Villa fans of a certain age will know this scene well. You find yourself in the midst of a chaotic playground kickabout with your friends, the ball breaks to you and goalscoring glory is imminent, then reality intervenes and you send the ball high, wide, and entirely off target. What follows is a raucous cacophony of jeers and, of course, cries of “Savo, Savo!”
Savo Milošević became synonymous with missed chances in my youth. He was recognised by many as a comically wasteful centre forward, forever the butt of the joke. Savo was also one of several 90’s Villa players I personally met, at a time when access to top flight footballers was much more readily available.
Savo and I crossed paths in the old Selly Oak Sainsbury’s. As a 7-year-old, spotting Savo just feet away from me was wildly exciting, and within seconds I was in front of him with my moms shopping list and pen asking for an autograph. Savo duly obliged, gave me a thumbs up, and we parted ways. My exhilaration didn’t dissipate for some time afterwards, to the point where I badgered my mom into allowing me to phone into BBC WM with news of my Savo sighting. I’m guessing this was a slow news day as I made it on air! What followed was a farcical section of radio broadcasting where the presenter, possibly Malcom Boyden, enquired as to what Savo was purchasing. 7-year-old me went on to create a fictional shopping list on behalf of the Serbian striker.
This chance encounter and peculiar follow up event left me with an affection for Milošević and a sense of sadness at the mockery he endured.
Savo arrived as a club record £3.5 million striker to form a partnership with Dwight Yorke. He departed three years later in disgrace following the infamous spitting incident at Ewood Park during a 5-0 drubbing by Blackburn Rovers. In between those two bookends of his Villa career, he started with promise, missed plenty of chances, donned a bandana and managed a respectable 33 goals in 117 appearances. Perhaps the most iconic of those 33 is his remarkable strike in Villa’s 1996 League Cup final demolition of Leeds United.
As with any footballer, and indeed person, Savo was a mixed bag. A fallible human being as much as anyone else, he was also a talented footballer capable of the sublime and the ridiculous in equal measure. Brian Little, who brought Milošević to B6 during his reign, speaks fondly of him, describing him as a good trainer and an effective partner for Dwight Yorke.
“You did little passing drills that players hate and he was on his toes doing it right.
He was a very important part of my team. I wanted a left footed striker to play with Dwight, that’s what I wanted and the balance was perfect.
“I cant help do anything other than defend him. ‘Great’ is perhaps an exaggeration but I thought he did a good job for us.
Savo is a divisive figure amongst the Villa Park faithful. Some have fond memories, while others are steadfast in their opinion of him as a profligate forward who departed in ignominy.
It is a shame that the nail in the coffin for Savo and his Villa career was his spit of frustration at Ewood Park. His disappointing exit became more frustrating when he went on to resurrect that career, largely in Spain, winding up with almost 200 club goals and a solid international career.
One thing is for certain, for good or bad, Savo is a cult figure at our club and one who will live long in our memory. Up the Villa!
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