Silverware to the silver screen for Aston Villa European Cup hero Peter Withe

For Peter Withe, it has been quite the life. So much so, they are planning to make a movie about it.

Former Aston Villa players Peter Withe (left) and Dennis Mortimer with the European Cup which his side won in 1982.
Former Aston Villa players Peter Withe (left) and Dennis Mortimer with the European Cup which his side won in 1982.

The story of Withe’s remarkable journey from Southport and Barrow to scoring the winning goal in the European Cup final for Villa, via stints playing in South Africa and the USA, is going to be told on the big screen in a film currently in the early stages of production.

“It’s quite exciting,” admits Withe, in somewhat understated tone.

Based on his autobiography, All For the Love Of The Game, Withe says it will be ‘less a football movie, than a love story’, detailing how he and wife Kathy met aged 15 before he embarked on a career where the rewards were hard-earned.

“It is a story about going from nothing, to going right from the top,” he says. “The story of how we met as kids and everything we achieved. It will be one side from Kathy’s point of view and the other from mine.

“The original plan was for it to come out 18 months ago but with the pandemic, everything got delayed. It looks like it is going to go forward now. Hopefully in the next 12 to 15 months it will come to fruition.”

Though perhaps a little frustrating, delays to film production pale into significance compared to the disruption Withe experienced during the pandemic. He and Kathy were visiting son Jason in Western Australia when the outbreak occurred in March 2020 and have only recently been able to return to the UK. “It is a long time to go without seeing your grandchildren,” he says. “It has been a difficult time for everyone.”

Reuniting with family has clearly been the most important thing in recent weeks. Yet there has also been a chance to play a part in celebrations to mark the anniversary of Villa’s European Cup triumph, which continue tonight with a sold out dinner, 40 years to the day since Withe, now aged 70, netted the club’s most famous-ever goal against Bayern Munich.

The adoration among supporters who witnessed the journey – and those have merely read about it or watched the footage – has not lessened with time. If anything, it has grown stronger, a recent fan meet-up at the Villa Park academy building overrunning by an hour with Withe and his team-mates making sure they spoke to each of the hundreds present.

“You can’t let people queue up for ages and then say ‘Cheerio, we’re going!’,” he laughs. “We expected there to be a lot of people but it far outweighed what we thought.

“People still turn up after 40 years and you’ve even got kids coming up and saying: ‘My dad has showed me the video!’ It is very flattering.”

The following day saw Villa’s heroes of 1982 given a guard of honour by the current team ahead of the home match with Crystal Palace, a gesture of which Withe claims they were unaware until the moment they walked out of the tunnel.

“It was unbelievable,” he says. “We’d met in the Holte Pub beforehand and we ended up getting a minibus from there to the main entrance.

“I think we realised if we walked it we would never have got there. The lads would have been too busy signing autographs and taking pictures. The guard of honour was a surprise. It felt like a significant milestone. It was very emotional, for all of us.

“I think you could see it in our faces as we were walking round and then at half-time when we went round with the trophies.

“Perhaps the only problem was we didn’t have enough time. We only had 15 minutes and I think the fans wanted us to do about 30. They might have wanted us to come out at full-time too!”

The times Withe has been asked about his goal must surely run into the tens of thousands, the most common question being which part of his leg actually made contact with the ball to send it beyond Manfred Muller and in off the post. Yet he never tires of answering.

“I’ve never known one of my Q&A sessions to finish on time,” he jokes. “Coming from my background, I am always happy to talk about football.

“Sometimes I might be out having a meal and people will come over. I just tell them to hang on and we have a chat after we’ve finished eating.

“I still remember everything about that European Cup run. The games we played, the places we visited, some of the s*** we had to put up with at times. Things crop up, people ask you the question and you think: ‘I remember that’.

“I’ve never really been one for stats. I don’t remember those. But I do remember goals, the ones I scored. If people ask about specific goals they are still very prominent in my mind.”

Four decades on, with Villa having only won two League Cups since and the Champions League increasingly a closed shop, the achievement of Withe and his team-mates has never felt more remarkable.

At the time, it felt rather less so. Villa were the sixth English team in succession to win the competition and the grander achievement, one now perhaps too easily overlooked, was claiming the club’s first league title since 1910 the previous year, a season in which Withe, signed for £500,000 as the ‘final piece of the jigsaw’ in Ron Saunders’ team, scored 20 goals.

“People sometimes forget that to get where we did in Europe, we had to win the title,” he says. “To do that using just 14 players was phenomenal.

“The European Cup was a competition we wanted to win and keep the tradition of British teams winning it.

“But we never really talked to each other and said: ‘You know what, we could make history here’.

“Only when we came back and went to the Town Hall and saw all the supporters did it really start to sink in.

“Over the years it has got bigger. People are thinking: ‘Flipping hell, we actually did this’.”

n Withe and team-mates Gary Shaw, Des Bremner, Kenny Swain and Andy Blair, together with Villa legend Brian Little, will be appearing at a European Cup Q&A at Yates bar in Solihull next Tuesday, May 31.

Tickets priced at £20 can be purchased online through Eventbrite or by contacting Steve Withe on 07539 288676.

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