In May of 1957, Aston Villa won famously won the FA Cup over Manchester United. That plus a 10th place finish in the league was a solid season for Aston Villa. I would certainly take that now. But not that long after that, things got as bad as they ever have been for Villa. While normally, these Holte Histories are about good or great players or moments in Villa history, this week we are going to look at a bad part in the club's history: the time Villa got relegated to the Third Division.
Legendary Villa player and FA Cup winning manager Eric Hougton left the club after a 14th place finish in the 1957-58 season. In the first season after he left, Villa were relegated. New manager Joe Mercer led the team to a 21st place finish in 58-59, just one point off safety. That stay in the Second Division would not be long as Mercer got them promoted in their first chance. Two seasons later, Villa won the inaugural League Cup and things looked to be somewhat back to normal for the club that was a force in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A series of mid-table finishes followed, but in 1963-64, Villa finished 19th, escaping relegation by six points. Mercer would be sacked following the season despite suffering a stroke earlier in the year.
Mercer's assistant, and the man who managed Villa during Mercer's stroke recovery, Dick Taylor took over in 1964. His first season saw improvement as Villa finished 16th. They again finished 16th the next season. Taylor invested heavily in new players following the two 16th place finishes. That backfired massively as the club finished 21st in 1966-67 and were again relegated to the Second Division. After putting the club into some financial difficulty and getting them relegated, Taylor was sacked.
His replacement was Tommy Cummings, who was hired away from Third Division club Mansfield Town. Villa's first season back in the Second Division was not a good one as they stagnated and finished 16th. As Villa again struggled at the start the 68-69 season, Cummings was sacked in November. His replacement was Tommy Docherty. The eventual Manchester United manager did sign Bruce Rioch, who became a solid player for Villa, but that was the extent of his success at Villa. With the club at the bottom of the Second Division in January of 1970, Docherty was sacked.
Villa turned to club legend Vic Crowe to try and get the team back on track. Crowe could not save the team in 1969-70 and Villa were relegated to the Third Division. Crowe and Villa missed out on promotion in 70-71, but Villa won the Third Division in 71-72 and narrowly missed out on back-to-back promotions. Well, sorta. Crowe did lead Villa to a third place finish in the Second Division in 1972-73, but they finished 11 points back of Queens Park Rangers. However, the next season, Villa slipped back to 14th and Crowe was sacked.
His replacement was Ron Saunders who got the club promoted in 74-75. Villa were back in the top flight and with Saunders in charge, Villa built itself back up. Villa would soon reach heights higher than they had ever been before.
I write this not only because I found the journey down and back up interesting, but also as a reminder that however bad things may seem now, they could be worse.