Big Interview: Ray Graydon’s Aston Villa years brought Wembley joy
It’s the fairytale story we have all dared to dream.
Stood on the hallowed Wembley turf, in front of 90,000 passionate supporters, you score the winning goal to earn your side an historic cup victory.
For the majority of us, that thought will remain nothing but a daydream.
But for Villa and Walsall legend Ray Graydon, that dream became reality.
It was on March 1, 1975, that the Bristol-born winger lined up for Villa against Norwich in the League Cup final.
Snapped up for a fee of £50,000 four years earlier, Graydon had already enjoyed success while wearing the famous claret and blue.
His arrival from Bristol Rovers helped spark Villa to winning the old Third Division in 1971.
Then after Ron Saunders replaced Vic Crowe in 1974, Graydon scored 11 goals in the first 12 league games under his new manager.
But it was at Wembley where the winger would truly write his name into Villa folklore.
Saunders’ men had overcome Everton, Crewe, Hartlepool, Colchester and Chester to reach the showpiece final.
Graydon entered the game as his team’s designated penalty taker.
And in the 79th minute, with the score still goalless, a Chris Nicholl header was handled on the line by Mel Machin.
“It all came from a corner – Chris got up and headed the ball and it was going right in the top corner,” Graydon said.
“Mel Machin put up his hand up and saved it. But as that was happening, I jumped in the air with my arms aloft, feet off the floor because I thought it was a goal.
“Then as I landed. I looked at it and thought ‘Christ’ it’s down to me now. I have to score.
“I took what I thought was a good penalty but the goalkeeper made a fantastic save and pushed it on to the post.
“But it came back to me and I was quick enough to realise I could control it and volley it in.
“That moment, is something that is so very special.
“It’s something that, even now, gives me and my family immense pride.
“It was a moment that I dreamt about as a kid – trying to get to Wembley and playing in a cup final.
“Of course when you are a young boy you think it is going to be something that is never in your reach.
“But I was fortunate to sign for a fantastic club in Aston Villa. And in 1975 my dream came true.”
Graydon said he entered the clash with the Canaries determined to come away with a winners’ medal.
“I had every member of my family at that final,” the 70-year-old continued.
“And it was probably the biggest day of their lives. They were so keen to watch me play, at Wembley in front of 100,000 people.
“And then they get to see me score the only goal of that game. It was really special.
“People spoke to me before the match and they said to me ‘Ray, if you get the opportunity make the most of it.’
“And don’t come away a loser. Thankfully I didn’t.
“I remember, right at the end of it, my father turned to me. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘that was a bloody great day’.
“I was amazed. I said, ‘dad, I’ve never heard you swear before’, and he said, ‘son, if you are ever lucky enough to have a son and he goes on to play for a big club in a Wembley final and scores the winning goal, then I think you’ll swear as well,’.”
Graydon’s goal had prompted wild celebrations in the Villa dressing room – something the winger missed while he was being interviewed by the media.
But he recalls fondly how he marked the occasion once he was done speaking with the world’s press.
“There were big baths in the dressing rooms at that time,” he continued.
“It’s all showers now but back then it was a big bath.
“Because I had been interviewed a lot I was back late into the dressing room. So I got into the bath and I thought I’m going to enjoy this.
“There were a few of the lads left in. Everyone had had champagne in plastic tubs and they were all placed around this bath.
“I swam from one side to the other and cleared every glass of champagne that was there. Everyone one that had an inch of champagne in it, I drunk it.
“And then I just sat there and thought ‘wow – what a day.’
After his Wembley heroics, Graydon’s Villa career continued to go from strength to strength. Two years later, he lifted the League Cup for a second time after Villa finally overcame Everton in a final that went to two replays.
“That was another incredible experience,” Graydon said.
“I couldn’t play initially because I was injured so I missed the game at Wembley which finished 0-0.
“Then it went to a replay at Hillsborough which I was still unavailable for. That finished 1-1.
“But by the time the third game came around, I was available. It was played at Old Trafford and I must have been our lucky charm because we won 3-2 after extra-time.”
Graydon left Villa for Coventry City shortly after.
But his time at Villa Park had proved remarkable.
Arriving when the club was in the Third Division, Graydon left having twice won promotion – with the winger playing a starring role in helping Villa return to the top flight.
And the former Oxford United man believes a strong team spirit was the key to their success.
“When I got to Villa it was a massive thing for me because I had been at a much smaller club in Bristol Rovers,” Graydon continued.
“I thought I was in heaven. There were some very good players like Bruce Rioch and Chico Hamilton (Ian Hamilton).
“We had older people like George Curtis and Andy Lochhead who were great people to have around and help. Those players were a great help to me.
“And there is no doubt, as a team, we had a special bond.
“There was a real team spirit among the group. We were all in together. And everyone wanted to improve and get better.
“If you needed help or advice with anything you could find it.
“And the season we got promoted from the Third Division, I think we had 90 points which was a record when there was only two points for a win.
“That gave us a fantastic boost of confidence and when we went into the next league we nearly went up again but just fell short.”
Villa would go up again following the appointment of Saunders as boss.
“Ron came in and gave us a different view on life and we managed to win promotion again,” Graydon added.
“But again it was about the team. It wasn’t about people.
“I scored 27 goals in one season but the reason why was because we all spent a lot of time learning.
“We would learn how to get into the right positions to get those goals. And everyone helped. Every time the ball went left I did my best to at least get to the middle of the goal – not hang about at the back of the penalty area.
“I was given permission to get to the middle or to the near post and that is where a lot of my goals came from – from being in the box. It sounds so simple. But it took a lot work and everyone in the team had to know their jobs and the runs each of us were going to make. Now I can look back on some wonderful memories.
“I joined Villa in the Third Division and we went up three, two one. I then won two League Cup finals. It was fairytale stuff and I loved every minute.”