As­ton Villa fan, Mar­tin Hod­son

FourFourTwo - - ACTION REPLAY -

“Three days be­fore my 10th birth­day, I re­ceived the best present imag­in­able. I was go­ing to see the Dutch mae­stro, Jo­han Cruyff, play in per­son.

There was a dif­fer­ent feel­ing about an evening game at Villa and the Euro­pean oc­ca­sion added a mys­ti­cal ex­tra to the ex­pe­ri­ence. Es­sen­tially, it was foot­ball’s ver­sion of Jeux Sans Fron­tieres’ greater élan com­pared with It’s a Knock­out.

Eng­land hadn’t even qual­i­fied for the 1978 World Cup fi­nals in Ar­gentina, and al­though Cruyff had re­cently de­cided to re­tire from in­ter­na­tional foot­ball [it later tran­spired be­cause of a kid­nap at­tempt in Barcelona], the Cata­lans’ other great Jo­han, Neeskens, would be destined for the fi­nal. And I was about to see both of them in the flesh.

De­spite their gal­axy of stars, I felt that Villa were in­vin­ci­ble and would score with ev­ery at­tack. No mat­ter if the op­po­si­tion have the ball, we would soon get it back. Oh for that feel­ing this sea­son...

For 78 min­utes the match was a Cruyff masterclass – he scored a crack­ing goal, bam­boo­zling the de­fence, and de­parted to a stand­ing ova­tion.

But Jo­han’s sub­sti­tu­tion pro­vided fresh be­lief around the ground, and the de­spair of a let-down nine-year-old soon turned to un­bri­dled joy as Villa bagged two late goals to res­cue a 2-2 draw.

I turned 10 a few days later with hopes of see­ing my team win the UEFA Cup still very much alive. At least it was un­til the sec­ond leg in Spain, where we lost 2-1 at the Camp Nou.

That mem­ory lives on, so much so that when Jo­han died last year, I scoured ebay and paid over the odds for a Nether­lands No.14 shirt. #Trib­ute.”

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