Thoughts and issues regarding the past and present of a great football club by "The Chronicler".

Monday, 10 September 2012

Aston Villa's History

I received the following testimonial for the book, Aston Villa : The First Superclub,  from a reader this week-end:

"Congratulations on writing a superb book. I ... have been enthralled reading it. ...I have a copy of Peter Morris"s 1960 book which started my collection of Villa books. Your book is the best so far produced."

Don't worry, this kind of feedback doesn't go to my head, but the last sentence is worth looking at.

How many times has the Villa story been told (in printed detail), is the first question. I think the importance of Peter Morris's book was that he set a standard - and the basis was that he ensured, in the 1960 book and his 1974 follow-up, that the glory of Aston Villa would never dim. Previous histories were very tame and scattered affairs - he at least put a story together.

It was only in the 1990s that further comprehensive histories of the club appeared - notably by Rippon and McColl. And they - despite the size of their publications - did not go as deeply into the history as they might have. Other publications have appeared that have discussed the club's early history - but nothing very comprehensive. Simon Inglis's fine book was, of course, primarily about Villa Park and not the entire history.

Not only that, but all those books have contained a fair number of errors or exaggerations.

One of the perpetual errors is that the club was founded by four people under a lamplight ... whereas Jack Hughes insisted that the founders of the club were all the 15 founding members, as stated in The First Superclub. The 'four' were just out on a scouting mission on behalf of the Bible Class, nothing more. Perhaps it was Norman Edwards who gave undue prominence to that lamplight meeting.

It wasn't until The Villa Chronicles appeared that people were aware of who was the first club president, and other early Wesleyan Chapel details that were uncovered by Peter Lupson. And there is a photo of the first club president hidden in a newspaper of 1924 - one that proved too expensive for me to get an extract.

It was because of the errors and omissions that I commenced my delvings starting from early 2006, firstly resulting in The Villa Chronicles. I believe that publication put considerable amounts of additional information out for public consumption, and though I was shocked that the club has reduced the cost of the book to the extent it has, at least people can now more easily afford to buy it. The real early history is now more widely disseminated.

What is more, The First Superclub improves on the early history  in respect of Jack Hughes' statements, and for the first time a book contains profiles of nearly all of those early members.

The book also contains considerably more new detail - not only in respect of details of matches and players and other important detail - but also in respect of the involvement of fans, particularly in the significant 1968-2006 period.

So, The First Superclub book is more than a simple repetition of stories told before. It in fact tells those stories in far more detail and accuracy than before and, I hope, acts as the true bible (with The Villa Chronicles, Bishop and Holte's Complete Record and Simon Inglis's book) of the club's real history.

I am not saying it cannot be improved upon. Some day someone may well just do that. But that someone will have to do more research than was packed into 60-70% of my time in the 6 years between 2006 and 2011.

For a review of the book, please click here. 

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