Wednesday, September 19, 2007

History of Middlesbrough F.C.

Formation through to the Great War (1876-1914)
According to Boro folklore, the idea for forming the football club was suggested during a tripe supper at the Corporation Hotel, Middlesbrough, and while this has since been discovered by club historian Harry Glasper to be untrue, it is certainly true that like many football clubs of the time (such as Sheffield Wednesday), Middlesbrough F.C. were formed by members of the local cricket club wishing to stay fit during the winter. Indeed, it was at Albert Park on Linthorpe Road where players from Middlesbrough Amateur Cricket Club formed the fledgling team. The club retained its amateur status until 1899 when several members of Middlesbrough FC split to form Middlesbrough Ironopolis over a dispute. Both teams made their debuts as professional teams within a week of each other in December 1899.

After three years it was clear that both clubs were becoming more successful and club officials knew that only an amalgamation would give them a serious chance of a place in the Football League. On 7th May 1892 an application was made to the Football League under the name of Middlesbrough and Ironopolis Football and Athletic Company Ltd. The application failed and both clubs went their separate ways once more, as Middlesbrough FC reverted to their amateur status. They won the FA Amateur Cup in 1895 and again in 1898. The following year, 1899, Middlesbrough turned professional again in an attempt to gain entry to the Football League, and on 18th May 1899, backed by local neighbours Newcastle United and Sunderland, they were admitted to the Second Division, narrowly ahead of Blackpool.

Boro’s first season in the FL was not a success, as they failed to win an away game, finishing 14th out of 18 teams. The 1901-02 campaign saw Boro finish second, to gain promotion to the First Division, where they would play their home games in their new ground, Ayresome Park, with a North Stand designed by Archibald Leitch, that would be their home for the next 92 years. This was exactly next to Ironopolis's old stadium, known as The Paradise Ground.

By February 1905, Boro had not won an away game for two years, and in an attempt to remedy this the board sanctioned the controversial transfer of Alf Common for a then record fee of £1000. The following season, Steve Bloomer arrived from Derby County, and by 1907-08 Boro had secured their highest finish in the top division, finishing sixth, just two points behind champions Aston Villa.

National scandal was to follow in 1910, when Boro defeated local rivals Sunderland 1-0. It was to emerge after the match that Boro manager Andy Walker had offered Sunderland’s players the sum of £2 each to let Boro win the game. The Sunderland players told their manager and he took it further. Walker was given an indefinite suspension from the FL, and Middlesbrough’s season petered out to a drab conclusion. Four years later, Middlesbrough enjoyed their highest finish to date, as they ended the 1913-14 season in third place, before the First World War intervened.

Between the World Wars (1919-1939)
After the war, several players were too old to continue, and three had been killed in action. Before the season restarted, Boro were victorious in the Northern Victory League, and looked forward to competitive football again. While striker George Elliott and keeper Tim Williamson were still at the top of their game, the team's chance at the championship had faded and they finished mid-table. They remained there for the next few seasons, before finally slipping to relegation in 1923-24, finishing 22nd of 22, ten points adrift of their nearest rivals.

Three seasons later, they won the Division Two title, despite gaining only one point from their first four games. For their fifth game, injury meant George Camsell, signed from Third Division North side Durham City the previous season, got a start. He was to prove a revelation, and finished with a record 59 league goals, including nine hat tricks. He would continue as top scorer for each of the next ten seasons.

Although back in the top flight, the club didn't last long. Despite a good start to the season, Herbert Bamlett was replaced in January 1928, and replaced by former Spurs boss Peter McWilliam. However, following this, the club slipped to bottom of the table and were relagated. They bounced straight back the next season though, winning another Second Division title, remaining in the top flight after that until 1954.

After several seasons of milling around the bottom reaches of the table, 1936-37 saw the emergence of Wilf Mannion, whom Boro had signed from local club South Bank St Peter's. George Hardwick, who came from South Bank East End, also emerged. Both would go on to become England internationals in the years ahead. Boro rose to seventh that season, before moving to fifth, then up to fourth, their highest since before the First World War. Under former Grimsby boss Wilf Gallow, the club looked good to challenge for the 1939-40 title. In fact, Boro were second-bottom after three games, when war was declared, and broke up arguably their finest ever side.

A steady decline (1946-1966)
After the war, the club was unable to recover the form of the previous seasons and hovered around mid-table and the early rounds of the FA Cup. With Jamaican-born Lindy Delapenha playing on the wing, Boro climbed to ninth in 1949-50. The next season, nearing Christmas, Boro headed the First Division table, but a 1-0 defeat at Leeds knocked confidence and they slipped to sixth. Midway through the season, Hardwick also left the club to become player-manager of Oldham, and afterwards the team began to falter, eventually falling to relagation in 1953-54.

Their first season began awfully, but they managed to recover and finish 12th. A 6-0 win over West Ham and a 9-0 defeat to Blackburn showed it was a season of mixed results. Mannion had refused to sign a new contract upon relegation and was transferred to Hull City, where soon afterwards he disappeared into non-league football.

This was the start of a 20 year spell outside the top flight, but saw the emergence of another Middlesbrough great - Brian Clough. Making his debut in 1955-56, he helped the club to 14th place. From the next season, he started to establish himself in history. He rattled in the goals - 38 in that season, then 40, 43, 39 and 34, gaining his only two England caps in 1959-60, before inevitably leaving for arch-rivals Sunderland. After 204 goals in 222 games, he would be missed. Over that period, Boro maintained reasonable progress in the Second Division but never looked like gaining promotion.

After a 4th place finish in 1962-63, the only way for Boro was down. They finished 10th, 17th, then 21st. On the last day of the season, Middlesbrough needed a draw at Cardiff to stay up, who themselves needed a win to remain in the division. A hat-trick from makeshift striker Dickie Rooks couldn't help Boro, who went down 5-3, and were relegated to the Third Division for the first time.

Recovery, success and disaster (1966-1986)
It was new manager Stan Anderson's job to return the club to the second flight. After only two wins in their first ten games, fans thought the club was already on the way down to the Fourth Division, but Anderson turned it around and the team finished second. Gordon Jones was captain, and John Hickton arrived, both of whom would go on to be second and third respectively in the club's all time appearances table.

After regaining promotion to the Second Division, Boro were on good form. They wouldn't finish below ninth during the next eight seasons.[6] The FA Cup saw the club never get past the quarter-finals, a feat they were yet to accomplish in their history. John Hickton, converted from defence, was proving a revelation up front, while Willie Maddren made his debut in 1969, with John Craggs and Stuart Boam joining three seasons later. Jim Platt had also taken over in goal. With Graeme Souness joining soon after, the spine of the team to gain promotion to the First Division was there. Jack Charlton took over as manager and guided the team back to the top flight at last. They ensured promotion as early as 23 March, and with eight games of the season left, they became runaway champions, finishing with a record 65 points.

Middlesbrough spent the next eight seasons in the First Division, finishing 7th in 1974-75 and were generally a mid-table side in the seasons that followed. Some believe the side lacked the necessary firepower at the time to become serious contenders. However, the club's youth system turned out talent such as David Armstrong, Graeme Souness, Stan Cummins, Craig Johnston and Mark Proctor.

Back in the top flight, the team also gained some luck in the cups, albeit still not winning anything. In 1974-75, Boro reached the sixth round of the FA Cup and the quarter finals of the League Cup. The next season, they reached the semi final of the League Cup, where they lost 4-1 on aggregate to Manchester City. 1975-76 however was when Boro won their first silverware as a professional side, lifting the Anglo-Scottish Cup in its first season after a two-legged final win over Fulham.

After four seasons in charge, Charlton resigned as boss following three mid-table finishes, with John Neal taking over. In his first season, Boro should have reached the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time, but Second Division Leyton Orient managed to take them to a home replay and win. The league form never saw the club climb out of mid-table however.

After eleven years at the club, David Mills was sold for a then national record of £482,222 to West Bromwich Albion in 1979. Neal left in 1981 and Bobby Murdoch took over. That same year Proctor, Johnston and Armstrong all left the club. Dutch midfielder Heini Otto was signed from FC Twente. The 1981/82 season saw Middlesbrough relegated in last place.

In February 1982, chairman Charles Amer and his son Kevin, a director, left the club to be replaced by George Kitching. That season saw Middlesbrough suffer a disappointing relegation back to the Second Division. With Murdoch still as manager, and, after appearing at the World Cup, Jim Platt as captain, led Boro into another disappointing season. In a season in which Tony Mowbray made his debut, the defence was leaking goals. Murdoch was asked to resign, Kitching stepped down to be replaced by Mike McCullagh, and Malcolm Allison became manager. The club eventually finished 16th. Platt left at the end of that season and Stephen Pears came in on loan from Manchester United.

Serious financial problems were now staring Boro in the face. Allison was being pressured into off-loading star players and matters came to a head in March 1984 when he claimed it was "Better for the club to die than to linger slowly on its deathbed". This saw Allison kicked out and replaced by Willie Maddren, temporarily with some help from Jack Charlton. Middlesbrough were dropping down the table though, finising 19th in 1984-85.

On the opening day of 1985-86, Maddren named four debutants in the team that lost 3-0 to Wimbledon, one of whom was Gary Pallister. The cups were not going well either, and Boro were getting knocked out in the early rounds with alarming regularity. McCullagh left the club and was replaced by Alf Duffield, another change in chairmanship. In 1986, Maddren left to be replaced by coach Bruce Rioch. In April the club, fighting for its existance, had to borry £30,000 from the Professional Footballers' Association to pay wages. The final game of the season saw Boro relagated to the Third Division once more.

A near death experience (1986)
On 21 May 1986, the club called in the Provisional Liquidator and shortly afterwards, the club was wound up. In August, Rioch and 29 other non-playing staff were sacked by the Official Receiver and the gates to Ayresome Park were padlocked. Some players left, while others stayed under Rioch and coach Colin Todd. Without the £350,000 capital required for Football League registration, the death of the club was announced on Tyne Tees Television, and it seemed inevitable that the club would fold permanently. However, Steve Gibson, a member of the board at the time, brought together a consortium involving Bulkhaul Limited, ICI, Scottish and Newcastle Breweries and London businessman Henry Moszkowicz. With ten minutes to spare, Middlesbrough F.C. avoided missing the deadline and completed their registration with the Football League for the 1986-87 season with both a change of crest to the current version and a change of name to Middlesbrough Football and Athletic Club (1986) Ltd. With the gates to Ayresome Park having been closed by the baliffs, Middlesbrough were forced to play their opening game of the season at Hartlepool United's home ground, Victoria Park.

Rioch revival... and more ups and downs (1986 - 1994)
Manager Bruce Rioch and his players pulled together after the takeover and with his young squad including Boro legends Colin Cooper, Gary Pallister and Tony Mowbray finished second in the Third Division behind A.F.C. Bournemouth to win automatic promotion to the Second Division. A year later they won the Second Division promotion/First Division relegation playoffs, after defeating First Division Chelsea to send them down, and achieved a second successive promotion which landed them in the First Division.

Middlesbrough showed promise in 1988-89 and fought themselves to a mid-table place, but a form slump in the second half of the season culminated in relegation on the final day- they had not occupied a relegation place that season before then. Gary Pallister was sold to Manchester United for a then national record transfer fee of £2.3 million[16].Their dismal form continued into the following season and a second successive relegation looked on the cards. Rioch was subsequently dismissed in March 1990 and his successor Colin Todd just managed to save Boro from the drop. The same season saw Middlesbrough play in their first Wembley cup final, suffering a 0-2 defeat to Chelsea in the Zenith Data Systems Cup. The team was led out at Wembley by an unfit Tony Mowbray.

1990-91 saw Boro's form improve substantially and a seventh place finish was enough to qualify for the playoffs - this time four promotion places were up for grabs because the First Division was re-expanding to 22 clubs for the 1991-92 season. But the promotion dream was ended in the semi-finals when Boro lost to eventual playoff winners Notts County. Todd left soon afterwards and was succeeded by Charlton's Lennie Lawrence.

Lawrence's first season at the helm was a success, with Boro reaching the League Cup semi finals for the second time and most significantly finishing runners-up in the Second Division - booking their place in the inaugural Premier League.

Boro were mid table in the Premiership come Christmas 1992, but a run of seven defeats beginning in February dragged them down the table and they were relegated after losing their penultimate game of the season. The board kept faith in Lawrence but he resigned a year later after failing to achieve promotion back to the Premiership.

Robson revolution (1994 - 2001)
Lawrence's successor was 37-year-old player-manager Bryan Robson, who had just ended an illustrious 13-year playing career with Manchester United F.C. and was a former England captain. With assistant manager Viv Anderson, Boro spent big and brought in players like club record signing at the time Neil Cox for £1 million, club captain Nigel Pearson and Norwegian striker Jan Age Fjortoft. His first season was a great success and Boro lifted the Division One title and getting promoted back to the Premiership after a two-year exile. 1994-95 was the club's last season at Ayresome Park, from which they were relocating after 92 years to their new home at the Riverside Stadium on the banks of the River Tees.

Boro went on a massive spending spree after their promotion to the Premiership, paying £5.25million for 21-year-old Tottenham Hotspur F.C. winger Nick Barmby and £4.75million for 22-year-old Brazilian midfielder Juninho Paulista. The policy looked to have paid off as Boro stood fourth in the Premiership in October, but a terrible run of form followed and they slid to 12th place in the final table. Boro's dismal away form - just 8 goals in 19 games - also helped end their dreams of European football.

Robson paid £7m for Juventus striker Fabrizio Ravanelli and £4m for Brazilian midfielder Emerson for the following season, but Boro spent the season battling relegation instead of chasing a top-five finish. Their difficult task was compouded by a deduction of three points imposed just after Christmas, as punishment for the club's failure to fulfill a fixture against Blackburn Rovers F.C.. The club's explanation was that so many squad members had been hit by a flu virus that it could not field a competitive team; however the Football Association rejected this explanation after allegedly telling the team to do this saying that they would not be punished, effectively a stab in the back by the FA.

Meanwhile, Boro were building up an impressive cup run and reached the first senior cup final of their history in March, where they faced Leicester City F.C. in the League Cup. The deadlock was not broken until extra time, when Fabrizio Ravanelli's goal looked to have secured the trophy for Boro. But Leicester then scored an equaliser and went on to win the replay, through a goal from Steve Claridge.

Boro's three point deduction eventually cost them their Premiership status and they were relegated on the final day of the season after a draw at Elland Road. A week later they lost 2-0 to Chelsea F.C. in the FA Cup final and became the first English club to lose both major cup finals and be relegated from the top division in the same season. Despite these setbacks, Juninho still managed to finish as runner-up in the Footballer of the Year award to Gianfranco Zola.

The board kept faith in Robson and they were rewarded with promotion back to the Premiership as Division One runners-up the following season. While Emerson, Ravanelli and Juninho were all sold, new players such as Paul Merson, Marco Branca and Mark Schwarzer were brought in, helping the club not only gain promotion at the first attempt. Such was Merson's form that he was the only player from outside the top flight to be picked for England's World Cup 98 squad that year. Amazingly, Boro reached the League Cup final for the second consecutive year, unfortunately once again losing to their opponents, Chelsea, 1-0 after extra time.

During this period, Robson also acted as a coach to the England team under Terry Venables. Two more secure mid-table finishes followed, but Boro found themselves battling relegation come the 2000-01 season. Venables was appointed to work alongside Robson and they comfortably avoided the drop.

Reaching new heights under McClaren (2001 - 2006)
In the 2001 close season, Robson left the club by mutual agreement and was replaced by Steve McClaren - the Manchester United assistant manager who was regarded as one of the finest coaches in Europe and was also one of the most prominent coaches in the England team. Players such as Franck Queudrue, Michael Wilson, Jonathan Greening and £6 million signing Gareth Southgate were brought in to refresh the squad and blended with promising youth players such as Luke Wilkshire and Robbie Stockdale. His first season saw Boro finish 12th in the Premiership and reach the FA Cup semi finals.

The 2002-03 season held high hopes. After the promise showed in the previous season, fan favourite Juninho returned to the club for a third spell alongside George Boateng and Massimo Maccarone, an £8.15 million signing from Empoli and Italy's first player to be capped having never played in Serie A, was brought in to increase the firepower available to McClaren. Geremi from Real Madrid was also signed in on loan. Pre-season results were encouraging, but a cruciate ligament injury to Juninho just before the start of the season was a massive setback for the club. An 11th place finish followed, a marginal improvement on the previous season's finish but slightly disappointing considering Middlesbrough's early season form suggested that they could qualify for Europe.

The following season, 2003-04, was easily the best in the club's history. While Geremi opted to sign for Chelsea, Boudewijn Zenden, Danny Mills, and Gaizka Mendieta were brought in on loan to boost the squad. Success was to follow as they finally won a major trophy after beating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 in the League Cup final. This success also ensured that Boro would qualify for Europe - the UEFA Cup - for the first time. The season ended on a disappointing note as they were convincingly beaten 5-1 by Portsmouth on the final day - one week after they had beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford - but qualification for Europe more than made up for this.

The following season started very well, hovering around the top six until November, but a horrendous number of injuries almost sucked them into mid-table and out of the UEFA-cup qualifying places. UEFA cup qualification was eventually achieved after a 1-1 draw with Manchester City F.C. at the City of Manchester Stadium. If City had won then they would have qualified in Boro's place, and they almost made it when they where awarded a penalty kick in the final minute, but Mark Schwarzer saved Robbie Fowler's spot kick. In their inaugaral UEFA Cup run, Middlesbrough performed brightly but were eventually knocked out in the fourth round by Sporting Lisbon.

2005-06 was a mixed season for Middlesbrough. Dismal mid-season form saw them sucked into the bottom half of the Premiership, and at one stage they looked in real danger of being relegated (notably after their 7-0 loss to Arsenal), although a subsequent recovery — which included a 3-0 win over eventual champions Chelsea — saw them finish fourteenth. In McClaren's last Premiership game against Fulham, Steve picked an all English 16 with 15 of the players (except Malcolm Christie) coming from the local area and the average age of the team was less than 20 making it the youngest ever Premiership side[25]. Lee Cattermole was the captain for that match making himself Middlesbrough's youngest ever captain of the first team. To complete the set the team was the the first all English starting line-up since Bradford City's in 1999 and the first all English matchday squad since Aston Villa's in 1998 to play in the Premiership.

On 27 April 2006, Middlesbrough reached the UEFA Cup final in Eindhoven, with a victory over FC Steaua Bucureşti 4-3 on aggregate in stunning fashion, being 3-0 down on aggregate after 25 minutes of the second leg. This was the second time in the competition that 'Boro found themselves 3-0 down after 25 mins of the return leg and yet still going through as they beat FC Basel 4-3 in the Quarter Finals. Boro fans watched from the stands as their Middlesbrough team lost 4-0 in the final to Sevilla FC. Trailing Sevilla 0-1 at the break, McClaren opted for a very attacking line-up for the second half with four strikers, which had worked to great effect in the quarter and semi-finals. Middlesbrough were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty after what looked like a rather clumsy shove on Mark Viduka in the box. Nevertheless, Middlesbrough were forced to push on in desperate search of an equaliser. The final scoreline somewhat flattered Sevilla and did not accurately reflect the overall nature of the game. Whilst playing in European matches, a popular chant amongs Middlesbrough fans was "We're just a small town in Europe".

Southgate takes over (2006 - present)
On 4 May, McClaren was chosen to take over as the manager of the England national team after the 2006 World Cup. Martin O'Neill, Tony Mowbray and Alan Curbishley had been linked with the manager's job at Middlesbrough, with Steve Gibson expecting whoever took over to achieve a Champions League place in the near future. Gibson then looked within his own club and decided to make club captain Gareth Southgate the next manager of Middlesbrough F.C. Southgate signed a five-year contract and decided to finish his playing career, at the age of 35, to focus entirely on his new job. This made him the second youngest manager in the Premiership at the time. His appointment was controversial as he does not currently possess the coaching qualifications required to manage a Premiership football club. However, at a Premier League meeting on November 22, 2006, Southgate was granted a dispensation to continue in his role until the end of the season, during which time it was announced that he will study for the Uefa Pro A Licence.

George Boateng was appointed captain. Several players, including Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Franck Queudrue and Doriva left the club in the summer while left sided Argentine Julio Arca was signed from local rivals Sunderland A.F.C for a fee of £1.75m, and young Frenchman Herold Goulon from Olympique Lyonnais on a three year deal.

Southgate's competitive debut started with a 3-2 defeat to newly promoted Reading.After a 4-0 loss against Portsmouth, Southgate signed two international defenders to strengthen up his backline. England international Jonathan Woodgate joined his home-town team on loan from Real Madrid, Chelsea's German international centreback Robert Huth, and Charlton Athletic's Jamaican international striker Jason Euell were all signed in the closing days of the transfer window.

First Team coach Steve Round left the club on 15 December 2006 following a "difference in philosophy and ideas" with Gareth Southgate, and was replaced by Colin Cooper.

Lee Dong-Gook arrived from Pohang Steelers in the January transfer window, while Ray Parlour, Ugo Ehiogu and Massimo Maccarone all left the club for free.

Middlesbrough's form in 2006-07 was indifferent. Positive results such as a surprising home victory over reigning Premier League Champions Chelsea were coupled with the team losing away from home to all three newly promoted Premiership sides this season. Indeed, they registered their first away win of the season at struggling Charlton in mid-January, their first away win since April of the year before. They comprehensively beat Bolton Wanderers 5-1 at home in January, their biggest victory of the season. Middlesbrough eventually finished twelfth in league on 46 points, with the fact that they were 8 points away from a UEFA Cup spot and 8 points away from getting relegated neatly summing up their season.

In the cups, Boro suffered an embarrassing home defeat in the Carling Cup to Football League Two side Notts County in the second round. Their F.A. Cup run was decidedly longer, although this was partly due to them being taken to a replay in every round they played. Middlesbrough were eventually knocked out by champions-elect Manchester United at Old Trafford after a narrow 1-0 defeat in their quarter-final replay.

History of Birmingham City F.C.

Birmingham were founded as Small Heath Alliance in 1875. The club turned professional in 1885, and in 1892 joined The Football League as founder members of the Football League Second Division. In their first season Small Heath were Second Division champions, but were denied promotion after losing test matches against Newton Heath. The following season promotion was secured after a second place finish and a test match victory over Darwen.

In 1905, a proposal was made to rename the club Birmingham City F.C., as they were the only Football League club in the city since Birmingham St George's folded in 1892. However the shareholders were not in favour, so the club became plain Birmingham Football Club instead. They moved to their current ground, St Andrews, a year later.

In 1931 the club reached the final of the FA Cup for the first time, but were defeated 2-1 by West Bromwich Albion. The 1950s saw Birmingham record their highest ever league finish, Arthur Turner's side ending the 1955-56 season in sixth position[5] in the first of ten consecutive seasons in the top flight. In the same season the club reached the FA Cup final for the second time, losing 3-1 to Manchester City. In 1963 the club reached a third major cup final, and this time were victorious, beating local rivals Aston Villa 3-1 on aggregate to win the League Cup.

The club spent the 70s and early 80s moving between the top two divisions.

Birmingham City suffered relegation from the top division at the end of the 1985-86 season. Their two following seasons in the Second Division were unsuccessful and they were finally relegated to the Third Division for the first time ever at the end of the 1988-89 season. They won promotion as Third Division runners-up three years later, at the end of the 1991-92 season, so they would find themselves members of the new Division One for the 1992-93 season. However, they were relegated from Division One at the end of the 1993-94 season (losing on goal difference to neighbours West Bromwich Albion) despite a managerial change halfway through the season in which Terry Cooper was replaced with Barry Fry.

Fry guided Birmingham to the Division Two championship and victory in the Auto Windscreens Trophy in 1994-95, but was sacked one year later after a promising 1995-96 campaign had faded away to a 15th place finish in Division One, Fry was one of the greatest characters to have managed Birmingham City and was famous for his runs along the line when the Blues had scored. His successor Trevor Francis remained in charge at Birmingham until October 2001, during which time Birmingham qualified for the playoffs in three consecutive seasons - in the 1997/98 season, Birmingham finished 7th, and missed out on the playoffs by the Goals For rule, despite having a greater goal difference, the Goal Difference rule was brought in the following season - and were on the losing side to Liverpool in the League Cup final. Francis's successor, Steve Bruce, helped Birmingham qualify for the 2001-02 Division One promotion playoffs where they defeated Norwich City (thanks to a winning penalty by Darren Carter) to win promotion to the Premier League for the first time in two decades.

Their first season in the Premiership saw Birmingham City finish impressively in 13th place. After signing French international Christophe Dugarry and others, they also defeated rivals Aston Villa home and away during the 2002-03 campaign. Birmingham City got off to a strong start in the 2003-04 season, staying in the top four for the first month and after six weeks had statistically the best defence in the division. Good form lasted until the last fourteen or so games, when the Blues stumbled and ended the season on a run of seven games without a win to finish in 10th. This dramatic drop in form coincided with the departure from the club of coach Mark Bowen.

Unfortunately, key striker Forssell injured his knee in the early part of the 2004-05 season, and this left the Blues struggling for in-form strikers. The Blues ended up finishing in 12th place.

Birmingham City entered the 2005-06 season with high expectations after finally sealing permanent deals for Mikael Forssell, Jermaine Pennant, Mehdi Nafti and Walter Pandiani. Nicky Butt also joined on a year-long loan deal from Newcastle United and Jiri Jarosik also joined on a season long loan from Chelsea. After a string of poor results, including losing twice to local rivals Aston Villa, the season that promised so much ended in relegation. The club then sold or released several players in an effort to reduce the wage bill.

After an initial strong start to the 2006-07 season with Birmingham hovering around first and second in the league, the club suffered a winless period that led to calls within the media for the removal of Bruce as manager after the club dropped to 9th in the league. However, their form soon improved and they returned to the top of the league in March.

On April 29, 2007 Birmingham and Sunderland both clinched promotion back to the Premiership at the first attempt when Derby lost 2-0 to Crystal Palace, with former Birmingham player Clinton Morrison scoring the opening goal. However Birmingham's failure to beat Preston North End in their final game meant that Sunderland secured the Championship title with their win over Luton Town.

Manager Steve Bruce has prepared for the 2007-08 Premier League season with the acquisitions of England Under 19's captain Fabrice Muamba, ex-Middlesbrough utility man Stuart Parnaby, Scotland and ex-Lokomotiv Moscow striker Garry O'Connor, former Juventus midfielder Olivier Kapo, Holland U-21 winger Daniël de Ridder, French defender Franck Queudrue, Aston Villa centre-back Liam Ridgewell, and Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson . The Blues have also secured the services of Lille's Brazilian defender Rafael Schmitz on a one year loan deal.

Deals for Tottenham's Egyptian internationals Mido and Hossam Ghaly both collapsed after appearing to have been completed. The bid to sign Mido ended due to an unspecified contract clause dispute, whilst Ghaly's transfer was halted after a training ground bust-up. He had actually been training with Blues for three days, in anticipation of his work permit application being approved. However, following the argument on the training ground, Birmingham used the fact that his work permit had not yet been approved - hence, he was still officially a Tottenham player - to cancel the deal.

On July 16, 2007, Hong Kong-based businessman Carson Yeung bought 29.9% of the club, making him the biggest single shareholder.[6]

The Blues in Europe
In 1956 Birmingham City became the first English club side to compete in Europe when they took part in the 1955-58 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup via invitation. The rule at the time specified one team per city invited. Some cities, including London, chose to enter teams comprising players from more than one club; Aston Villa decided not to supply players to a combined team, leaving the Blues as the city of Birmingham's representative.

Blues took part in the competition on four separate occasions between 1956 and 1962. Blues were unbeaten in the 12 home games. Of the 51 goals scored, Johnny Gordon netted 7, Jimmy Harris and Harry Hooper five apiece and Bunny Larkin and Bryan Orritt four each. The goals were divided among 19 players, including an Inter Milan defender Balleri.

Trevor Smith appeared in the most European games for Blues - 18. Brian Farmer and Johnny Watts each played 17 matches.

The biggest away crowd was that of 75,000 for the 2nd leg of the Final on the 4th of May 1960 at the Nou Camp against Barcelona. An audience of 60,000 witnessed the second leg of the semi final clash with the Catalan side in November 1957 and a similar crowd saw the clash between Barca's city neighbours RCD Espanyol in November of 1961. The biggest crowd seen at St Andrews (in European competition) was that of 40,524 for the first leg of the Blues-Barca final in March 1960.

In April 1961 Blues became the first English side to beat Internazionale (Inter Milan) at the San Siro, winning by two goals to one, goals from Jimmy Harris and Inter defender Balleri, in the semi final first leg of that season competition. Blues also won the return leg at St Andrews 2-1 with goals from Jimmy Harris and Bertie Auld.

The club changed its name from Small Heath Alliance to Birmingham in 1905 and the city's coat of arms also became the club's crest. In 1971 the famous "penguin" kit was first worn. This featured a Glasgow Rangers style "BCFC" on the shirts. In 1972 the current club badge (the globe and ball) was introduced, replacing the city's coat of arms (25/3/72) . It was the winning entry of a competition organised in the Sports Argus newspaper and was designed by a local supporter, Mr Michael Wood of Burntwood, near Walsall, West Midlands. The BCFC was still worn on club shirts until 1975 with the new badge being used on the club shirts for the first time in the 1976/77 season.

In the early 1990s colour was added for the first time to the globe and ball badge but it only lasted for a few seasons. When Blues hero Trevor Francis returned as manager in 1996, the club reverted the Rangers style BCFC badge, but it only lasted for a season and Birmingham City went back to the globe and ball badge -- which is still worn on the present day shirts.

When Birmingham City started to play football (as Small Heath Alliance) the club colours were dark blue shirts with a white sash and white shorts. In 1883-84 they changed to wearing plain blue shirts and white shorts and in 1889-90 turned out in black shirts with gold colour and cuffs and white shorts.

The very next season (1890-91) the Blues players donned light blue shirts with a dark blue trim and white shorts and this design was to stay until 1914-15 when royal blue shirts with a central white 'V replaced were introduced.

This held firm until 1927-28 when a plain royal blue shirt and white shorts came into being. During the 1930s and '40s, Blues wore traditional white collared shirts with a button-up neckline, although before the War the colour blue was a fraction lighter than it was during the forties. In the early to mid-1950s the club retained the blue shirt, white collar, white shorts design but in 1957-58 the 'V neck was introduced - and remained so until 1963 when the round neck took over (Blues still wearing white shorts).

In 1965 the large white band round the neckline disappeared, to be replaced soon afterwards by a much thinner one when Blues also donned matching blue shorts. But it was back to plain blue shirts in 1968-69 (with blue shorts) and this theme continued until 1971 when the first penguin strip was seen.

In 1975 it was back to blue shirts with a white collar and white shorts. The round neck was seen again in 1977 but in 1980 it was laced with a 'V.

A slight change in the overall design was effected during the early 80s (red socks were seen and there was a thin white strip visible on the shirt in 1984-85). A touch of red was forthcoming in the 1985-86 season (on the shoulder line) and in 1986-87 (for the very first time) Blues' shirts had a white band across the chest with white foldovers on the socks. Occasionally they also played in a lighter blue shirt with a dark blue band across the chest.

In 1989-90 (under Dave Mackay) and with Mark One flashing across the front, the shirts comprised two broad flashes on each shoulder but it was soon done away with and back to blue shirts, white collars and cuffs and white shorts as the 1990s arrived.

A patterned blue shirt was seen in 1992-93 and a distinctive design on the sleeves appeared the following season before it was back to a traditional blue shirt with a small tucked in white band under the chin for the Barry Fry era. Then, when Trevor Francis came back to St Andrew's, Blues switched to a similar penguin-design shirt (like Francis and his colleagues wore in the early '70s) with a white body, blue sleeves and neckline and white shorts.

However it was back to blue shirts with white trimmings in 1997-98 thereafter it has been a more plainer design with a designer-strip down each arm.

Blues' change strips over the years, have varied considerably with players wearing matching white shirts and shorts to white shirts and black shorts, all red, black and red halved shirts, red and black stripes with black (and sometimes white) shorts, all yellow, yellow shirts with black shorts, blue and yellow shirts and yellow shorts and even a green and yellow combination.

It was announced on 8th March that Umbro would be the new kit manufacturers from 2007-2010. Umbro's first home kit is yet another return to the penguin strip. The new away kit is predominantly white with blue trim and this year blues will also feature in a mainly red third kit. All kits include The Blues new main sponsor F&C Investments.

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.

History of Newcastle United F.C.

The Creation (1881 - 1895)
During November 1881, the Stanley Cricket Club of South Byker decided to form an association football club. They won their first match 5-0 against Elswick Leather Works 2nd XI. Just under a year later, in October 1882, they changed their name to East End FC to avoid confusion with the cricket club in the town of Stanley, Co.Durham. Shortly after this, another Byker side, Rosewood FC, merged with East End to form an even stronger side. Meanwhile, across the city, another cricket club began to take an interest in football and in August 1882, they formed West End FC. West End played their early football on their cricket pitch, but later moved to St. James' Park.

West End soon became the city's premier club. East End were anxious not to be left behind and lured Tom Watson into becoming the club secretary/manager in the close season of 1888 and from that point, never looked back; Watson made several good signings, especially from Scotland, and the Heaton club went from strength to strength, while West End's fortunes slipped dramatically.

The region's first league competition was formed in 1889 and the FA Cup began to cause interest. Ambitious East End turned professional in 1889, a huge step for a local club, and in March 1890, they made an even more adventurous move by becoming a limited company with capital of 1,000 pounds in ten shilling notes. During the spring of 1892, in a season during which their results were at an all time low, and in which they had lost to their bitter rivals, East End, five times, West End found themselves in serious trouble. They approached East End with a view to a take over, the directors having decided that the club could no longer continue.

What actually happened was that West End wound up, while some of its players and most of its backroom staff joined East End. East End also took over the lease on St. James' Park. By December 1892, they decided to give the club a new name and a new image. At a public meeting, several new names, including Newcastle Rangers and Newcastle City, were suggested, before all agreed on Newcastle United. The FA agreed to the name change on 22 December, but the new title was not legalised until 6 September 1895, when Newcastle United Football Club Co. Ltd. was constituted.

The First Glory Era (1895 - 1914)
United then developed a side which became Edwardian England's master outfit, but not before the Tynesiders went through a worrying period due to lack of support at the turnstile and lack of money at the bank. But through the help of their directors the club was propped up and they survived to become a force in the game.

Newcastle started to purchase talented players, especially from Scotland, and soon had a squad to rival all of England. With players like Colin Veitch, Jackie Rutherford, Jimmy Lawrence and Albert Shepherd, the Black'n'Whites had a team of international talent. There was Bill McCracken, Jimmy Howie, Peter McWilliam and Andy Aitken too. All were household names in their day. However, in 1908 they faced the humiliation of a 9-1 home defeat to the once local rivals Sunderland, still the record English home defeat to this day.

The Magpies lifted the League Championship on three occasions and reached five FA Cup finals in the years leading up to World War I in 1914. Geordie fans had enjoyed ten years of being the team everyone wanted to topple. United played a style of football celebrated in the game's history. It was possession football in an entertaining, rousing fashion.

Interwar Success (1919 - 1939)
After World War I, the Twenties was just as eventful. The Black'n'Whites lifted the FA Cup at Wembley in 1924 defeating Aston Villa - only the second ever final to be staged at the famous stadium. And a record signing of Scottish international centre-forward Hughie Gallacher made sure United collected another Championship trophy three years later in 1927.

Famous names continued to pull on the Newcastle striped shirt. Apart from the legendary Gallacher, the Magpies fielded the likes of Neil Harris, Stan Seymour and Frank Hudspeth. Seymour was to become an influential figure for the next 40 years as player, manager and director.

It was back to Wembley in 1932 to compete in the infamous 'Over the Line' FA Cup final with Arsenal. United won the game 2-1 after scoring a goal following a cross from Jimmy Richardson which appeared to be hit from out of play - over the line. There were no action replays then and the referee allowed the goal, a controversial talking point in FA Cup history.

Newcastle boasted master players like Sammy Weaver and Jack Allen, as well as the first player-manager in the top division in Scottish international Andy Cunningham. But after glory at the Twin Towers of Wembley, Newcastle's form slumped and by 1934 they had been relegated for the first time in their history.

Amazingly in the same season as they fell into the Second Division, United defeated Liverpool 9-2 and Everton 7-3 within the space of a week! A rebuilding process took place in the years leading up to the Second World War and by that time former star winger Stan Seymour had been appointed to the Board of Directors. A determined character, he set the foundations of United's next great period.

Postwar Success (1945 - 1976)
Former star winger Stan Seymour had been appointed to the Board of Directors just before the outbreak of World War II. A determined character, he set the foundations of United's next great period.

By the time peace was restored in 1945, Seymour was at the forefront of affairs, manager in all but name. He ensured that the Magpies possessed an entertaining eleven full of stars, a mix of home-grown talent like Jackie Milburn, Bobby Cowell and Ernie Taylor, as well as big signings in the shape of George Robledo, Bobby Mitchell, Joe Harvey, Len Shackleton and Frank Brennan.

Newcastle spent the first couple of years post-war in the Second Division. Crowds were high after the return to football, and in 1946 Newcastle recorded the joint-highest victory in English League Football history, defeating Newport County 13-0. Len Shackleton, playing his debut in that match, scored 6 goals in the match, another record for Newcastle.

Newcastle returned to the First Division in double quick time. Promotion was achieved in 1948 in front of vast crowds. An average of almost 57,000 at every home game saw United's fixtures that year, a national record for years to come. That was just the start of another period of success.

During the Fifties decade United lifted the FA Cup trophy on three occasions within a five year period. In 1951 they defeated Blackpool 2-0, a year later Arsenal were beaten 1-0 and in 1955 United crushed Manchester City 3-1. The Magpies were known in every corner of the country, and so were their players; 'Wor Jackie' Milburn and Bobby 'Dazzler' Mitchell the pick of a side that was renowned the nation over.

Despite having quality players throughout the era, stars like Ivor Allchurch, George Eastham and Len White during the latter years of the decade, United slipped from the First Division in 1961 under the controversial management of ex-Manchester United star, Charlie Mitten. It was a huge blow to the club.

An old war-horse returned to revitalise the Magpies in the shape of Joe Harvey, who had skippered the club to much of their post-war success. He teamed up with Stan Seymour to rebuild United and the Black'n'Whites returned to the elite as Second Division Champions in 1965. United then became very much an unpredictable side, always capable of defeating the best, but never quite realising their huge potential until very recently.

Joe Harvey's side qualified for Europe for the first time in 1968 and stunned everyone the following year by lifting the Inter Cities Fairs Cup; the forerunner of the UEFA Cup. United possessed a solid eleven and Newcastle's tradition of fielding a famous Number 9 at centre-forward since earliest years continued as big Welshman Wyn Davies was prominent along with the likes of Bryan "Pop" Robson, Bobby Moncur and Frank Clark.

In the years that followed European success, manager Harvey brought in a string of talented entertainers who thrilled the Gallowgate crowd. Pleasers like Jimmy Smith, Tony Green and Terry Hibbitt. And especially a new centre-forward by the name of Malcolm Macdonald.

Nicknamed 'Supermac', Macdonald was one of United's greatest hero figures. Brash, arrogant and devastating in front of goal, he led United's attack to Wembley twice, in 1974 and 1976, against Liverpool in the FA Cup and Manchester City in the League Cup. But on each occasion the Magpies failed to bring the trophy back to Tyneside.

Down... and up again (1976 - 1984)
At the start of the 1980s, United had declined dramatically and were languishing in the Second Division. Gordon Lee had replaced Harvey as boss, yet he in turn soon gave way to Richard Dinnis and then Bill McGarry. But it was Arthur Cox who steered United back again to the First Division with ex England skipper Kevin Keegan the focus of the side, having joined the Magpies in a sensational deal in 1982.

The football inspired by Keegan captivated Tyneside and United stormed into the top division in a style only bettered by Kevin's own brand of football as a manager in the next decade. Alongside Keegan were youngsters Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle, as well as seasoned campaigners like Terry McDermott and David McCreery.

Back at the top (1984 - 1989)
One of English footballs greatest talents, Paul Gascoigne or 'Gazza', emerged as a youngster at the club during this period, under manager Jack Charlton (who later went on to take Republic of Ireland to two World Cup finals). Newcastle consolidated their place in Division One but then a period of selling their best players (Beardsley to Liverpool, and Waddle and Gazza both to Tottenham), rocked the club and led to supporter unrest, as did a share-war for control of the boardroom.

Heading towards oblivion (1989 - 1992)
The Magpies tumbled back into the Second Division in 1989 and over the next three seasons found themselves in a perilous state. They had little money, star players headed south and crowds dwindled. Several managerial changes took place - Jim Smith and Ossie Ardiles could not stop the rot. With the club hovering on the brink of a further, potentially catastrophic, relegation Newcastle United needed a saviour. They not only found one, but two, as Sir John Hall and Kevin Keegan joined forces to salvage Newcastle's reputation.

The Keegan Revolution (1992 - 1997)
When Kevin Keegan returned to Tyneside to replace Ossie Ardiles as manager on a short term contract in 1992, taking what he claimed to be the only job that could tempt him back into football, United were struggling at the wrong end of Division Two. Sir John Hall had all but taken control of the club and he needed a minor miracle to stop the Magpies from tumbling into the Third Division for the first time in their history.

If Sir John was to transform the near bankrupt club they simply had to survive relegation. Just as before, Keegan's mere presence captivated the region. United's disgruntled supporters became excited, expectant ones over-night. They packed St James Park again and United survived in Division Two on the last day of the season. Hall now turned his attention to a masterplan to develop Newcastle United into one of the superclubs of Europe. Kevin Keegan stayed on as manager and both swung into action.

The club's finances were transformed; St James Park redeveloped into a world-class stadium, now accommodating over 52,000. Keegan brought in new players, many international superstars. It was the start of a special five years under his guidance.

Spearheaded by the prolific striker Andy Cole and David Kelly, who were ably supported by midfielders Paul Bracewell, Ruel Fox, Gavin Peacock and Rob Lee, and Brian 'Killer' Kilcline (a tough free transfer defender who Keegan later claimed was his best signing) Newcastle secured promotion to the Premier League by winning the First Division Championship, often simply overwhelming opponents along the way (a 7-1 victory over Leicester City being particularly memorable). The Magpies joined the elite for the 1993-94 season and United very quickly became recognised as a serious force, claiming two second place spots and just missing out on the title over the next few seasons.

Sir John Hall's millions allowed the club to invest heavily in players, and United's squad became a virtual all international one, containing players from across the globe. Exotic foreign players like David Ginola and Faustino Asprilla, and British stars like the popular and effective veteran Peter Beardsley, striker Les Ferdinand, and later Alan Shearer brought glamour and excitement back to the North East.

The first team built up a reputation for playing an attacking, almost cavalier, brand of football under Keegan - their occasionally leaky defence was not a major problem, as the team could almost always score more than they conceded. By Christmas of the 1995 season, Newcastle had built up a seemingly unassailable 15 point lead in the Premier League. Unfortunately this lead proved less secure then Newcastle's supporters, and Keegan himself, had hoped.

Manchester United won the league by four points in the season of 1995/96. The 'mind games' of Manchester's manager Alex Ferguson (who provoked an infamous live-on-TV rant from Keegan), that teams impressive post-Christmas form, or the alteration of Newcastle's direct attacking playing style, and of personnel, that was required to accommodate the mercurial, somewhat unpredictable Asprilla have all been blamed by supporters to explain the devastating capitulation that occurred that season. A more likely explanation is that their lack of defensive nous, coupled with occasional losses in winnable games, proved to be their undoing over the full season.

The points lead that Newcastle United enjoyed at Christmas 1995 was one of the largest to be surrendered by any team in the Premiership, and Newcastle never quite looked the same threat again, although they continued to perform, finishing second again the following season. However a lack of success in English and European cup competitions meant that the clubs long long wait for a trophy did not end under Keegan.

Controversy surrounded the club in 1996 when two board members, Douglas Hall, son of Chairman Sir John Hall, and Freddie Shepherd made a series of remarks to an undercover tabloid journalist. They ridiculed Alan Shearer, called the supporters "stupid" for paying through the nose for the cheap shirts they like wearing, and stated that they preferred to do their whoring abroad because the women of Newcastle "are all dogs". Almost unbelievably, Shepherd subsequently became Chairman!

Keegan's resignation in January 1997 came just days after a 7-1 victory for his club, against Tottenham Hotspur, although fans felt it had been brewing for some time, despite a memorable 5-0 thumping of Manchester United in October 1996, and the fact that the Magpies were still looking like strong contenders for the 1996-97 Premiership title.

Falling behind the pack (1997 - 1999)
Keegan's replacement as manager was Kenny Dalglish, who it was felt would help solidify the team defensively. In their first season under his guidance Newcastle entered the Champions League, and reached the FA Cup final only to fall to a defeat by Arsenal. However, Dalglish's cautious brand of football proved unpopular with supporters used to Newcastle's previous swashbuckling style; more importantly this cautious style was not producing results. Several unsuccessful transfer deals along with a poor start to the 1998 / 1999 season led to Dalglish being sacked.

Ruud Gullit, a trophy winning manager with Chelsea a few years previously, was put in charge promising to bring back 'sexy football' to Newcastle. The team again started promisingly, and reached the FA Cup final that season. Unfortunately this time around they were to lose to Manchester United. Gullit also made some high profile mistakes in the transfer market (notably, Spanish defender Marcelino and forward Silvio Maric bore the brunt of supporters frustrations). Less forgivably, he also fell out with several senior players, including Alan Shearer, and the club captain Rob Lee, who had been the heartbeat of the team for the previous half decade. A humiliating loss to once arch-rivals Sunderland, and a dreadful start to the 1999 / 00 season prompted his resignation.

Back with the leading pack (1999 - 2004)
Veteran ex-England manager, and local boy, Sir Bobby Robson was brought in to replace Gullit. His first job, unthinkable a few years previously, was to ensure Newcastle's survival in the Premiership. This was achieved, at the expense of stylish football, but with Lee and Shearer back onside. Over the next few seasons Robson built up an exciting young squad, as well as getting to an Inter-Toto Cup final against Troyes AC, which they lost on away goals after a 4-4 draw at home. Players such as Kieron Dyer (a Gullit signing), Craig Bellamy and Laurent Robert ensured the team were capable of once again punching their weight in the league. An unlikely Championship challenge almost emerged in the last few weeks of the 2002/2003 season, and Newcastle achieved qualification for the lucrative Champions' League.

The 2002/2003 season was a particularly colourful one for Newcastle on the European stage. In the first group stage, Newcastle lost their first three matches in a row, then, in an astonishing reversal, shocked Italian giants Juventus 1-0 at St James' Park. They then controversially beat Dinamo Kiev 2-1 in Newcastle before winning the crucial last match, away to Feyenoord, 3-2 in injury time, with striker Craig Bellamy scoring the injury time winner. With Dinamo Kiev losing at home to Juventus, Newcastle progressed to the second round.

That same striker Craig Bellamy was later involved in an on-pitch brawl with Internazionale defender Marco Materazzi. Bellamy was sent off, and was punished further by a three-match ban. Compounding the disaster for Newcastle was the suspension of influential captain Alan Shearer for a similar incident, although the punishment was just a two-match ban. Newcastle went on to lose 1-4 at home.

Shearer returned in the fourth game in the 4-team group, scoring all three goals in a 3-1 demolition of Bayer Leverkusen at home. Despite a superb performance against Internazionale in the famous San Siro, only to draw 2-2, Newcastle lost at home 2-0 to Barcelona and dropped out of the Champions League.

The 2003/2004 season saw Newcastle drop out of the Champions League at the first hurdle, they beat Partizan Belgrade 1-0 away from home, but then lost 1-0 at St James' Park and were eliminated via the penalty shootout. This defeat dropped Newcastle into the first round of the UEFA Cup. Newcastle reached the semifinals of the UEFA Cup in the 2003/2004 season, defeating NAC Breda, FC Basel, Vålerenga, Mallorca and PSV along the way, before eventually being knocked out by Olympique Marseille 2-0 on aggregate.

Newcastle finished 5th in the Premiership at the end of the 2003/2004 season, which ensured qualification for the UEFA Cup once again for the 2004/2005 season.

Another Setback (Since 2004)
After nearly five years in charge, Sir Bobby Robson was dismissed on August 30, 2004 following a poor start to the 2004-05 season and alleged discontent in the dressing room. A split had grown between Robson and the club owners when they had made a number of high-profile signings, apparently without consulting him - in particular that of Patrick Kluivert. He was further undermined by the club's high profile, but futile, offer for Wayne Rooney who instead moved to Manchester United. Robson later stated his dismay at the tendency for overpaid young players to demand all the perks without proving themselves on the pitch. Events during the ensuing season, on and off the pitch have gone a long way to confirm Robson's assessment. Robson was later given a £1 million severance payment.

Graeme Souness replaced Robson on September 13, two days after the Magpies' match against Souness' former club Blackburn Rovers. After initial good results, the team soon became mired in the bottom half of the table, remaining there for the rest of the season, and opinions on Souness are mixed among fans.

Following a training ground spat, Newcastle have been forced to let go one of their main assets Craig Bellamy, while their dip in performance due to the absence of Shearer through injury has worried the fan base. Despite the heavy investment of the last ten years in high profile transfers and the benefit of Alan Shearer, Newcastle is conspicuous in having failed to secure a major title. There is also such a growing gap between teams like Newcastle and the top flight of Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea that it is unlikely the club will succeed in the near future.

In November 2004 Club Chairman Freddy Shepherd again caused controversy, stating there was no debt owed by the 'elite' clubs of the Premiership to the rest of The FA—but with his own team underperforming this was somewhat ironic as well as inappropriate.

In April 2005, Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer came to blows during a Premiership match against Aston Villa, in an incident later described as 'the blackest day' by Shepherd. Bowyer was fined six weeks' wages (about £200,000), and both players received playing bans by The FA. The event overshadowed the announcement that Alan Shearer had extended his playing contract for a further year, and was to take up a coaching role with the club.

Newcastle had won the home leg of their UEFA cup Quarter final against Sporting Lisbon in April, but were comprehensively outplayed during the away match and lost 4 - 1, in the process suffering several injuries. In the same week they played Manchester United in an FA Cup semifinal at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. The scoreline, again 4 - 1, reflected the one-sided nature of the encounter. This left the Intertoto Cup as the team's only route into European competition in the 2005/06 season. During this campaign a rift opened up between Souness and Shepherd with the Manager complaining that an already thin squad after a poor transfer season (the promised major signings having not materialised) was not up to the challenge.

In July 2005 rumours circulated that the club was being stalked with a new buyer but this later emerged to be the Shepherds consolidating their interests. In August 2005 they were eliminated from the Intertoto Cup after a 4-2 aggregate loss to Deportivo La Coruna, which left the club out of European competition for the 2005/06 season.

In August 2005, the club signed Michael Owen for a record £17 million from Real Madrid, surpassing the previous £15 million Newcastle paid to Blackburn Rovers for Alan Shearer, in what was arguably the biggest transfer since then. This transfer was seen by many as unlikely because Owen's former team, Liverpool were thought to be his next destination.

Late February 2006 manager Graeme Souness was fired from his position as manager, and ex West Ham manager Glen Roeder was put in charge as caretaker until a new manager was appointed. After guiding the team from 14th place, to 7th place by the end of the season, Roeder was given the job on a permanent basis with a two year contract.

They entered the penultimate weekend of September 2006 in 13th place - six places below last season's finish and much lower than the club's fans will be content with.

With Alan Shearer now retired, and Michael Owen out injured for most of this current season (he didn't come back until 30 April 2007), the club's strikerforce has been substantially weakened and this has not helped Newcastle's chances of mounting a challenge for a top-six finish. Newcastle were also embarrassed by Birmingham City in the 2006-07 F.A. Cup, Birmingham earning a replay at home with a last-minute equaliser to make the result 2-2, before comfortably demolishing Newcastle at St James' Park by five goals to one.

History of Wigan Athletic F.C.

Life in the local leagues
Wigan Athletic F.C. was formed in 1932 following the demise of Wigan Borough the previous year. Wigan Athletic was the fifth attempt to stabilise a football club in the town following the demise of Wigan County, Wigan United, Wigan Town and the aforementioned Wigan Borough. Springfield Park, the former home of Wigan Borough, was purchased by the club and were elected to the Cheshire County League.

In the early history of Wigan Athletic, the most notable exploits came in the FA Cup. In the 1934-35 season, Wigan beat Carlisle United 6-1 in the first round, setting a cup record for the biggest victory by a non-league club over a league club, a record which still stands today.

In 1945, Wigan were elected to a different league, the Lancashire Combination, and in 1950 came close to election to the Football League, narrowly losing out to Scunthorpe United on a vote. In the 1953-54 season, Wigan played an FA Cup match against Hereford United in front of a crowd of 27,526, a Wigan Athletic record and also a record for a match between two non-league teams at a non-league ground. In 1961, the club moved back to the Cheshire County League.

Early league years
In 1968, Wigan were founder members of the Northern Premier League. After 34 failed election attempts, including one controversial but headline-making application in 1972 to join the Scottish League Second Division, Wigan were elected to the Football League in 1978 in place of Southport, who had finished next to bottom of the Fourth Division. Boston United were the Northern Premier League Champions in 1978 but their ground and facilities were deemed unsuitable for the Football League, therefore Wigan, as runners-up were put forward for election. In the club's first season of League football, Wigan finished sixth, and gained their first promotion two years later, prompting a ten year spell in the third tier of English football. The club won its first silverware as a League club in 1985, winning the Freight Rover Trophy.They were beaten in the Northern Final the following season by Bolton Wanderers.

Wigan were relegated from the new Division Two in 1993, and a year later finished 19th - fourth from bottom - in Division Three to complete their worst-ever league season. The following season, 1994-95, brought a secure mid-table finish.

Rising through the league
In 1995, local millionaire David Whelan purchased the club, which was then playing in the Third Division (fourth tier), and stated his ambition to take the club to the Premiership, a statement which was widely ridiculed at the time.

The first step towards Whelan's dream came true in 1997 when they won the Division Three title under the management of John Deehan. Deehan's successor Ray Mathias took Wigan to the Division Two playoffs in 1999, losing 2-1 on aggregate to neighbours Manchester City after an extremely dubious goal. This ultimately cost Mathias his job as he fell victim to Whelan's relentless drive for Premiership football. His replacement John Benson led the squad he inherited from Mathias to a commanding position at the top of Division Two in his first six months, including the demolition of local rivals Preston North End 4-1 away, only to collapse in the second half of the season and once again fail in the play-offs. This was largely attributed to the dropping of leading goalscorer Stuart Barlow who was responsible for much of the side's early success, which coupled with a series of poor quality signings of ageing, and reputedly highly paid players and a run of poor performances led to strong disapproval of the management among fans. The season ended on a depressing note with Wigan losing 3-2 to Gillingham in extra time at the last ever Division Two play-off final to be played at the old Wembley Stadium.

Benson then moved 'upstairs' to the new post of Director of Football, under new manager Bruce Rioch. Rioch was hampered by severe injury problems and after a difficult and often unimpressive first half of the season left the club in February of 2001. He was temporarily replaced by club stalwart Colin Greenall, before the surprise appointment of Steve Bruce in the closing games of the season. His arrival brought renewed vigour to Wigan performances, with the club ultimately falling foul once again of the play-offs, this time with Reading. Following this blow, Bruce left for Crystal Palace after repeatedly pledging his future to Wigan, leaving behind a club both grateful for his help in getting so close to promotion and also angry and bitter at his betrayal. It came as no great surprise to many Wigan fans when he did the same thing again to Palace, choosing to desert to rivals Birmingham.

In 2001, former player Paul Jewell took over as manager, and after a mixed first season, won the Division Two championship in 2002-03 with a points total of 100. Wigan finished seventh in the 2003-04 Division One campaign - a last minute goal by West Ham's Brian Deane in the final game of the season saw Latics drop out of the play off picture in favour of eventual play off winners Crystal Palace.

In the following season the Latics earned promotion to the Premiership by finishing second in the Coca-Cola Championship, behind Sunderland. May 8, 2005 is now regarded by most fans as the biggest day in the history of Wigan Athletic. On the final day of the 2004-05 Coca-Cola Championship campaign, the Latics beat Reading 3-1 at home to secure runners-up spot in the final table and a place in the Premiership for 2005-06. At the final whistle the stadium exploded with cheers and the Status Quo song Rockin' All Over the World was played over the PA system.

Wigan in the Barclays Premier League
Wigan's preparations for their first season in the top-flight included the signings of Henri Camara, Damien Francis, Ryan Taylor, Josip Skoko, Michael Pollitt, Stephane Henchoz, David Connolly and the return of former captain, Arjan De Zeeuw, to the club. Inevitably, he took up his former role as captain. They also brought in the then unknown Pascal Chimbonda from Bastia for a mere £500,000. Unfortunately, during the summer, star striker Nathan Ellington, whose goals had propelled the club into the Premiership, was in the midst of serious contract negotiations. Despite the club's eagerness to hold onto his services, his overly high demands seemingly were not met. This, along with his well-known striking prowess alerted other clubs. Eventually, West Bromwich Albion triggered the get-out clause in his contract and was sold for a fee of £3,000,001.

Wigan's first game in the top flight was a dream come true — a home match against English Champions Chelsea. A game in which they came close to a dream start in the league, but to no avail, falling foul to a 92nd minute winner by Hernán Crespo. After the goal, José Mourinho went as far as to commiserate Paul Jewell on his poor fortune and in his post match interview claimed that Chelsea did not deserve to win.

Wigan are only the fourth English team in the last 20 years to win promotion to the top division for the first time. The most successful debut by any of these teams was that of Wimbledon, who achieved a sixth-place finish in 1987. Millwall debuted at 10th place in 1989 before going down the following year, while Swindon Town and Barnsley were both relegated after just one season among the elite).

By November, Wigan had surpassed even their own expectations, and sat 2nd in the Premiership, after wins against Everton, Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Fulham and Portsmouth.

Wigan's meteoric rise continued on 24 January 2006, when the club secured their first ever place in a major cup final. Wigan lost on the night to Arsenal 2-1 after extra time but Jason Roberts' last minute strike in extra time secured an away goals victory following their 1-0 first leg semi final victory at the JJB Stadium previously. However, Wigan were defeated 4-0 by Wayne Rooney-inspired neighbours Manchester United on February 26, 2006 at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

During the 2005-06 season, Wigan Athletic also managed to complete double league wins over Sunderland, neighbours Manchester City and Aston Villa. Notably, Wigan Athletic took the most league points away from home, and had the most away victories outside the top three clubs. Wigan failed in their bid for European football and opted not to take part in the UEFA Intertoto Cup, yet retained a top ten finish in the Premiership. They brought in Paul Scharner in January to strengthen the side, and he quickly became a fan favourite with his heroic performances. Also, Wigan right-back Pascal Chimbonda was included in the PFA Team of the Season 2005-06 and was included in France's World Cup 2006 squad. However, this was overshadowed by his transfer request minutes after the last game of the season. He was subsequently sold to Tottenham Hotspur for £5.5 million on August 31, 2006.

During the close season, Wigan sold experienced players such as Jimmy Bullard (to Fulham), Graham Kavanagh (to Sunderland) and Jason Roberts (to Blackburn Rovers), and let Damien Francis and David Connolly leave after a season of disappointing performances and an injury-plauged season respectively. Stephane Henchoz also left after his year-long contract expired. In turn, Wigan brought in Emile Heskey, Denny Landzaat, Chris Kirkland, Antonio Valencia, Kevin Kilbane, David Cotterill, Fitz Hall and Emmerson Boyce.

After a slow start to the 2006-07 season, Wigan's fortunes picked up with four successive victories against Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers, Fulham and Charlton Athletic. However, the club's form dipped dramatically with eight consecutive losses beginning with a close 1-0 defeat at home to Arsenal on December 13. The lengthy injury to Henri Camara, along with fellow absentee Paul Scharner further hampered their winter period.

Finally, their slump ended with a 1-0 home victory against Portsmouth, on February 3. This tied in with their January transfer window signings of Caleb Folan, Julius Aghahowa and David Unsworth to help to stabilise the club's Premiership status. On March 4, 2007, Wigan stood 15th in the Premiership and were in a more comfortable position than in previous weeks, moving eight points clear of Charlton Athletic after key victories over Newcastle United & Manchester City. The club finally seemed to be moving away from the relegation mire at the right time with inspired performances from new front man Caleb Folan and stand-in goalkeeper John Filan. Nevertheless, Wigan remained in serious danger of relegation after defeats at the hands of Charlton Athletic, Bolton Wanderers and perhaps more pivotally at home against West Ham United. Coupled with the resurgence of rival strugglers Fulham and Sheffield United, Wigan went into the last game of the season needing to beat Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

On May 13, the final day of the 2006-07 season, a 10 man Wigan team battled and beat their Sheffield opponents 2-1 and thus guaranteeing Premiership status for another year and in doing so relegated Sheffield United to the Championship. After a dominant, fast paced and confident opening, Paul Scharner rifled home Kevin Kilbane's low cross of 14 minutes to put the Latics 1-0 up. However, a recurrence of Arjan De Zeeuw's calf injury forced him off after 30 minutes, and a re-shaped Wigan were pegged back on 38 minutes through a Jon Stead header. Yet Wigan forced their way back in front in first half injury time. Phil Jagielka handled the ball inside the area while defending a free-kick, and former Blades defender David Unsworth belted home the resulting penalty. McCulloch was sent off in the 74th minute for his second booking which put Wigan under immense pressure. However, Wigan held on for one of the biggest wins in the club's history. On May 14, 2007 Paul Jewell resigned as the manager; his assistant Chris Hutchings was appointed as the new manager later that day.

Hutchings wasted no time in bringing in experienced, well-known players, such as former Newcastle footballers Titus Bramble and Antoine Sibierski, former Rennes player Mario Melchiot, Preston North End keeper Carlo Nash, the much sought after Jason Koumas, Fulham's Michael Brown, while Andreas Granqvist signed on permanently and Antonio Valencia extended his loan for another season. This poured water over Paul Jewell's argument that such players would not consider Wigan.[citation needed]. However, to allow more players into the squad, some players had to leave. This included Arjan De Zeeuw, who joined Coventry City, Matt Jackson, who signed for Watford, David Unsworth (released), John Filan (released) and former favourite, Lee McCulloch, who finally sealed his dream move to Rangers. Another fan favourite, Leighton Baines, who had already turned down a move to newly promoted Sunderland, rejected a new contract at the club, and eventually signed for his boyhood team Everton. Melchiot was installed as the new club captain following the wholesale changes.

For the 2007/08 season, Wigan's home shirt returned to blue and white stripes, having been blue with white sleeves in 2006/07. The away shirt became white with a black trim, incorporating black shorts and black socks. They also introduced a third kit; dark blue with a royal blue trim.

Final changes to the squad took place before the Transfer Deadline. This saw Wigan sign much travelled striker Marcus Bent on loan and winger Rachid Bouaouzan for £300,000. At the same time, Henri Camara left to go on loan to West Ham United, while Caleb Folan signed for Hull City for £1 million. Cameroonian left-back Salomon Olembé was brought in as a free agent on September 4.

The season began with a spirited, yet disappointing 2-1 defeat away at Everton, but this was followed by consecutive home victories: 1-0 against Middlesbrough and 3-0 against Sunderland. This led to Wigan topping the Premier League for the first time in their history. Wigan's start had seen their new signings gel quickly, with Andreas Granqvist and Titus Bramble forming a sold partnership in the defence, captain Mario Melchiot leading by example, Jason Koumas adding a new creative dimension to the midfield and Antoine Sibierski scoring in each of the first 3 games. Wigan drew 1-1 away at West Ham before losing 1-0 away at Newcastle in their next game. Wanting to emulate their successful Football League Cup run from 2006, Chris Hutchings aimed to win the trophy this time around, only to see Wigan fail at the first hurdle, losing 1-0 at home to Hull City.

Wigan's improved start to the season saw Emile Heskey recalled to the England Squad for the first time since 2005.

Sadly Emile Heskey, immediately after his England call-up, broke his foot in his next game for his club, September 15, 2007, without touching the ball. He was out injured for 6 weeks.