Derby memories still vivid for Aston Villa hero Garry Thompson
There are few people who understand the distinctive rhythms of the Second City rivalry quite like Garry Thompson.
The former striker grew up a Villa supporter in the blue half of the Birmingham and got his first taste of the derby as a player.
His double at St Andrew’s, which earned his team a 2-1 win in December 1987, is still the cause of much conversation and, almost three decades, on Thompson cannot escape the pre-game nerves.
“When Villa played at Blues last season I was up before dawn,” he recalls. “My missus wondered what had got into me
“She said ‘it’s not like you’re playing’. But it gets to you, the nerves. When Gary Gardner scored to put Villa ahead I was suddenly on my feet in the press box. The commentator had to tell me to calm down!”
Thompson, , who now works as a summariser on Radio WM, caught the Villa bug early and it never left him during a playing career which spanned two decades, nine clubs and for two-and-a-half seasons saw him wear the claret and blue.
Growing up in King’s Heath, an area traditionally regarded as a Blues stronghold, he was first taken to Villa Park by his uncle and soon became hooked. “I remember the first game we sat in the Trinity Road, quite low down,” recalls Thompson.
“It wasn’t long after that he took me down against Santos when Pele played.
“It was a night game and the floodlights and the atmosphere. That was me done. It was Villa all the way
“My best friend growing up was a Blues fan. Most people where I grew up supported Blues too.
“That’s the thing about this rivalry. We are all in the same city together. Wherever you go, you can’t avoid it, win, lose or draw.”
Having spent much of his youth playing football, first as an amateur and then professionally, Thompson’s first taste of a derby in the flesh was a 2-0 Blues win at Villa Park in the early weeks of the 1987/88 campaign.
Injury meant he spent that game in the stands but just three months later he was the hero as his brace, both headers, helped promotion-bound Villa to a 2-1 win.
“That game at Villa Park is one of the saddest days I can remember. The one at St Andrew’s is the one I get asked about even now,” he says. “I still get people coming up to me to talk about that game and those goals.”
Tomorrow, Thompson will be at St Andrew’s again to see which players will write their way into derby folklore.
Villa have won five out of their last six during their climb up the Championship, while Blues are teetering on the edge of the relegation zone.
Yet Thompson is experienced enough to know this is one game where form often counts for little.
“I expect it will be a tight game and in all likelihood it will be a scrappy game,” he said.
“I watched Blues when they beat Cardiff earlier in the month and they looked very good. They look like a team who will be up for a one-off game and Villa will need to match their aggression.
“Villa are improving. At the start of the season I could not see any way we could make the top six, particularly with Jonathan Kodjia injured.
“But now Albert Adomah and Conor Hourihane are scoring. They’ve got Robert Snodgrass too and suddenly look a team with a few goals in them.
“They’re going in the right direction and things are starting to take shape. They now look a team who can really step up to it.
“But this game more than any other is a one-off. It’s about how much you want it.”