The late 1950s and early 60s can be seen as a bit of a new era in football. The European Cup, now of course known as the Champions League, was founded in 1955. And in England many clubs began to instill flood lights at their ground. Looking for a way to put the floodlights to use in midweek games (and probably for money), the Football League created the Football League Cup. (Now called the Captital One Cup, formerly the Carling Cup.) The competition was opened to the 92 clubs in the top 4 divisions of English football.
The inaugural season of the League Cup was 1960-61. Today, the League Cup isn't exactly the first priority of most teams, and it wasn't particularly different in the first edition either. Five teams decided not even to enter the competition, Sheffield Wednesday, Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Bromwich Albion, Arsenal, and eventual League and FA Cup winners Tottenham Hotspur.
That still leaves 87 clubs, and one of them was Aston Villa.
Aston Villa were returning to the top flight of English football after spending a year in the Second Division following their relegation in 1958-59. The 59-60 Villa team won the second division by just one point, but finished nine points ahead of third place Liverpool, to win promotion fairly comfortably. 12 points behind Villa that season, finishing in 8th place, were Rotherham United.
While today Rotherham find themselves in the fourth tier, with a tax evader and doer of lewd acts as a manager, they were a steady second tier club throughout the 50s and early 60s.
And nearly a year after the first round of the inaugural League Cup, Aston Villa and Rotherham United would meet an a two league final to decide the Cup's first Champions.
After not playing in the first round, Rotherham opened their cup campaign with a 2-1 win away to Leicester City. This was followed by 2-0 wins at home to Bristol Rovers and then away to Bolton Wanderers. They then easily beat Portsmouth 3-0 to make the two legged semifinal. They won the first leg 3-2 over Shrewsbury Town, and hung to draw the second 1-1, and were into the final.
Aston Villa's road to the final was a bit more bumpy.
While today's League Cup games go to extra time and penalties if tied, the inaugural edition used replays as still used today in the FA Cup. Villa were rather fond of replays in this cup run.
Villa also recieved a bye to the second round, where they beat Huddersfield Town 4-1. The third round opponent was Preston North End. After drawing 3-3 in Preston, the teams went to Villa Park, where Villa won 3-1. Their next opponent was Plymouth Argyle. The first game was drawn 3-3 in Plymouth. The second was drawn 0-0 in Birmingham, so naturally it went to a third replay in Plymouth, which Villa finally won 5-3. It was on to the semifinal which Villa won 3-0 over Wrexham
Villa's semifinal opponents were Burnley. The first leg was drawn 1-1 in Burnley. The second leg was drawn 2-2, which meant another replay. Villa won the replay 2-1 and were into the final.
As was mentioned earlier, the first final was two-legged, and the first was held at Milmoor in Rotherham on August 22, 1961. After a scoreless first half, Rotherham struck early twice in the second half. Barry Webster opened the scoring in the 51st minute, and Alan Kirkman scored four minutes later. Rotherham would hang on, and take a 2-0 lead to Birmingham for the second leg.
31,202 came to Villa Park to see if Villa could turn around their deficit. Rotherham looked to be on their way towards winning the cup, keeping Villa scoreless in the first half. After 67 minutes, Alan O'Neill finally got Villa on the board. Just two minutes later, Harry Burrows put Villa up 2-0, and suddenly it was level on aggregate. The teams played out the remaining 20 minutes without any goals. For once they did play extra time, and didn't go to a replay. The first 15 minutes of extra time went goalless as well. But in the 109th minute, AVFC Hall of Famer Peter McParland scored to put Villa ahead. The remaining minutes ticked away and Aston Villa held on.
So after 12 matches over 11 months, Aston Villa were champions of the first ever edition of the League Cup.