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Football: 2-2 ...and I scored them all; Villa legend Chris Nicholl recounts his double dose of embarrassment to Hyder Jawad 30 years after the match.

Byline: Hyder Jawad

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . and Chris Nicholl is still being reminded of it 30 years on.

On Saturday March 20, 1976, he scored four goals in one match - a 2-2 draw between Aston Villa and Leicester City at Filbert Street.

It is not the result that upsets, however, it is the fact that he did not receive the match ball that rankles.

His intervention ensured that he ended up as Leicester's fifth leading goalscorer in 1975-76 - even though he was Villa's most accomplished defender that season - and gave him a place in the history books.

"Thanks for reminding me," Nicholl says, with just the hint of a laugh. He wishes he was famous for something else. Sam Wynne achieved the "feat" in 1923 game for Oldham Athletic against Manchester United but nobody saw the irony in those days.

Nicholl played in 648 league games, helped to define Villa's renaissance in the mid-to-late Seventies, yet will forever be known as the man who became the leading character - the only character, actually - in one of football's strangest matches.

Twice he gave Leicester the lead, twice he equalised for Villa, but he did not acquire the match ball or a man-of-the-match award or a win bonus. So much effort for so little reward.

But Nicholl can laugh about it now, just as he can laugh about being so high up in the Leicester goalscoring charts for that season.

"The third goal, Leicester's second, was a cracker," he says. "Best goal I ever scored. A diving header. No goalkeeper would have saved that. Fortunately, my fourth equalised for Villa, so that was a relief."

In some ways, Nicholl was lucky. He would have expected light-hearted disparagement from the rest of the Villa squad when they turned up for training on the Monday, but Nicholl escaped.

"Well, they weren't going to give me too much stick," he says. "I was the tallest player in the team, six-foot-plus, so they had to watch what they said. Seriously, I took some stick, but only light-hearted stuff.

"The real banter was between myself and Ray Graydon, who was a fine midfielder for Villa at the time. We were, as we are now, close friends but I took some stick off him.

"Just before the Leicester match, I remember going to his house and seeing that he had on display five match balls for scoring five hat-tricks for Villa. Ray would rub it in and I vowed to him that I would, one day, get a match ball for myself.

"So after I scored those four goals in that 2-2 draw, I asked the referee if I could have the ball." No,' the ref said. 'This is my last match and I am keeping the ball'. Just my luck, I suppose. My first hat-trick in a Villa shirt and I don't even get the ball."

It does not bother Nicholl that he is famous for two own goals. He is in the Guinness Book of Records for this and is happy to see the funny side whenever somebody, usually Ray Graydon, asks him about it. The surprise to him is that it happened so long ago.

"I didn't even know it was the thirtieth anniversary until you told me," he says. "I couldn't tell you when it happened. Well, now I know - 1976. But even at the time it did not upset me, mainly because I equalised twice for Villa, and also because a draw at Leicester in those days was a good result.

"We had a good team then. OK, we did not finish high up in the First Division but we had good players. The team was taking shape and that, for me, was the start of the revival that would end when Villa won the European Cup in 1982.

"We had Andy Gray, Ray Graydon, John Burridge in goal, John Gidman, Brian Little . . . players who would do well in the Villa team today."

Nicholl represented Halifax Town, Luton Town, Villa, Southampton and Grimsby Town in a career that seemed to last an eternity. He was at his best when he played for Villa.

He played for Northern Ireland in the 1982 World Cup - easily the best Northern Ireland team in history - and can be proud of his career.

But the the game flourishes because of its unique tories, which means that Nicholl has found that being he captain of Villa when they won the League Cup in 1977 seems to matter less than scoring four goals in a 2-2 draw.

Interestingly, he has no regrets about what happened in 1976.

"I'd do the same again, if worst comes to the worst," Nicholl said. "Definitely. When the ball comes into the six-yard box you have to go for it because that is what defenders do. Only on very rare occasions would I deliberately leave alone a ball that was that close to goal. I might not always reach it but at least I've got to try."

Whatever Nicholl says about the draw being a good result, Villa played well and deserved to win. But Nicholl headed in a cross by Brian Alderson in the 15th minute and Villa were playing catchup after that.

In the 40th minute, Brian Little headed the ball into the penalty area and Nicholl hooked in an equaliser.

Eight minutes into the second half, Nicholl conceded what he calls his "cracker". Frank Worthington lobbed the ball into the penalty area for Leicester and Nicholl, challenging with Bob Lee, sent another fine header past past Burridge.

But then a scramble in the goalmouth gave Nicholl a chance to score with a low shot from close range.

"I've seen a photograph of the match but never seen any footage," Nicholl says. "Fortunately, it wasn't on Match of the Day, so nobody really knows what the goals look like. If it happened now, it would replayed on Sky TV over and over again."

Nicholl, now 56, came close to becoming the manager of Walsall last month and spends much of his time on the golf course or playing tennis. He is reluctant to make criticisms of any description but he cannot be happy with Villa's defensive frailties at the moment.

Well, he comes from an era of uncompromising defenders, so he is bound to be perplexed.

Nicholl was not new to scoring goals. He was Villa's fourth-leading scorer in 1975-76 and, memorably, scored in the 1977 League Cup final. If only he was as famous for that as he was for scoring four in the 2-2 draw.

There is, however, a twist to the tale. The previous week, Nicholl scored an own goal to helped Tottenham Hotspur defeat Villa 5-2 at White Hart Lane.

CAPTION(S):

It still wrankles that Chris Nicholl - scorer of a double-brace in the Leicester City v Aston Villa match at Filbert Street in 1976 - was not presented with the match ball. In the 70s (above), of course, he was a legend to Villa fans, although at the time his team-mates gave him some stick
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 18, 2006
Words:1184
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