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

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Birth of Aston Villa FC

Very recent research (by myself and others) in some ways corrects a statement that I made in The Villa Chronicles. What actually happened according to Jack Hughes (a founding father) in a newspaper article at the time of the club's Golden Anniversary in early March, 1924, is that in February of 1874, four members of the cricket club went to see a rugby match at Heathfield Road, Handsworth. The competing teams were the Handsworth Rugby Club and the Grasshoppers of Adderley. [Billy] Mason was then playing for the Grasshoppers and the cricketers were anxious to see what the game of rugby was like. After its finish they met in conference under the glimmer of a gaslamp at Villa Cross.

Further, it seems that this gaslamp meeting merely determined that rugby was too rough a game and that football (soccer) was the option that should be recommended. Again according to Hughes, in the first week of March, these four and eleven others of the Aston Villa Wesleyan Bible Class met and agreed that football was to be their game and that is when the club was formed. These 15 (it might have been 16) then each contributed to a pool so that they could acquire their first football. By the way, Hughes stressed in his article that all members should be credited with the founding of the club, and not merely the four that met under the gas lamp.

However, on page 10 of the new 'Complete Record' it states that "the most probable date for that momentous [under the street lamp] meeting was 21 November 1874." The Complete Record does not provide its authority for that statement, but I believe the basis for that asserion is because it was reported back then that there was a rugby match between Handsworth Rugby Club and the Grasshoppers on that day, and it has been assumed that this is the match that was witnessed as described in the opening paragraph above. But it's quite possible there was a corresponding (and not reported) match that took place in February, 1874.

Of course, It seems fairly clear now that the famous "first" game against St. Mary's was not, in fact, Villa's first game, but the first game that Villa won! That match seems to be the one reported in the press in March, 1875 and which describes the events of that match just as they have since been handed down from Hughes onwards. It seems therefore that all Hughes' assertions are not credible.

But we have another problem. In my deep researches into the club's foundation at the British Library, I found two newspaper references of the 1894-1904 period that assert that Aston Villa was founded in October, 1874. And, not only that, but the Villa archives includes a diary of an old sports reporter that states the very same foundation date - October, 1874.

The very fact that these non-proven argumentations exist caused me (in The Villa Chronicles) to be non-committed to the actual foundation date. But what I will state is that the fact is that at the time of the Golden Anniversary in 1924 there were still a number of Villa people alive who were around in 1874 and do not seem to have queried the March founding month, which seems to have been universally accepted by then.

It's therefore strange in some ways that in recent years there's been a questioning of when the Villa were actually formed and to the extent of denying the March date. Without convincing proof, I think the March 1874 date should stand; it may be wrong but we cannot yet state for absolute certainty that it is wrong.

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