Based on the amount of silverware won, Aston Villa are a big club, certainly compared to most in England. At the time of writing, they’re in sixth place in the list of top flight champions (with seven titles, one more than Chelsea) and also sixth in the list of FA Cup winners (also with seven to their name). But Villa have not really been able to transfer their relative domestic success to the European stage … except for a very special year in their history: 1982.
In this article, we’ll be largely ignoring Villa’s league titles, FA Cups and League Cups and we’ll be focussing on the time – yes, just the one, singular time – they mixed it with the big boys of the continent and went all the way in the European Cup (the forerunner of the Champions League). Peter Withe scored the only goal of the game as Villa won 1-0.
When Did Aston Villa Last Win the Champions League?
As you might have guessed if you’ve read the previous paragraphs, the last (and only) time Aston Villa have won the Champions League (then called the European Cup) was in 1982. They faced German giants and now six-time European champions, Bayern Munich, on 26 May of that year at the Stadion Feijenoord (commonly known as de Kuip) in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Champions League Finals
Unlike Liverpool, Man United, Barcelona and many of the elite clubs of European football, Aston Villa have only appeared in one European Cup/Champions League final. On the flip side, Villa are one of just six sides who have a 100% record in finals in the competition (along with Nottingham Forest and Porto, who each won two out of two, and Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and Red Star Belgrade who each won their only final appearance).
Stage of Elimination
Aston Villa have only played in the Champions League forerunner twice and have never qualified for the Champions League since it was rebranded as such in the 1992/93 season. The first time Villa qualified, they won the tournament. This victory meant that they qualified as holders for the following season’s competition. They couldn’t emulate Liverpool or Nottingham Forest who had both won back-to-back European Cups within the previous few years. But the Villans didn’t make a total hash of their defence and made it to the quarter finals where they went out to Turin giants Juventus.
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Note that the information provided is correct at the start of the 2022/23 season.
Time Aston Villa Won the Champions League
As noted above, Villa have won this competition once, in 1982. Here we’ll go into a little more detail about exactly how they won it.
1982 – Villa Maintain English Success in Europe
When Aston Villa beat Bayern Munich in Rotterdam to become European Champions in May 1982, they extended the run of English victories in the competition to six in a row. Liverpool won it in 1977 and 1978, then Nottingham Forest bagged the next two, before Liverpool won yet another European Cup title in 1981. By this point, it’s quite likely teams from other countries were starting to get rather cheesed off with English sides cleaning up on the continent. That didn’t matter a jot to Villa fans, of course.
Villa qualified for the European Cup after winning the First Division the previous season, ending the campaign four points ahead of Ipswich Town. Few really expected Villa to go all the way in Europe at the time, especially when long-time manager Ron Saunders resigned in February 1982 after a dispute over his contract. They had already made it to the quarters by that stage having seen off Icelandic side Valur in the first round and Germany’s Berliner FC Dynamo in the second round. But Saunders’ assistant Tony Barton was promoted to the manager’s role and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
Barton, who had played for Fulham, Nottingham Forest and Portsmouth, guided Villa past Ukrainian outfit Dynamo Kyiv to set up a semi-final showdown with Belgian side Anderlecht. Tony Morley got the only goal of the tie as Villa won the first leg 1-0 at home and ground out a 0-0 draw on the road.
In the final, Villa were up against the German powerhouse that was Bayern Munich, who had won the European Cup three times in the mid-1970s and who still had a very fine side that the brilliant West Germany striker Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Villa were not to be ruffled though and Gordon Cowans, Dennis Mortimer, Gary Shaw and others put in solid, assured performances. It was Peter Withe – who had been something of a journeyman in his career – who scored the decisive goal as the game ended 1-0 to Villa. At the other end, there were plaudits aplenty for Villa’s keeper Nigel Spink, who came on after just 10 minutes for regular keeper Jimmy Rimmer who got injured. Spink was making just his second appearance for the Villans and put in an exceptional display to keep the Germans out.
Villa’s triumph meant they went into the Super Cup the following season, which they won 3-1 on aggregate against none other than Barcelona.
Aston Villa’s Worst Upsets
You can’t do better than to win a tournament, so Villa’s only real disappointment in the Champions League/European Cup came the following season when they failed to successfully defend their European crown. They certainly didn’t disgrace themselves though. After getting the better of Besiktas of Turkey and Dinamo Bucharest of Romania, Villa faced a very tough challenge in the quarters in the form of Italian giants Juventus. They lost 2-1 at home before going down 3-1 in Turin. Juve went on to make the final which they lost to Hamburg.
Other than that, the biggest disappointments for Villa in relation to the Champions League have been the times they were relatively close to qualifying for it but then didn’t quite make it. The trio of sixth-placed finishes under Martin O’Neil, who won the cup twice with Forest as a player, in the noughties were as close as they’ve been in recent years, while their second-place finish behind Man United in the 1992/93 season was only enough to see them into the now-defunct UEFA Cup.
Will Aston Villa Win the Champions League Again?
In a word, no. Though tempting to end this section right there, let’s be fair to the Villans and explain our rather dismissive and definitive answer to the question of whether they’ll ever reach the pinnacle of Europe again. The gulf between the biggest (and for biggest we mean richest) clubs in England and the rest is vast. Under the current system, Champions League places are allocated to sides that finish in the top four places in the Premier League. Villa finished in sixth place in three consecutive seasons from 2007/08 to 2009/10, but the last time they finished in the top four in the top division was way back in 1995/96.
Potentially a more feasible route into the Champions League for Aston Villa would be to win the Europa League. Given that West Ham made it to the semis in 2022 and Scottish side Rangers made it to the final, it’s not stretching the bounds of reality too much to think Villa could go all the way in the Europa League at some point in the next decade or two. Obviously going from that to actually winning a Champions League could be a bridge (or six) too far, but you never know. Keep your toes crossed, Villa fans!