With no written record and with human memory being too cloudy to be reliable, the precise date on which Aston Villa Football Club were founded can never be firmly established. But it can be linked to an impromptu meeting between four members of a local Wesleyan Chapel cricket team in the misty cold of a winter’s evening under a gaslight in Heathfield Road, Birchfield, Birmingham, sometime early in 1874. The meeting was between Jack Hughes, Frederick Matthews, Walter Price and William Scattergood, all keen cricketers who wanted to keep their Villa Cross team together during the winter months.
After witnessing an unorganised game of football played on a meadow off Heathfield Road they came up with the idea of taking up the new game Association Football and forming a club of their own. Charles Midgeley was elected secretary, Price was appointed captain and within two weeks Aston Villa Football Club had 15 playing members, albeit with no-one to actually play against. After the reputed first competitive match of Aston Villa in March 1875, it was not until the autumn of that year that the next match against another team was played. That first game was against Aston Brook St.Mary’s, a rugby team, and a compromise had to be reached with one half of each code being played! Unfortunately there is no record either of the final score or how the winners were decided – tries, goals under the bar, goals over the bar or what. Completely off topic, did you know that originally in rugby a try had no scoring value – it just gave you the chance to “try” to score a goal – what we now call a conversion. Never say that this blog is not educational!
Villa Park has been the home of Aston Villa since 1897 after spells at Wilson Road, Aston Park, Lower Aston Grounds Meadow and Wellington Road, Perry Barr, the latter ground giving them the nickname ‘Perry Barr Pets’. The site on which Villa Park is built was the mid-Victorian Aston Lower Grounds amusement park. Villa’s former grounds were a far cry from the current majestic venue. Facilities for either players or spectators were non-existent. In the early days at Perry Bar for example, a hayrick had to be moved from the middle of the pitch before each game and a hump near one end of the playing area had to be contended with!
The name Villa derives from Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel, whose former cricket club as we have mentioned above provided the founders of the Aston Villa Football Club. An actual villa once stood in the area and was large enough a landmark to have the district named after it. The nickname, ‘Villans’ is a wordplay that confuses many people with its spelling (many people incorrectly spell it ‘Villains’), and the older, and now unused nickname of the ‘Lions’ derived from the crest .By the way, Aston Villa take their first name from the larger district of Aston, which in turn is derived from ‘Estone’, meaning East Hill.
Villa originally played in deep red and blue from the colours of the old school of the founders. Black was worn for a short spell as were shirts of all claret, blue and white hoops and chocolate and light blue halves, before changing to the famous claret and blue, which became a much copied combination in football circles.
The claret shirts with blue sleeves became synonymous with Villa, and although in very recent years so-called shirt designers have attempted to meddle with nearly a hundred years of history with plain claret shirts, and claret with light-blue pinstripes, in the end it is still the traditional style that everyone outside Burnley recognises as being Aston Villa’s colours.
In its formative years Aston Villa attracted several influential members of Scottish Protestant origin. Among them were John Lindsay and George Ramsay, who became a prime mover in the club’s rise in stature to be one of the major clubs of late-Victorian England. George Ramsay was a Glaswegian, and this Scottish connection might explain the adoption of the lion in the crest – it is almost identical to the one in the emblem of Glasgow Rangers, which carries the motto “Ready”.
Since Villa’s motto is “Prepared”, there is an obvious link. Whatever the link may be however, the lion has been a constant feature in Villa’s badge over the years, proudly rampant in white on a classically shaped light-blue shield originally, to be replaced more recently by being placed on a more angular shield striped with the famous claret and blue with the motto “Prepared” lying in the shield itself, in contrast to an early 1990 design by Villa fan Jim Duncan with the famous motto in a scroll underneath the badge.
Any article about Aston Villa, whatever the subject, is not complete without mentioning the Trinity Road Stand. Succumbing finally and tragically to the modernisers, the year 2000 saw the sad loss of the ultimate landmark of English football. The Duke of York opened this stand, with its unique red-brick frontage, masterminded by the then club chairman Fred Rinder, in 1924.
Did Rinder, who was dubbed at the time an architectural agitator, get carried away with Archibald Leitch’s original, quite modest design? Yes, without doubt Fred Rinder got carried away. And luckily so. Rinder’s original plan saw a Villa Park with a capacity of 104,000. He added the Oak Room, the first restaurant at a British ground, steam rooms and an X-ray machine. Other Rinder finesses include leaded windows, curved panelling on the upper tier balcony in the distinctive club colours, pavilion-style towers flanking the central stairway and gold-leaf mosaics, proudly depicting the club’s crest. Alas it is all gone now….any history of the Villa will never be the same again. What would Rinder and Leitch have made of the modern Villa Park? We will never know.