On This Day (20 April 1974): Kelvin’s first visit to Villa Park
Source: Rokerreport

The long bus journey down to Birmingham for my first trip to Villa Park was spent trying to work out the permutations for Sunderland to achieve promotion, and it was a brain numbing task!

Middlesbrough were well clear as champions and it seemed as though Luton were favourites for second spot, but mathematically, we still had a chance of third place if Blackpool, Leyton Orient and Carlisle slipped up, which was looking unlikely.

My fettle was helped by the news that two of my favourite young players were in the squad for this game- Joe Bolton and Jimmy 'Chico' Hamilton, who'd face his namesake Ian 'Chico' Hamilton, Villa's team news pending.

As a stadium, Villa Park wasn't a disappointment, although it was hardly bursting at the seams as kick off approached, with less than 20,000 in the ground.

The hosts were giving a debut to young goalkeeper Jake Findlay, and I hoped we could get about him early doors and not let him settle.

Villa also had some experience in their line up with Alun Evans, Ray Graydon and Chris Nicholl, while Brian Little and John Gidman were also making a name for themselves. To my delight, Ian 'Chico' Hamilton was also playing for the home side.

The first half hour was nothing short of one way traffic as Villa dominated midfield and our defence was seriously tested. In goal, Jimmy Montgomery had a fantastic game and must've made at least five first class saves in the first half hour.

First up, Graydon missed a good chance as he headed wide, then Evans made a hash of a good shooting opportunity. That was followed by John Gidman firing in a rocket of a shot that was magnificently saved by Monty, who then prevented an almost certain goal at the feet of Little.

On twenty-one minutes, Villa's Pat McMahon fired a twenty five-yard rocket that gave Monty no chance at all as it lifted the net upon impact. It was no more than Villa deserved and it seemed as if they were the promotion chasers and we were marooned in mid-table.

However, the goal did stir us from our apparent slumber and on thirty minutes, a Bobby Kerr corner was well met by Billy Hughes and cleared by Gidman as it sailed towards goal.

We hardly deserved it but we cheered the goal as if promotion was back on the cards.

Football is a game that can literally spin on a sixpence, and just before half time, having been bossed for most of the half, we almost went in front.

Some clever play by Hughes saw a cross arrive to 'Chico' Hamilton in the box, but his diving header just grazed the post.

This was so close and I tried to start my 'Chico' chant with our support but failed, as a foul by a Villa player totally distracted the away contingent when howls of dissent and demands to 'send him off, ref!' erupted from the Roker hordes, meaning my moment was gone!

Half-time arrived with Sunderland back in the game, at least in my head.

Villa replaced Evans with a young forward called Bobby Campbell, and I was chuffed at this development. Evans was a classy operator and I thought we stood a better chance with him off the pitch, but the young Northern Irish lad actually had a very lively second half.

Nevertheless, if I felt we were just coming into the game as the first half ended, I was very quickly proved wrong when the second half got underway, as Villa absolutely motored out of their blocks and deluged our goal.

Monty made cracking saves from Little and Graydon, and he got a hand to a piledriver from Villa's Hamilton, with the ball spinning viciously to Little, who completely missed his kick.

Dave Watson was immense in defence; Kerr and Porterfield began to put some 'bits and bobs' together, and Belfitt and the Roker Chico worked extremely hard without too much reward!

On seventy seven minutes, a free kick from Dick Malone was met powerfully by Belfitt in the box.

His header sped goalwards and Findlay just got a hand to the ball, which hit the bar and fell to Watson, who buried the ball on the rebound.

Now we really felt the promotion challenge was back on, and having been totally outplayed for most of this game, could we go on to steal the points?

We made a bit of a racket as Villa put our goal under more pressure, but thankfully we saw the game out for an unlikely win.

I don't think any of us in the away support were kidding ourselves. We'd completely stolen the points but in doing so, the agony and ecstasy of the promotion race continued for us.

And so, my first trip to Villa Park ended with a fortuitous victory at the grand old stadium, but I didn't have to wait too long for my second visit as I joined over 13,000 Sunderland fans in a 57,000+ crowd that graced the stadium the following season, albeit with Villa winning on that occasion.

As I made my way home, what wasn't apparent to me was that having seen Jimmy 'Chico' Hamilton's goalscoring debut in 1971, I'd also witnessed his final game for Sunderland, which was a matter of an inch or two from being a goalscoring departure.

He was transferred to Plymouth in November of the following season, and after spells at Home Park and Bristol Rovers, he eventually headed north to Carlisle, where he made 154 appearances, scoring twelve goals.

Football League Division Two

Villa Park

Aston Villa 1 (McMahon 21')

Sunderland 2 (McMahon (OG) 38', Watson 77')

Aston Villa: Findlay, Gidman, McDonald; McMahon, Nicholl, Turnbull; Graydon, Ross, Evans (Campbell 45'); Hamilton, Little

Sunderland: Montgomery, Malone, Guthrie; Ashurst, Watson, Kerr; Longhorn, Porterfield, Hamilton; Belfitt, Hughes

Sub: Bolton