Dean Smith paid an emotional tribute to Ron Saunders, one of Aston Villa’s greatest managers, who died on Saturday at the age of 87.
Saunders guided Villa to the top flight in 1974 with promotion in his first season in charge, and won a First Division title and two League Cups during a glorious eight-year spell.
Many of Saunders’ former players, including Brian Little, Tony Morley and Gordon Cowans, were at Villa Park on Sunday as the club staged a minute’s applause before kick-off.
One of his most famous quotes was, “Do you want to bet against us?” in Villa’s 1980/81 title season, which can still be seen on match days on a huge banner at the stadium. Villa’s players wore black armbands for the match against Leicester City after West Bromwich Albion, whom Saunders also managed, had done the same in their Championship game against Swansea.
“The club and the supporters paid their respects really well,” Smith said. “I grew up being a Villa fan in the 1970s when Ron was in charge. He won the League Cup twice and built an incredible team that I was fortunate to come and watch here.
“To win the league in 1981 with only 14 players – six or seven made 42 appearances and played every minute of every game – was incredible. That team went on to win the European Cup. My heart goes out to his family.”