Book Review: Ticket to the Moon: Aston Villa – The Rise and Fall of a European Champion by Richard Sydenham
1976–77 Liverpool, 1977–78 Liverpool, 1978–79 Nottingham Forest, 1979–80 Nottingham Forest, 1980–81 Liverpool and 1981–82 Aston Villa. The run of European Cup wins, when England dominated the football landscape in a competition which bears little resemblance to the monster that succeeded it and today is misleadingly titled as the UEFA Champions League. Back then entry to the competition was only reserved for the respective Champions of their top divisions, and when Aston Villa lifted the English First Division title in 1980-81 their ticket into Europe was booked.
Author Richard Sydenham looks at the period from 1968 to 1990 through the book with that timespan broken into chapters detailing, The Rise, The Glory and The Fall of the Villa Park club as they climbed to the pinnacle of European football beating Bayern Munich 1-0 in Rotterdam.
On the plus side the book displays great research with Sydenham’s access to the main protagonists such as ex-Chairman Doug Ellis, the families of ex-manager’s Ron Saunders and Tony Barton and ex-players, providing an impressive line-up. Through this Sydenham provides a sound background to events on and off the pitch, establishing such points of interest, such as which players and staff were either pro-Ellis or pro-Saunders.
The author was also privileged in having access to Boardroom minutes, however, the general feeling as a reader was that where these were used in the book, that in the main they provided no great revelations and was a disappointing feature.
Given that Villa have never to date been able to reach the highs of the 1980-81 and 1981-82 campaigns, the book feels a little light on the details around those two historic seasons. Further, there are times when reading that the story felt less about the club, and instead wandered too often into a defence of Doug Ellis and his time at the helm of the club.
Finally, a couple of other observations. Firstly, the text size is pretty reader unfriendly in being quite small, and secondly the statistics sections seemed slightly odd in that both cover different periods, with a season by season results breakdown from 1974-75 to 1987-88, accompanied by a summary that covers 1968-69 to 1989-90.
The idea for the book is a sound one with some great source material, yet somehow it doesn’t quite hit the mark.