Split allegiances

John Terry will be doing his utmost to help Aston Villa return to the Premier League in today’s Championship play-off final, but he’s not the only famous Villan who also bleeds blue.

Paul McGrath might not be a name that jumps out at our younger supporters, but the Irish centre-half was one of the best centre-backs of the early Premier League era, winning the PFA Player of the Year award in the first season of the rebranded English top flight. He and Terry remain the only defenders to win that prize in the Premier League era.

 McGrath with Young Player of the Year winner Ryan Giggs

That 1992/93 campaign was the last time Villa truly challenged for the title, with the club since dropping into the second tier, although JT and Co will look to change that this afternoon when they face Fulham with a place in the Premier League at stake.

McGrath will be cheering them on as usual and should Villa prevail it would mark an excellent week for Ireland’s greatest defender, who saw the side he supported as a boy lift the FA Cup for the eighth time in our history with victory over another of his former clubs, Manchester United.

‘It started when I watched Chelsea play Leeds United in a memorable 1970 FA Cup final,’ said McGrath in an interview for the FA Cup final matchday programme last Saturday.

‘The lad I watched the game with was a big Leeds fan and, naturally, I decided to pick the other team. I just fell in love with that Chelsea team.

‘Peter Osgood was my hero as a kid and I loved John Hollins, David Webb, Charlie Cooke and all that team.

‘Even as I was fortunate to enjoy a great career in the game, I always looked out for Chelsea.

‘You don’t really talk about that kind of thing when you are in the game and you only find out from a few players where their loyalties lie. We all got into football because we love it and support a team, so every player will have their loyalties.’

There were occasions when McGrath came up against the club he supported as a boy, having spent 15 years playing on these shores, and it was particularly memorable when he faced one man in particular.

‘I remember the first time I played against Osgood. I was star-struck. What a legend. The way he carried himself, the elegance of the man. I couldn’t believe I was on the same pitch as him. To me, it was like meeting Pele.’