How poignant that Aston Villa's last matchday programme of a massively disappointing season should contain a feature on players who will forever be heroes to the Holte End.
It was 25 years to the very weekend when Villa won the championship, outstripping the much-fancied Ipswich Town. And the feature in last Sunday's programme made for bitter-sweet reading.
It still seems incredible that Ron Saunders only used 14 players in the entire campaign and that seven of them played in all 42 games. Squad rotation would have been anathema to that lot, not least because they would have lost appearance money if they'd not played.
So they carried injuries, hoping to bluff their gimlet-eyed manager and their endurance and massive team spirit, allied to underrated talent, brought the title back to the West Midlands - much to the despair of the London press, who loved cosying up to Bobby Robson at Ipswich.
Any side boasting the flair of Gary Shaw, Tony Morley and Gordon Cowans, backed up by the goalscoring and leadership of Peter Withe, the midfield drive of Dennis Mortimer, the defensive strength of Allan Evans, the neatness of Kenny Swain at full-back and the goalkeeping competence of Jimmy Rimmer could never be patronised. But it wasn't till Villa won the European Cup a year later that the rest of the country took notice of the team that Saunders constructed before his messy, avoidable departure.
Shaw and Morley were in the press room on Sunday, while Cowans looked on with pride from the stands at the development of Villa's young players. Heaven knows what they think of the club's present malaise as they keep being reminded of that memorable weekend, 25 years ago.
You couldn't wish to meet a more pleasant, undemonstrative bunch than that '81 squad and although we hacks aren't supposed to have favourites, it's always a pleasure to bump into one of those players. I know that times change and livelihoods have to be earned, but it still seems odd to see Mortimer and Nigel Spink working at Birmingham City.
Almost as odd is the absence of any photographic record in the Villa press room area of that 1982 European Cup triumph. There are action photos, though, of legends such as Tommy Johnson and Gary Charles.
I wonder if David O'Leary will ever get the big photographic treatment when his days are done at Villa Park?
Judging by his demeanour after the match on Sunday, he considers himself fireproof, despite a poor season, reduced gates and further lowering of expectations.
O'Leary seems to have the blissful knack of avoiding unpalatable news or opinions. Lord Nelson - 'I see no ships' - would have commended him for the way he appeared to ignore the uncomplimentary banners hanging from the Holte End, suggesting the manager looks for alternative employment.
Despite the chants of 'We want O'Leary out', he seemed to believe the gestures of loyalty to the players and club also included him. When asked if he still enjoyed the fans' support, he answered: 'The majority of them, without a doubt'.
Without a doubt? I suppose a thick skin is necessary to flourish in the harsh world of professional sport and if it's backed up by the trick of bluffing without blushing, then you can concentrate on winning football matches.
Villa did that ten times in 38 Premiership matches. Hardly a cause expressions of pride that Villa is the top club in the West Midlands.
Looking at the passionate way that Lee Hendrie applauded the fans throughout Sunday's game - en route to the substitutes' bench, while warming up and even when he joined the fray in the second half - then mulling over the likelihood of a takeover this summer, which might leave O'Leary surplus to requirements, I was drawn to an unavoidable conclusion.
Was this the last Villa home fixture to feature a long-serving player, the manager of three years' standing and the chairman for the past 24 years?
Fergie shows tough and human side
This column in the past has not stinted on giving a serve to Sir Alex Ferguson but he played a double blinder on behalf of football's integrity at the weekend.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy found out the hard way that there's only one boss at Old Trafford, despite the brooding presence of the Glazers over in Florida. Ferguson has had enough of the striker's sulks after being dropped and acted in the only manner possible. He struck a telling blow for managers who have seen their power eroded in recent years by over-mighty players and their agents.
Van Nistelrooy reacted brattishly to being dropped by driving home long before the kick-off. That's cooked his goose, then. His manager had been dismayed at the Dutchman's attitude in training and resolved to cleanse the atmosphere. Van Nistelrooy is not the first outstanding player to have fallen foul of Ferguson and will soon be out.
Ferguson knows the risks involved in shedding a terrific striker, guaranteed to get you at least 20 Premiership goals per season, but is right to underline his authority. He's the only old-fashioned manager left, someone whose writ runs through the club, following the authoritarian instincts of a leader who has been outstanding at his job for thirty years. Van Nistelrooy was never going to win that power struggle.
On the same day, Ferguson displayed enormous respect towards Alan Curbishley, before his last match as Charlton's manager. Both are on the executive committee of the League Managers' Association and throughout Curbishley's 15 years at the Valley he has enjoyed the unstinting support and advice of the old Gorbals patriarch.
On behalf of United, Ferguson rolled out the red carpet and presented Curbishley with two first-class air tickets to New Zealand, to allow him to see his sister for the first time in that wonderful country. Curbishley has earned enough to pay for his own expensive flights but it was a humane touch.
Managers have told me that we don't see the warm and decent side of Ferguson. On Sunday he was at his most impressive when feting Curbishley. He was even more sound in telling Van Nistelrooy his fortune.
McClaren should draw encouragement from Ramsey's story
As shares in Steve McClaren continue to go through the roof, it's worth recalling that the new England manager shares one important thing with the most successful of that group, Sir Alf Ramsey.
Sir Alf wasn't first choice, either, in 1962. The FA wanted to give the job to Jimmy Adamson, a bright spark who had been named Footballer of the Year just a few months earlier. Adamson was about to embark on a thoughtful managerial career that never really took off but it seems incredible that the guardians of our national game thought he could be preferable to a 42-year-old who had just won the championship in remarkable fashion with unheralded Ipswich Town.
Thankfully, Adamson realised that he was too inexperienced at the age of 33 and the right man got the job. It would have been one of the earliest of the many calamitous decisions concerning the England job made by the FA down the years.
Unlike McClaren, Sir Alf didn't have to take media training or get his teeth whitened to equip him for the task. I would have loved to record Ramsey's reaction if the FA had tried advising him on his image . . . Sir Alf Ramsey is a useful model for Steve McClaren
Declining convert numbers means Sky's Premier deal hits cricket
Gird your loins then, all you cricket fans for this Thursday. England v Sri Lanka at Lord's. The start of a Test summer that, for the first time since 1946, will not feature England live on terrestrial television.
Conscious of trying not to be a bore about Sky Sports' capture of the live television rights for the next four summers, aware that the blame is apportioned in many eyes among the ECB, the BBC and Channel 4, I shan't go over familiar ground again.
The battle to keep Test cricket in the forefront of the nation's consciousness has been lost until at least 2010 so there's no point in raking over dormant embers.
Yet two telling statistics have emerged from Sky's latest accounts that should give all cricket-lovers pause for thought, no matter where they stand on this vexed issue of exclusive rights.
Sky admitted that, during the last quarter, new subscribers were down from 80,000 to 40,000 - the lowest number since 2001. The churn is now 11 per cent - one in nine of Sky's customers don't renew their annual subscriptions.
Hardly the hallmark of a thriving broadcasting organisation. With about five million subscribing to Sky Sports' package, an extra 550,000 need to be signed up every year just to keep the same number of subscriptions. It suggests that saturation among sports fans has been reached in total satellite dishes sold.
Will this week's Test cricket galvanise subscriptions? We're never told how many - more precisely, how few - watch international cricket on Sky Sports . . . it's 'commercially sensitive'. Will this uncharacteristic lack of bravado from Sky last all summer?
Football, not cricket, drives Sky Sports. But the new television deal with the Premier League is going to cost cricket-lovers in the next year or so.
This new agreement involving Sky and the Irish pay-operator Setanta will earn #1.7 billion for the Premier League over three seasons, a 67 per cent increase over the previous deal, which runs out next season.
Experts in these matters calculate that this will mean a rise in subscriptions from about #530 a year to #660 a year. The clubs, top players and their agents will hoover up the dosh while the gulf between the Premiership and the rest of professional football will never be wider.
A recent survey commissioned by the Professional Footballers' Association revealed that the average wage of a Premiership player is #13,000 a week, and that rises between 60 and 100 per cent when bonuses are included. The average annual salary of a Premiership manager is about #1.5 million. I kid you not . . .
So while the top clubs wonder if they can really afford to invest generously in building up their youth academies - as Aston Villa, West Ham, Manchester City and Middlesbrough have - many will just throw money at the players and managers.
And who will foot the bill? Satellite television. In other words you, the subscribers. Cricket fans who can't stand football won't be able to stand aside and choose just to watch their favourite sport. Such selectivity may be part of the next television deal, in the digital age, but not yet. If you love Freddie Flintoff, you'll still have to pay for Frank Lampard.