'We'll never be forgotten' - What it means to be one of Aston Villa's European Cup heroes

Players of the 1982 European Cup winning Aston Villa side celebrate with the European Cup trophy
-Credit: (Image: 2022 Getty Images)

Four 1982 European Cup legends got around a table to reminisce about Aston Villa's greatest ever achievement. The rest - as Dennis Mortimer, Gordon Cowans, Tony Morley and Allan Evans say during a sparkling and fun-filled exchange - is history...

What's your favourite memory of the European Cup triumph?

SID (Cowans is, of course, famously known by his middle name Sid, short for Sidney, rather than his first name): Playing in that European Cup final to start with. It can't get better than to win that trophy. It's something very special. The best thing about it is that team is the best team the club have ever had and ever will have. We're down to earth people, we're not big time Charlies or arrogant people. We're normal people.

DENNIS: We're kids from the streets, Sid.

SID: We are, exactly that.

TONY: You know what my big memory is? And I've got to say this - Evo moaning! When the fella went through and scored a goal - what was his name (Dieter) Hoeness? - and he was offside. I've come back and had a go at Evo. He turned round and shouted 'Don't you start, you get up the pitch!". Do you remember having a go at me, Evo? You turned round like a babby and said get up that pitch, so I did. You can't remember that, can you?

EVO: Not really! Nothing ever got personal did it really? I think there were times in football when you were always going to fall out with each other but nothing ever got personal.

The biggest thrill I got from the whole escapade, the whole journey through the European Cup, was actually the semi final. I got a bigger buzz when the final whistle went at Anderlecht than I did when the final whistle went against Bayern because you had reached the final. Remember when we started it all - who fancied us? Not too many people fancied us to do well.

TONY: But I think the pressure was we had to keep that run going because Forest and Liverpool had won it for five years and we didn't want to be the team to let it slip.

EVO: We had been together for a year as a team, we knew each other inside out, there weren't any changes really in the team over that period of time. We knew each other that well, we trusted in each other. That gave us a chance and we took it.

DENNIS: The greatest thing about winning the trophy, for me being captain, is that in those days the captain got the chance to pick the trophy up first. They don't do that now, he's last. And he doesn't pick it up by himself does he? The guy who presents it is already picking it up with him. I just remember waiting to get up the temporary steps to get up onto a platform. Most of the lads went off to celebrate with the fans, but I went straight to the steps because I wanted to get the trophy.

EVO: You couldn't wait to get your hands on it.

DENNIS: Well, I couldn't. I was wondering why the lads had all run away. I just thought don't you want the trophy? We got the trophy and I held on to it for about 10 minutes afterwards. I had a lot of photographs and then I passed it on. After that I just felt as if 'well I've done my bit with the cup now'. I've got loads of photographs and we've won it. I kept remembering Liverpool and Forest and Phil Thompson and John McGovern picking the trophy up. What a great feeling that would be to pick that trophy up. Phil was in the same school. He was a year younger than me. I wouldn't have thought anywhere else in Europe that there's been two players who lifted the European Cup as captain that actually went to the same school. It's a good quiz question.

EVO: It's not a well known fact.

DENNIS: It is now!

Do you still have any mementoes from that night?

TONY: I'll show you what Evo's most precious thing is (reaches for a cardboard tube and unfurls a photo of Morley and Evans).

EVO: What a picture of you? It'll be a picture of me and him because you said it's the most precious thing to me. Yes, I knew it. Just look at the hair!

TONY: Did I take it off my wall? No, off the ceiling! I'm gonna auction that tonight, Evo! If I don't get 10 quid for it I won't be happy!

EVO: I'll give you 12!

SID: You look at the old photos and you think 'What's happened to us?!'

DENNIS: You haven't signed it yet?

TONY: It might go down in value if I do that.

EVO: The medals are nothing special to look at. It's just what they mean basically, it's not how they look. They're fairly small to be honest.

DENNIS: It's like a gold sovereign coin but it's not gold. They're a bit cheapskate.

TONY: Have you not fetched yours, Evo? Someone said you were gonna bring yours today, your European Cup medal?

EVO: I never said that.

DENNIS: Well he's not going back now! I think the cheapskate thing about it is that the medal is made out of some kind of nickel or something and it's covered in gold leaf. Well it's probably not gold leaf but it's gold coloured. If you look for the gold sign on it, you know, the stamp at the back, there's nothing on it. You're winning he European Cup and they're giving you a gold medal. The European Cup, like the Champions League now, is the next best thing that you'd want to win besides winning the World Cup.

EVO: It's the pinnacle of club football.

DENNIS: Absolutely. I know the main thing is winning the medal and getting it. But the league championship medal that we'd got the year before was stamped with the gold mark and it was made in Birmingham at the medal place.

SID: You mean the Jewellery Quarter.

DENNIS: The Jewellery Quarter, yes. It was just different class.

EVO: What we did get we got those glass crystal things.

DENNIS: Some of us did.

EVO: What was there, a dozen made?

TONY: No, no, I don't think there was that many. Don't forget, we had to buy them ourselves.

EVO: They were made out of crystal, exactly the same shape as the European Cup.

DENNIS: 12 inches high.

EVO: There was a limited amount and we had to pay to get one. The club didn't buy them. We paid for them. They were one hundred and fifty quid.

TONY: My arms fell off mine. I cracked it. They were too heavy.

EVO: They were really nice. You shouldn't hold them by the arms, they weren't made for that. They were beautiful things, really thick glass.

DENNIS: Not everyone got one. Swainy (Kenny Swain) didn't get one, because he wouldn't pay the £150.

EVO: Do you think he regrets that now?!

What are the funniest stories you can remember from the night?

DENNIS: Remember when we got off the coach? Where was the cup left?

EVO: It was in the toilet on the bus. Who put it there? (BirminghamLive's detective work later gets a confession from Peter Withe, who owned up to being the culprit!)

DENNIS: I don't know who put it there. We'd all had our hands on it. We'd all done what we'd wanted to do.

TONY: Yeah, we'd all thought we've done the business, now what?

DENNIS: We lost it and we were thinking 'Where's it gone?' We really needed to find it to take it to the reception that was waiting for us. Everyone was waiting for us and we were late anyway.

TONY: The reason we were late Dennis is because Withey (Peter Withe) and Ken (McNaught) had to have their drug tests didn't they? They were that dehydrated because it was warm. It took them an hour and a half to drink all those bottles of lager!

DENNIS: The two German guys, they wouldn't drink any.

TONY: Yeah because they had another game that week. Typical British though wasn't it from our two - let's fetch the beers in.

EVO: I can't remember too much about the actual evening and the celebrations.

DENNIS: Oh, no, not really, because I don't think we really had enough time because we had to travel back to Amsterdam the next day. I think the wives and the girlfriends had been waiting such a long time that by the time we got back we were knackered and I think we all just wanted to get back home and do what we had to do the next day.

TONY: Do you not remember trying to fill the European Cup up with these bottles of champagne? And we had about eight. You couldn't drink it could you?

EVO: It was too heavy you couldn't lift it. I think the biggest regret about that, not that night but the next morning for me, was that I couldn't travel back with you guys, remember?

DENNIS: You couldn't? Where were you going?

EVO: I had to fly to Scotland to play again - Scotland versus England. That's probably my biggest regret, having just won the thing, not coming back to Birmingham to celebrate it with you guys.

DENNIS: Did you come back when we went on the open top bus and when we went to the town hall?

EVO: There was one later on wasn't there? The following week. Yeah I was back then.

DENNIS: Did you play for Scotland?

EVO: Yeah, I played. We got beat, mind! We played the final on the Wednesday then I played on the Saturday against England.

TONY: We flew back on the Thursday and it was a good celebration that weekend!

EVO: I don't know what happened. You know, I've never asked anyone this but what happened when you got back?

DENNIS: Well we didn't arrive back in Birmingham, we went to East Midlands.

EVO: So what happened there?

DENNIS: We just got off the plane and had a few photos on the steps. It was a good photograph when we were all coming down the steps. Me and Withey at the front with the trophy and then everyone behind us. Then we got back on the coach to Villa Park and we must have just departed then because the bus tour was the following week.

Did each of you get to take the trophy home with you?

DENNIS: Yeah, one of the great things about it when we first won it was the fact that we could borrow the trophy. We could take it home.

SID: We could get it lost as well.

DENNIS: You could! I remember taking it home to my house. I invited my brothers, obviously big Liverpool fans, to come along and their wives and I've got some great photographs of them with the trophy. One particular brother, my brother Brian, was a real Liverpool fan. He'd been to watch them play in all the European Cup finals so it was great for him to come and get his hands on the trophy. We had it for the weekend. I've got a picture of my son, Richard, in the trophy itself.

EVO: I've got exactly the same with my son.

DENNIS: We could do that and there was never a problem borrowing it and then Sid and Gibbo (Colin Gibson) took it out one night and lost it!

SID: Gibbo was effing and blinding all the time at the bar and these two blokes were standing by us and said will you stop doing that. In the end they said do you mind if we go and take your trophy outside? We said yeah that's all right go on. They went out and we were trying to watch where they went and they jumped in a car and cleared off.

TONY: You were trying to look where they went? I bet you weren't.

SID: I saw what car they had. They jumped in the car and cleared off. We stayed in the bar area and the manager of the bar, who was a big Villa fan, said I need to get this sorted. He rang up the police in Stafford and that's where they lived. They both went into their apartment or wherever it was and the police went knocking on the door and got the trophy off them and they ended up bringing it back the next day.

Have you still got your shirts from the final?

DENNIS: This is the biggest regret now for some of you, and you know this. You put a Bayern shirt on, quite a few of you did after the game. They don't allow you to do that now do they?

EVO: And you wouldn't do it.

DENNIS: I just think to myself, being captain, there's no way I could have gone up there with a Bayern shirt on because it would have looked as if Bayern Munich had won the cup. But quite a few of the lads when you look at it, they've actually swapped shirts straight after the game. You're up there on the platform and you've got the Bayern Munich shirts on. I just thought to myself I couldn't do that. That was one of the things I think some of the lads might have regretted afterwards when they look back and see themselves with the Bayern shirt on and not the Villa one.

EVO: I don't regret that at all actually.

TONY: You don't think of it at the time, do you?

EVO: What have you done with your shirt?

TONY: I gave all mine away mate, a long time ago. Apart from one.

DENNIS: This was quite a discovery actually, you tell them Tone.

TONY: I've had one and I've had it in a frame for 20 or 30 years. It's an original, it's a reserve one, remember we got two for the game? So I got all the lads to sign it and I thought 'I'll count the names'. So Mr. Captain Perfect came round the house with Sid only a couple of weeks ago and said 'You haven't got Sid'. I said of course I have, I've got all the names I've counted them.

DENNIS: He'd got 18 signatures...

TONY: David Geddis has signed it twice hasn't he?! So I've had to unwrap it, take it to pieces. I would've probably sold it some day and it would have been fake if I'd said I'd got them all, so I'm glad Sid was round the house because I got him to sign it! But I've had it there for years!

DENNIS: Tony's got the most unique shirt because he's got two Dave Geddises on it so he's got 19 and no one else has got that. You know what? He blamed Sid for not signing it!

TONY: I did. He's seen it dozens of times upstairs. I don't have it on my wall but he's seen it loads of times and never looked at what names were on it. I can't believe it.

SID: He always blames me.

TONY: I've ended up going round Lichfield market to have it framed again but it's sorted now. I think David Geddis must have been taking the mickey to do it twice. He would have known that.

SID: You still got yours Evo?

EVO: My own shirt, no. I've got Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's one. I actually sent it back to him to ask him to sign it just to say it's authentic, so he signed a card to say that. My son's got it. I never used a long sleeve shirt, ever.

TONY: Didn't you ever get cold?

EVO: You should try running around, you don't get cold!

Okay gents, before we let you go, leave us with your final thoughts on the 1982 success.

TONY: I feel very privileged to have represented Villa at the highest level and to have won the biggest trophies. I hope Villa can reach that standard. That's what you've got to aim for and I hope they still remember us if they do. Very privileged to reach the highest you can at club level and to play for a great club. Not only that but we've done it with a great bunch of lads and we're still friends now. And we're still friends now, aren't we Evo?

EVO: Yeah we are, I'll say yes! [laughs]

SID: Yeah I think what Tony's saying makes a lot of sense. Not all of it obviously! My take on it is this. I think after winning the European Cup it is so special. It's difficult to do, but the workrate that this team had back in those days was absolutely fantastic. There was nothing you wouldn't do for Ron Saunders who was telling you what to do. He had the best team in the league at that point. The way football is going, it's all about money, money, money. When we were playing we weren't bothered about the money, it was about winning things. That's the way I see it anyway.

EVO: I'll step in here. As a player, I always wanted to be better than the guy I was playing against. When I came down from Scotland as a rough sort of striker initially, although I had played centre-half, my aim was to play as quickly as I could in the first team and play against the best players in the country and prove that I could cope with that. Having been down for a little while and seeing the team as it was under Saunders I just took it for granted to a certain extent that this team and the guys we had in it were quality. You just expected that of each other, that's the thing. We never, ever had to sit and talk about 'you've got to do this, you've got to do that'. It was a case of you trusted in one another. If you can go through a whole season - in fact two seasons really - and trust each other wholeheartedly that is fantastic. We never had that again after the European Cup final. You're just proud to be part of that squad.

As the guy's have already mentioned, we all got on. We didn't get on every minute of the day. You'd fall out, there were plenty of battles in training. I remember when I first went down to England and joined Villa there were Scotland against England five-a-sides, kicking the s*** out of each other, but that's the way it was because it made you what you were. The actual team that Saunders brought together was an outstanding side with outstanding players, but we didn't think of that of each other, we just were a team.

DENNIS: The team of 81/82 are true legends in Aston Villa folklore. Forty years on and you cannot talk about Aston Villa unless you're talking about, for me, up to this point, the greatest team that they've ever had. And I say that simply because we won the two greatest prizes in club football - winning the First Division championship and the European Cup. Very rarely do you not think about it as an ex-player because it's just something that's so close to you. The game today is so different to what it was then. If we'd have won them in the last couple of seasons, the furore that would have been round the football club now would have been unbelievable. We've gone 40 years now. There's people who still don't realise Aston Villa won the European Cup and won the league, the First Division championship. For me that just makes us history - and I love that, I really do. I love the fact that we are part of the fabric, the history of Aston Villa and we'll never be forgotten. And if we keep on doing these kinds of interviews forever and ever and ever, the only thing we'll ever talk about is winning the league and European Cup. Don't ask us about the current team, but we will talk about winning the European Cup and we will talk about winning the league. People might realise, bloomin' heck Aston Villa had a great team in those days. That to me is the thing - we are true legends of the game, we are the history of Aston Villa. We'll never be forgotten.

What are your memories of that night in Rotterdam? Let us know in the comments below!