Established in 1874, founders of the English football league, League Champions on 7 occasions, 7 FA Cups, 5 League Cups and following one glorious night in Rotterdam, European Champions. Few clubs in Europe can compete with the illustrious history of Aston Villa. The Midlands Giants have experienced their ups and downs and their fans will tell you that they never do anything the easy way, often with a healthy dose of downbeat Brummie humour.
Aston Villa History
Like so many clubs founded during the Victorian era, Villa’s story is informed by humble beginnings. Jack Hughes, William Scattergood, Walter Price and Frederick Matthews, four members of the local Villa Cross Wesleyan Cricket Team met under a gaslit lamp on Heathfield Road in March 1874 to discuss how the team could keep busy during the winter months. They happened to witness a group of men playing football across the road, according to folklore at least, and settled on their chosen sport as a result. Within months, possibly weeks, the newly formed club played their first match, a derby against the Aston Brooks Rugby Team. The first half was played under rugby rules, and the second under association football rules. Founder Hughes’ second half strike ensured that Villa’s first game ended in victory. A new club was formed.
Villa grew rapidly, aided by the contribution of George Ramsay, a Scottish footballer who happened up a club training session and joined in, dazzling the other players with his prodigious dribbling. Ramsay’s influence saw Villa move to their first permanent home ground in Perry Barr in 1876. By the late 1870s, Aston Villa’s name was known throughout the land and the club landed their first significant honour, the Birmingham Senior Cup in 1880. Within 7 years, they’d won their first F.A. Cup, with a 2-0 win over local rivals West Bromwich Albion at The Oval. But despite its growing appeal, football remained an amateur sport. Only friendlies and exhibition matches filled the void between F.A. Cup games, and attendances suffered as a result. The game needed to change to harness the widespread interest from all classes. Step forward one William McGregor.
Foundation of the Football League
McGregor was one of a clutch of Scots who shaped the club’s early fortunes. A draper by trade, he became a director of the club and was to earn a reputation as football’s first great administrator. By 1888, he was frustrated by the lack of competitive football across the calendar and frequent cancellation of friendly games. He wrote a letter to the secretaries of other leading clubs in the country and called a meeting which ultimately led to the creation of the football league, where every member club would play each other home and away over a season. In September 1888, the first league games were played. Aston Villa had founded league football as we know it today. McGregor was to chair the F.A. between 1888-1894. He enjoys a permanent presence at Villa Park thanks to a bronze statue, erected in 2009, which stands on the outside the Trinity Road Stand.
Aston Villa Trophies
Villa became one of the dominant forces of English football in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They remained one of, if not the, biggest name in the game until the inter-war period. By that time, they’d accumulate 6 league titles and 6 F.A. Cup victories, including the double in 1896-7. By the early 1930s, the club had experienced a decline in fortunes as others, including Arsenal, rose to the fore. The slump culminated in their first relegation in 1936, a fate once considered unthinkable. Half a century of ups and downs followed, including relegation to the third tier of English football in the 1970s and a solitary FA Cup triumph in 1957.
Villa did win the inaugural League Cup in 1961 and the same trophy twice more in the 1970s, before their greatest period of all. Under the uncompromising leadership of Ron Saunders, the club earned their first league title in more than 70 years in 1981. They were crowned European Champions the following year, despite Saunders’ acrimonious departure following a dispute with the club’s board. A European Super Cup and two further league cup victories in the 90s followed, but Villa have been trophyless since some near misses.
Aston Villa Stadium
Aston Villa moved to their current home stadium, Villa Park, in 1897. Villa Park is situated on the site of Aston Lower Grounds, a former Victorian Amusement Park, and in the grounds of Aston Hall. The move was an immediate success and saw Villa break the league’s average attendance record in 1899. The ground underwent significant improvement in the early 20th century, despite disruption from the First World War. The club appointed renowned architect Archibald Leitch to oversee the upgrades and his design of the Trinity Road Stand, complete with stained glass windows, a spectacular staircase, rampant mosaics and a red brick interior, was widely considered a masterpiece.
The Holte End was similarly impressive. With its central location and large capacity, Villa Park became one of the most prominent stadiums in England and remains so today. It has hosted 16 England internationals and a record 55 F.A. Cup Semi Finals. Its current capacity is 42,785, and the club have permission to increase it to 50,000 by developing the ageing North Stand. Supporters mourned the loss of Leitch’s original Trinity Road stand when it was demolished in 2000. The new stand was opened by Prince Charles, 78 years after his grandfather George VI had opened its predecessor.
Aston Villa Twitter
Villa’s fortunes may have fluctuated somewhat over the years, but the club retains a formidable reputation in spite of a lack of tangible success over the last 20 years. It boasts supporters’ clubs across the world and its official social media outlets attract a worldwide following. Villa’s Twitter handle reflects the clubs initials @avfcofficial and boasts 1.3 milion followers. The club maintains a presence on Instagram and a Facebook page too. The latter has attracted more than 3 million likes, while the former has over 800,000 followers. The official Aston Villa website includes the latest news, interviews, video content, ticket information and sells official merchandise too.
Aston Villa Forum
If you want to interact with fellow fans, you will find a number of Aston Villa forums online. Long running Villa fanzine Heroes and Villains is one of the oldest and hosts discussion about all matters Claret and Blue as well as a lively off topic section. The site also shares historical articles from the fanzine, which was originally printed monthly and circulated at home games but has reduced paper output to a few editions a season. VillaTalk is another popular forum, with hundreds of contributors each day. The Bells Are Ringing, named after a famous Villa terrace chant, has declined in popularity but hosts a blog, while you can find more forums at Vital Football and Footy Mad. Heroes and Villains and VillaTalk are your best bet though.
Aston Villa Tickets
You can buy tickets for Villa home games online or in-person. You may need a booking history to secure tickets for some matches. Villa regularly sell out since their return to the Premier League in 2019 so you need to act quickly when tickets are released. Prices range from £10-£50 depending on the prominence of the match and discounts for children, students or pensioners. There are currently 24,000 Villa season ticket holders, with many more on the waiting list.
Aston Villa Players
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith completely revamped Villa’s playing squad when the club achieved promotion back to the Premier League in 2019. He managed to maintain the backbone of the team by signing on loan centre half Tyrone Mings and retaining the services of star midfield duo John McGinn and Jack Grealish.
Experienced England international goalkeeper Tom Heaton arrived from Burnley for a modest fee of around £4 million, while Smith added three new centre halves in Belgian Bjorn Engels and young British pair Ezri Konsa and Kortney Hause, the latter of whom had spent the second half of the 2019-20 season on loan at the club. Full backs Frederic Guilbert and Matt Targett arrived to compete with Ahmed Elomohamady and Neil Taylor.
In midfield, Smith added Manchester City’s highly rated young Brazilian Douglas Luiz and Zimbabwe’s defensively minded (and wonderfully named) Marvellous Nakamba. Jota, another player who served Smith well at Brentford, joined from rivals Birmingham City to compete with fellow new signing and Turkish international Trezeguet out wide. The club also made Anwar El Ghazi’s loan spell permanent.
Villa’s striking options were weakened by the departure of on-loan Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham, who scored 24 goals in the promotion season. Smith replaced Abraham with a risky buy – £22 million Brazilian targetman Wesley, who arrived from Club Bruges. With young Keinan Davis struggling with recurrent injuries and Ivory Coast international Jonathan Kodjia departing the following January, Smith signed another player from the Belgian league in 2020.