Wednesday, September 19, 2007

History of Aston Villa F.C.

Formation by Villa Cross Cricketers (1874-1880)
Aston Villa Football Club was formed in March 1874 by members of the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel in Aston, now part of Birmingham. Members of the Aston Villa cricket team were looking for a way to stay fit during the winter months and decided to adopt the new sport of football. The four founders of Aston Villa were Jack Hughes, Frederick Matthews, Walter Price and William Scattergood. Aston Villa's first match was against the local Aston Brook St Mary's Rugby team and as a condition of the match, the Villa side had to agree to play the first half under rugby rules and the second half under football rules. Villa managed to hold St Mary's to a scoreless draw up to half time and in the second half won the historic affair by one goal, scored by Jack Hughes. Villa won their first honour, the Birmingham Senior Cup in 1880, under the captaincy of Scotsman George Ramsay.

Rise to prominence (1881-1892)
The club won its first FA Cup in 1887, under the captaincy of another Scotsman, Archie Hunter. English football had become professional in 1885. However, the Scottish draper and director of Aston Villa, William McGregor had become frustrated with watching his team in one-sided friendly matches and low attendances for all games but FA Cup ties. He saw that in order to keep interest in the game alive the top teams needed to play each other in a league much like American baseball teams did. So he wrote to the twelve leading clubs in England proposing the formation of a league. The reason the Football League was never called the English League is because McGregor intended Scottish and Welsh teams to join eventually. Welsh teams (most notably Cardiff City) did so but Scottish teams did not. Naturally, Aston Villa were one of the dozen teams that competed in the inaugural Football League in 1888. September 8 1888 saw Villa's Football League debut - a 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers as Tom Green scored the club's first League goal. Villa finished runners-up to Preston in that inaugural season.

Victorian and Edwardian golden age (1893-WWI)
It did not take long for Villa to lift their first League Championship trophy, and this was achieved in 1893-94. This would signal the start of Aston Villa's 'Golden Age' and by the start of the First World War the club had won the League Championship six times and the FA Cup five times, including in 1896-97, a League and Cup Double, a feat which would not be repeated for more than 60 years. The captain during this era was John Devey.

Villa attracted such big crowds that a new ground was needed. The club could regularly expect 25,000 people to attend home games, at a time when the FA Cup Final would attract only about 20,000. The League and FA Cup winners had previously played at Wilson Road (Birchfields), then Villa in 1876 moved to their first proper home and the Perry Barr ground was taken on a three-year lease at a rent of £7 10s for the first year, rising to £15 and £20 in subsequent years, where they stayed until 1897. In 1897, Villa's influential financial secretary, Frederick Rinder, negotiated the purchase of their current home ground, the Aston Lower Grounds. It would be a number of years before it was officially known as Villa Park.

Footballing giants of inter-war years (1920-1935)
Although they remained a major force after the war, winning their sixth FA Cup in 1920, the club began a slow decline. This can be attributed in large part to a complacency which culminated in the unthinkable, the most famous and successful football club in the world being relegated to the Second Division in 1936. However, throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s the club had many fine international players (in 1933-34 Villa had no fewer than fourteen full internationals) and continued to challenge for honours, Villa were FA Cup runners-up in 1924 and second in the League in 1931 and 1933. Throughout this period the Villa Park crowds were entertained with attacking football and goals galore, in season 1930-31 Tom 'Pongo' Waring scored 49 of Aston Villa's 128 league goals, which is still a record team total for the top division. However Villa were denied the title by the sensational Arsenal team of the 1930s.

Harder times (1936-1957)
The club's decision to appoint their first manager coincided with relegation for the first time in 1935-36. This was largely due a dismal defensive record, they conceded 110 goals, 7 of them coming from Arsenal's Ted Drake in the infamous 1-7 defeat at Villa Park. However 'The Grand Old Man' of football was crowned Second Division Champions in 1937-38 under the guidance of Jimmy Hogan; Aston Villa were back where they belonged by the outbreak of World War II. Seven seasons were lost and many careers were finished due to the conflict and Aston Villa went about rebuilding the team under the guidance of former player, Alex Massie. Massie made some bold signings in his time with the club known more than that of the 23-year-old Wales international Trevor Ford from Swansea for £9,500.

The remainder of the 1940s and the 1950s saw Villa try to re-establish themselves as a top team. However, Villa could only be described as average during this period, although they had some good players and attendances were high. Season 1956-57 saw Villa go on an unexpected FA Cup run that would culminate in them defeating the 'Busby Babes' of Manchester United in the final. It was Aston Villa's first trophy for 37 years.

Mid-century (1958-1966)
However this success proved to be a false dawn with the team finishing 14th in the league the following season. Eric Houghton was sacked (after refusing to resign) when relegation loomed in 1958-59. His successor Joe Mercer was unable to prevent the club being relegated for the second time in 1959. Again a complacency had set in at the club - the famous Aston Villa had won the FA Cup for a record seventh time - this only served to fuel the belief that Villa were too good to go down. A return to the top flight was assured however in 1960 when Villa were crowned Second Division Champions. Season 1960-61 saw Villa win the inaugural League Cup and finish respectably in the league, this was achieved with an exciting nucleus of youth players who became known as 'Mercer's Minors'.

1960s: Decline and fall (1967–1970)
The slow decline continued throughout the 1960s due to a deep seated malaise; the club had failed to adapt to the new football reality, they had a non-existent scouting network, coaching was conducted in the same way as it had been 40 years earlier and the 5 man board contained 3 members over the age of 70. It was the board who decided that they could not refuse offers for their two most valuable players, Phil Woosnam and Tony Hateley. Without them Villa were in real trouble and were relegated for the third time, under manager Dick Taylor in 1967. The fans' calls for the board to resign became more and more urgent when Villa finished 16th in the Second Division in 1968. In an attempt to avert relegation to the Third Division, the manager, Tommy Cummings was given £200,000 to spend on new players, and with supporters boycotting Villa's home games in protest at the board, debts mounted. Events on the pitch came to a head in November 1968, with Villa lying at the bottom of Division Two; the board sacked Cummings and within weeks the entire board resigned due to overwhelming pressure from fans. After much speculation, control of the club was bought by London financier Pat Matthews, he also brought in Doug Ellis as chairman and Tommy Docherty as manager.

Rebuilding (1971–1976)
However, despite breathing new life into the club and initial success, Docherty was unable to lift the team out of the danger zone and he was sacked after just a year in charge. His successor Vic Crowe, was unable to prevent Aston Villa from being relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in its history. Nevertheless, the following season Villa reached the League Cup final after beating Manchester United in the semi-final. They were eventually defeated in the final by two late Tottenham goals.

In 1971–72 they were crowned Third Division champions at the end of a season which saw Third Division record attendances at Villa Park. The team narrowly missed out on a second successive promotion when they finished third on their return to Second Division football in 1972–73. However the following season Villa struggled and Doug Ellis sacked Crowe, replacing him with Ron Saunders.

Back amongst the elite (1977–1981)
Aston Villa's centenary season provided the double success of a League Cup final victory over Norwich and promotion to the First Division after an absence of eight seasons in 1974–75. Villa were back and due to their League Cup success were in Europe for the first time. Although Villa were knocked out in the first round by Antwerp, Saunders was assembling a team that would go on to win the European Cup seven years later. Villa won the League Cup again in 1977 by beating Everton after two final replays. The following season saw Villa reach the quarter-final of the UEFA Cup where they held their own against Spanish giants, Barcelona. That night, at the Nou Camp, the nightmare of the previous 10 years were finally laid to rest; Aston Villa were back amongst the footballing elite.

Villa won their first League Championship for 71 years, fighting off competition from Liverpool and Ipswich, in 1980–81 under the managership of Ron Saunders. This was truly remarkable as Villa only used 14 playing staff used in the whole season. It was a side brimming with talent such as midfield dynamo Gordon (Sid) Cowans; skillful winger Tony Morley; Captain Dennis Mortimer; and the strikeforce partnership of Peter Withe and local lad, Gary Shaw. To everyone's surprise, Saunders quit halfway through the 1981–82 season, (after falling out with the chairman), with Villa in the quarter final of the European Cup. He was replaced by his softly-spoken assistant manager Tony Barton.

Champions of Europe (1982-83)
On 26 May 1982, just three months after being appointed manager, Barton guided Villa to a 1–0 victory over Bayern Munich in the European Cup final in Rotterdam after beating FC Valur, Dynamo Berlin, Dinamo Kiev and RSC Anderlecht over two legs. Villa remain to this day one of only four English teams to have won the European Cup, along with Liverpool, Manchester United and Nottingham Forest. While Peter Withe scored the winner in the 67th minute, the key player that night was Nigel Spink, the 23-year-old reserve goalkeeper who had only played one match for the club in five years since joining from Chelmsford. First-choice keeper Jimmy Rimmer suffered a shoulder injury and was substituted after just 10 minutes. But Spink went on to make a number of fine saves in the game from the lethal Bayern strikeforce, which included Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Other key players in this Villa side included Tony Morley, Gordon Cowans and Dennis Mortimer.

Rapid decline (1984–1987)
Barton remained in charge for two seasons after the European Cup triumph, but was sacked at the end of 1983–84 despite Villa having finished tenth in the First Division and having reached the semi-finals of the League Cup. In came Shrewsbury Town manager Graham Turner as his successor. Turner was unable to reverse the decline, and in 1986 they narrowly avoided relegation to the Second Division. A terrible start to the following season saw Turner sacked halfway through September. Billy McNeill's reign at Villa Park was even more difficult and shorter lived than Turner's reign. He was unable to save Villa from relegation and they went down to the Second Division in bottom place, just five years after winning the European Cup. McNeill handed in his notice and moved to Celtic just after the end of the season. Chairman Doug Ellis persuaded Watford manager Graham Taylor to take over the reins and set about bringing good fortunes back to the club.

Good times return (1988-1991)
Taylor's first season at Villa ended in automatic promotion as Second Division runners-up, being pipped to the title by Millwall. A key player in the promotion-winning side was 22-year-old midfielder David Platt, a former Manchester United reserve who had been signed from Crewe Alexandra for £200,000 just after Taylor's arrival. Platt's impressive goalscoring record and Taylor's managerial know-how ensured that Villa avoided relegation in their first season back in the top flight, and the following season (1989–90) they emerged as surprise contenders for the title. For a few weeks during the second half of the season, Villa led the league but eventually finished in second place - nine points behind champions Liverpool. Taylor then departed for the England manager's job and was succeeded by Slovak coach Jozef Venglos - the first foreign manager in the First Division.

Venglos spent one season as manager of Aston Villa (1990–91). Having finished second in Division 1 the season previous, Villa went on to qualify for the UEFA Cup, and in turn be one of the first English clubs to enter European competition following the lifting of the ban following the Heysel disaster. Furthermore, they were the first English club to play in mainland Europe in a competitive match (against Banik Ostrava).[citation needed] The second round also brought arguably Villa's best result since the 1982 European Cup Final, by beating a star-studded Inter Milan side 2–0 at Villa Park. However, this lead was overturned by Inter in the return leg 3–0, and Villa were out. Venglos stepped down after they finished just two places above the First Division relegation zone and David Platt was sold to Italian side Bari for £5 million. Aston Villa's new manager was Ron Atkinson, who had achieved considerable success with West Bromwich Albion, Manchester United and more recently Sheffield Wednesday. Villa progressed to finish sixth in 1991–92 and book their place in the new Premier League.

Villa in the Premiership (1992–2006)
Atkinson spent heavily, making expensive additions to the squad including Earl Barrett, Dean Saunders, Andy Townsend, Dalian Atkinson, Kevin Richardson, Ray Houghton and Shaun Teale. The policy nearly paid off in 1993 when Aston Villa finished runners-up to Manchester United (Atkinson's old club) in the inaugural Premier League. During that season, the strike partnership of Saunders and Atkinson was an instant hit with the Villa Park faithful and established itself as one of the most feared partnerships in the Premiership.

Villa gained their revenge over United with a 3–1 League Cup final victory the following season (which prevented United from winning a unique domestic treble) to secure a second successive UEFA Cup campaign. It was fine compensation for Atkinson's men, who had finished tenth after a slump in league form. Atkinson was dismissed in November 1994 following a poor start to the season, just 18 months after they had almost won the league championship, secured a UEFA Cup place and secured their first trophy in a decade.

Atkinson's successor Brian Little did well to keep a demoralised team in the Premiership and in the summer of 1995 reshaped the squad by selling most of the club's older players and buying in many younger players. New arrivals included Alan Wright, Gary Charles, Ian Taylor, Mark Draper, Savo Milošević, Gareth Southgate and Tommy Johnson. Several home grown players were also progressing well, especially striker Dwight Yorke and defender Ugo Ehiogu.

Aston Villa made huge progress in 1995–96 under Brian Little. They won the League Cup, reached the FA Cup semi finals and finished fourth in the Premiership. Dwight Yorke was now establishing himself as a world class striker and other players like Ugo Ehiogu and Gareth Southgate were already gaining international recognition. Villa's form dipped slightly in 1996–97 and they finished fifth, but still qualified for the UEFA Cup.

Brian Little quit in February 1998 with Villa standing 15th in the Premiership, and his successor John Gregory, a former Aston Villa coach who had left to take charge of Wycombe Wanderers 18 months earlier, revitalised the club's fortunes and they finished seventh in the Premiership and qualified for the UEFA Cup; due to the progress of other teams in the top seven it was the first time that a seventh placed club had automatically qualified for the UEFA Cup.[citation needed]

Despite the £12.6million sale of Dwight Yorke to Manchester United in August 1998, John Gregory had guided Aston Villa to the top of the Premiership by the middle of the 1998–99 season. New signings Paul Merson and Dion Dublin were proving to be worth the money, while 18-year-old defender Gareth Barry was making a number of impressive performances. But Villa's form slipped during the final weeks and they finished sixth - not even enough for a UEFA Cup place.

Villa reached the FA Cup final in 2000 (for the first time since 1957), but lost 1–0 to Chelsea in a poor game. 2000–01 saw Villa finish eighth in the Premiership, although they did eventually qualify for the UEFA Cup after a successful campaign in the Intertoto Cup over the summer of 2001. Gregory quit the club in January 2002 with Villa occupying an increasingly familiar place around the middle of the Premiership.

Chairman Doug Ellis made a surprise decision to appoint Graham Taylor as manager for the second time after Gregory's sudden resignation in January 2002. Villa finished the 2001–02 season in eighth place, which was similar to most of their other Premiership finishes. Taylor quit as manager for the second time after the end of the 2002–03 season. Villa had just finished 16th in the Premiership, losing twice to arch rivals Birmingham City. Only their fine home form had saved them from relegation. Taylor's second reign at Villa had been little short of disastrous, and he had fielded, in the opinion of few, some of the least popular players ever to pull on the famous claret-and-blue shirt; Bosko Balaban signed by John Gregory on 24 August 2001 (who made eight substitute appearances in three seasons despite costing nearly £6million) and Alpay Özalan.

David O'Leary, who had taken Leeds United to the semi-finals of the 2000–01 Champions League, was drafted in as Taylor's replacement. After a poor start to the season, O'Leary transformed the team's fortunes and by Spring 2004 they were in contention for a UEFA Champions League place. But a 2–0 home defeat against Manchester United saw them finish sixth in the Premiership and narrowly miss out on a UEFA Cup place. O'Leary failed to build on the early promise and Villa's form dipped, managing to achieve only 10th place in 2004–05. The following season saw Villa slip even further, flirting dangerously close to relegation, finishing in 16th place with the worst points total in their Premiership history. The poor placing came despite O'Leary having spent more then £13million the previous summer on players such as Milan Baros, Kevin Phillips and Wilfred Bouma. The Aston Villa board were also displeased with O'Leary's decision to sell Peter Crouch to Southampton for a fee of £2million, a relatively low sum compared to the £5million payed to QPR for him two seasons earlier. What made the sale so controversial was that Crouch then went on to score an 16 goals in 33 appearances that season and was then sold to Liverpool for £7million.

Frustration within the club soon came to a head, when 14 July 2006 a group of Villa players took the unprecedented step of criticising the chairman's alleged parsimony and lack of ambition in an interview with a local newspaper. The club immediately dismissed the report as "ridiculous", but it emerged over the following few days that a group of senior players had indeed instigated the move, possibly with O'Leary's backing. The following week, David O'Leary left the club by mutual consent after three years as Aston Villa manager and his assistant Roy Aitken became caretaker manager.

Randy Lerner (2006-)
Doug Ellis introduced Martin O'Neill to over a thousand jubilant fans and the press as the Aston Villa manager at a press conference on 4 August 2006. John Robertson and Steve Walford also joined the managerial team as assistant manager and coach respectively. At the press conference O'Neill stated "It's absolutely fantastic to be back and with a club such as this. This is a fantastic challenge. I am well aware of the history of this football club. Trying to restore it to its days of former glory seems a long way away - but why not try? It is nearly 25 years since they won the European Cup but that is the dream".

After 23 years as chairman and single biggest shareholder (approx 38%), Doug Ellis decided to sell his stake in Aston Villa. This was a decision welcomed by many Villa fans, highlighted by two "Ellis Out" protests, and the "Ellis out" march. The decision to leave the club was likely to have been prompted by Ellis' ill-health. In September 2005, the club was put up for sale. There followed 10 months of little serious interest, save for an abortive bid by local businessman and self-professed life-long Villa fan Michael Neville, who formed a consortium backed by Irish property developers the Comer brothers.

After the consequences of the infamous "Villa Statement" in July 2006 saw the departure of David O'Leary, Ellis reiterated his desire to sell the club, stating that there were several interested parties, "which may or may not lead to an offer for the club". The hunt for a new manager was put on the back burner as the bidding started. Neville, once more, stated his desire to buy the club, but he was joined by the AV06 consortium of QC Nicholas Padfield, a group put together by Sven-Göran Eriksson's agent Athole Still, and the owner of NFL franchise, the Cleveland Browns, Randy Lerner.

The conclusion of the Lerner deal became a formality on 25 August when it was announced that he had secured 59.69% of the club's shares, effectively ending the Doug Ellis era at Villa Park. The 21 day period for shareholders to sell their shares expired on 4 September, and it was announced that Lerner had acquired just over 85% of the club's shares. The offer period was extended until 18 September in order to give Lerner an opportunity to obtain his desired 90% share, then extended again when it became clear that Lerner was going to achieve that share without difficulty. On 26 September it was announced that Lerner had achieved a 90% shareholding, and could complete his buy-out of the rest of the shares.[9] General Charles C Krulak, Bob Kain and Michael Martin are Villa's new non-executive directors, and Lerner appointed Richard FitzGerald as Chief Executive to replace the departed Bruce Langham, who resigned in May 2005. Although he would no longer have any power at the club, Ellis was given an President Emeritus (Life President) role.

Soon after his arrival Lerner was linked with rumours surrounding the sponsorship deals at Villa Park. One rumour was the proposed £100million sponsorship deal, that would give Martin O'Neill funds for future transfer windows. In October 2006, rumours were started that linked Lerner with a deal to remove "Villa Park" as the club's historical home name and replace it with that of a sponsor.[10] Although no names have been put forward for the renaming of the stadium, on the 7 February 2007 Aston Villa announced that their kit sponsor for the 2007–08 Barclays Premiership season would be Nike.

2006/2007 Premier League Campaign
With Randy Lerner now in charge of the club the pre season saw several multi-million pound player deals including Ashley Young and Stiliyan Petrov. Villa had the longest unbeaten start to the 2006–07 Premiership campaign, not losing until 28 October 2006, which included being the first competitive visitors to Arsenal's new Emirates Stadium when the 2006–07 season kicked off on Saturday August 19, 2006. Aston Villa also scored the first competitive goal at the Emirates Stadium in the same game when Olof Mellberg gave Aston Villa the lead on the 53rd minute. The match finished 1–1. But as the season progressed, injuries took their toll on the already paper-thin squad. Including in-form player Luke Moore who suffered a serious injury just before Christmas. Villa suffered a significant drop in form, at one stage going 11 games without a win in the league, with the threat of being sucked into a relegation battle.

The January signings of Carew, Young, Bardsley (loan) and Maloney helped bolster the squad but some took several months to settle in. John Carew however instantly became a fan favourite after scoring the winner in a 1–0 win on his home debut against West Ham. But after avoiding the threat of relegation with a good run of form, Villa finished 11th place in the league with 50 points ending the season with an unbeaten run of 9 league outings.

The last home game of the season, a 3–0 victory over Sheffield United F.C., was used to mark the 25th anniversary of Villa winning the European Cup in 1982 and was preceded by the 1982 winning team parading the trophy they won in front of a packed stadium. Scarves with the words "Proud History - Bright Future" on them were given out to all home supporters attending the match to aid the celebrations.

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