Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest’s Championship clash this Sunday will make history for a very unfortunate reason.
Cruelly (if humorously) dubbed ‘El Crapico’ by one football fan on Reddit, it’ll mark the first time two former European Cup winners have met outside the top division.
Forest have started this term brightly under French coach Phillipe Montanier, but will face Villa without star winger Oliver Burke, who was shipped out on deadline day to Red Bull Leipzig for a colossal £13 million fee.
Conversely, their Midlands rivals have won just once in their opening five league games, but they’ve been splashing the cash – £15 million on Jonathan Kodija from Bristol City and £12 million on Ross McCormack represent a win or bust approach from Roberto Di Matteo and chairman Tony Xia.
All eyes might be on a potential promotion push, but the Villa Park clash will see the clubs haunted by their past. In the late 70s and 80s they were kings of Europe, now they aren’t even the biggest teams in the West and East Midlands.
From 1977 to 1982, English clubs embarked on a hot streak of six consecutive European Cup wins. Liverpool were the dominant force bagging three, but 1979 and 1980 saw Forest, powered by the mercurial genius of Brian Clough, emerge victorious, while Villa took home the prize in 1982.
It’s Forest’s story that’s perhaps the most remarkable. Led by the Clough/Peter Taylor double act, the Reds went from a mid-table Second Division team to champions of England then back-to-back European Cup winners – all within the space of four years.
Last season’s Leicester City heroes still have some way to go to emulate Forest’s ‘Miracle Men’, whose story was the subject of Jonny Owen’s documentary I Believe in Miracles.
Watch ex-Forest player Martin O’Neill takedown of Adrian Chiles:
That film ends with a great comedy sting. A clip from ITV’s 2014 World Cup coverage in which pundit Martin O’Neill, a former Forest player and Villa manager, cuts host Adrian Chiles to shreds after he suggests he wouldn’t have been much cop in a defensive wall. O’Neill reminds Chiles he was a Forest player during that fairytale European run.
Then comes the killer blow: O’Neill asks his fellow pundits Patrick Vieira and Fabio Cannavaro how many Champions League medals they had between them. The answer is zero. Those 1-0 Forest victories against Malmo in ’79 and Hamburg in ’80 put them in the history books, and O’Neill, like anyone who remembers a time before the flash and cash of Premier League football, doesn’t want you to forget it.
Villa’s own Euro glory came after Ron Saunders’ side ended a 71-year wait for a league championship in 1981. The old school managers had masterminded a Villa revival, taking them back into the First Division and winning two League Cups in the 70s.
A shock twist came in their European Cup winning season, though. Saunders quit his post after a falling out with the board, leaving his assistant Tony Barton to take charge. Barton took Villa from the quarter finals to a glorious 1-0 win against Bayern Munich. Ironically, the goalscorer was Peter Withe, who was sold by Clough’s Forest just as their European journey began in 1978.
Watch highlights of Villa’s 1982 European Cup final:
Villa and Forest have never been able to match those European halcyon days. League Cups were scattered throughout the late 80s and 90s, and both were founding members of the Premier League in 1992. That season a Ron Atkinson-led Villa finished runners up to Manchester United and Forest, managed by a Clough in failing health, were relegated.
Forest yo-yoed between the top two divisions until dropping out for a more permanent exodus in 1999. Their manager that day, ironically, was Atkinson, and the team that confirmed their relegation was Villa.
This was the last time the sides met in a competitive fixture – but 19 years on it somehow still feels like a prestige tie, even if it is creating a piece of unwanted trivia for both clubs.