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Book Review: The Odd Man Out: The Fascinating Story of Ron Saunders' Reign at Aston Villa

Wednesday 28th June 2017
The great and good of football management have earned monikers such as 'The Special One', 'Old Big 'Ead' and 'The Normal One'. They have all been lauded for their success but one of Aston Villa's most successful managers, Ron Saunders, remains 'the odd man out'. Graham Denton has tried to ensure that Saunders enjoys the recognition he truly deserves by penning a new book entitled 'The Odd Man Out: The Fascinating Story of Ron Saunders' Reign At Aston Villa'.

Title: The Odd Man Out: The Fascinating Story of Ron Saunders' Reign at Aston Villa

Author: Graham Denton

Publisher: Pitch Publishing

Date Published: April 2017

Price: £18.99

In truth, the likes of Brian Clough and Jose Mourinho didn't so much earn their nicknames as brand themselves during a bout of publicity seeking. Saunders was never quite so fond of the spotlight and his reticence to talk about himself explains in part why his eight-year reign with Aston Villa remains largely unheralded.

Saunders arrived at Villa Park in 1974 with something of a chequered reputation as he had previously enjoyed promotion from the Second Division during what was termed a "one man revolution" in his four years with Norwich before proving a divisive figure when lasting a little more than a year at Manchester City.

It was in the West Midlands where he would make his name though as he joined Aston Villa in 1974 and swiftly endeared himself to the Holte End faithful, with Villa securing promotion from the Second Division and winning the League Cup in his first season in charge.

Saunders quickly proved that he was not a man to be trifled with as he had the ability to make the aforementioned Mourinho seem as angry as Spongebob Squarepants, with the man from Birkenhead very much a strict disciplinarian who focused on a demanding fitness regime.

In short, Saunders was reliant on old-fashioned British values that were epitomised by his statement, "I don't want my back four playing football".

It wasn't pretty all of the time but Saunders' style of management certainly garnered results at Villa and they would go on to win the League Cup again in 1977 before becoming champions of England by securing the First Division title in 1981.

However, the story turns sour from there as Saunders resigned from his position as Villa manager in February 1982 following rumours of contract disputes, financial irregularities at the club and even a falling out over a parking space at the ground!

Villa were sitting in mid-table in the First Division and looking forward to the quarter-final of the European Cup at the time. Saunders' assistant, Tony Barton, took over the reins and would guide Villa to what remains their crowning glory, lifting the European Cup.

Saunders would go on to join Villa's cross-city rivals Birmingham City and Graham Denton documents the swift cessation of his previously positive relationship with Villa fans. Twelve months can be a long time in football.

Denton beautifully captures the essence of Saunders' career from start to finish by regaling the reader with some delightful stories, including one where Saunders attended an interview with a broken ankle but took off his cast to avoid looking weak.

Denton is reliant on old match reports and interviews throughout the book, and the author deserves much credit for his exhaustive research in documenting the events that make up this book. However, the book's greatest strength is also a weakness as paragraphs risk becoming listed timeline of results, transfer dealings, quotes and post-match anecdotes.

Saunders' reluctance to talk about his career means that the book rarely delves too deep into the mindset of the manager, except when using old interview pieces or comments from others, although it never claims to be an autobiography.

Instead, it is a must-read piece for long-suffering Aston Villa fans, who need reminding of the glory days now more than ever. Rather than being 'the odd man out', Denton rightly ensures that Ron Saunders is credited as being the man that put the building blocks for Villa's famous European Cup success in place.
Chris Knight
Avid Aston Villa fan, sports writer, enjoys most sports, but the beautiful game is the at the top of the list, closely followed by cricket.

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