the tie to a replay at Old Trafford.

The teams were inseparable, it was 1-1 in extra-time, before Villa received an unwanted gift. "I was trying to run through with the ball," recalled Thomson. "Jimmy Adamson – a proper, proper gentleman, wouldn't kick anybody deliberately – he tackled me, a perfectly fair tackle and won the ball. I went flying. The referee gave a penalty but I jumped up and said 'That's no penalty, ref'. But Stan Lynn – our right-back – had already got the ball by then and told me to 'Shut up'."

It was a different era. "This was in extra time, when we were fed up of looking at each other. If it had been Alex Elder or Tommy Cummings who'd kicked me up in the air, I would have said the same – if it's not a penalty it's not a penalty. Nowadays you see them like Swan Lake, the ballet dancers. And the referees then were fantastic, nowadays they have no control."

But Villa were in the final where they would face Rotherham United over two legs. Fixture congestion caused partly by the introduction of the League Cup meant the final was played at the start of the following season. "They were always a good, tough, strong, hard Second Division team," said McParland. "We knew it was going to be a hard game. But we were always confident, as it was a two-legged game, we could take care of them."

The first leg, though, at Millmoor on 22 August did not go to plan. Barry Webster and Alan Kirkman gave Rotherham a 2-0 lead. "We played poorly in the first game," said McParland, "and Joe Mercer gave us a bit of a rollicking for it."

The return leg at Villa Park which was played in early September (eight days later Villa began their defence of the trophy) was their chance to show they were good enough to win the cup and – eventually – they did. It took an hour but in the second half, Villa shooting towards the Holte End, they broke through with goals from Alan O'Neill and Harry Burrows.

In extra-time, the fitness of the First Division side told. For Thomson, "it was just a case of time". McParland, who had won the 1957 FA Cup final for Villa too, scored the winner. "I could tell you, as there is no tape of the game, that I beat six men in the box and knocked it in the back of the net. But I'd be kidding. The ball was popping around the goalmouth, it dropped to me about two feet out and I whacked it."

Villa had won the first ever League Cup and the players were delighted. They took home nearly £100 in bonuses each for winning it, almost five times their average weekly wage.

But tragedy was to follow glory. Thomson was driving home with team-mate Derek Dougan and journalist Malcolm Williams from the Express and Star in Wolverhampton. There was an accident and Williams was killed, colouring entirely how Thomson looks back on all of this. "I should have been really up in the clouds, but I wasn't, I was very deeply down. It was a very sad time. It was a cup to be won and we won it, but as far as I am concerned they could take that away from me and change the other situation."

Thomson and McParland both keenly follow the progress of the new Villa team, Paul Lambert's answer to "Mercer's Minors". "Some of them have got to get it into their head that they're good," insisted Thomson, "some of them went around last year with an inferiority complex."

McParland sees some potential, and recognises a similar task from 50 years ago. "They are young boys. They have been good so far. The wee boy [Fabian ] Delph is doing well. They've got a lot of promising players there, it is getting the best out of them that is Lambert's job."

Capital One are offering Villa and Rotherham fans who attended the 1961 final free tickets to tomorrow night's game

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Sport
Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker during Hansen's final broadcast
Sport
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?