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

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

More About When Aston Villa Started

In Rob Bishop and Frank Holt's book "The Complete Record" (2010), it is stated that the Club's most likely official startup date was in the middle of November, 1874, contrary to the long-accepted assertion that the Club's official start date was March 7, 1874.

Frank Holt (whose research it was) is most certainly correct in most of what he has deduced, as it is known that the Villa played a few matches from at least November, 1874, but nothing has been found before that date. They did not, however, win their first match until March, 1875, the real occasion of the famous 15-a-side match against St. Mary's. This match was formerly believed to have been in March, 1874, but 1875 is now known to be correct.

Hence there seems to be some fabrication that occurred as to when the Villa did start and that seems to be based on a lecture given by one of the co-founders, Jack Hughes, on the occasion of the club's silver jubilee in 1899.

I should mention here that when I was working in the Villa Archives, the diaries of Charles Wheelwright were kept there. Wheelwright wrote as "Brum" in the Athletic News from 1881 right up to its cessation in 1934, and was very close to the Club. His diaries are interesting in that he quotes Villa as having been founded in October, 1874 in his earlier diary, yet by WW1 he is quoting March, 1874 - in response to Jack Hughes' crusade for March, I suspect, or because Hughes had persuaded the Club that March was the date.

Another authority is the respected journalist Sidney Gilbert who says (in his 1893 series of Villa history articles) that Aston Unity were founded in November, 1874 "just after the Villa", and I took it that he meant October as so many other writers of those days quoted October.

Interestingly also, Ian Johnston (in his 1981 book "The Aston Villa Story") intimates that Villa started off proceedings on a Friday evening in October, 1874. From memory, I think that Johnston says that he got that information from a note that was passed to him or handed down to him, or something like that. What they would be doing on a Friday evening in October I don't know, but perhaps they were deciding in a meeting on what they should do before they formed the club. In which case Frank Holt may be spot on as to his mid-November date of official startup: they had decided to do their checks on what football to play etc before they did officially form a club.

Perhaps everyone was quoting "October" back then as that was when the move towards starting a club was initiated, although not yet officially formed.

I'm trying to be conciliatory to Frank Holt here, but the trouble is that it seems we want to reject Jack Hughes' assertions of February/Marc 1874 when things first happened yet by the same token we are willing to accept his account about the Grasshoppers v Handsworth match and other particulars. However, we are lucky that Sidney Gilbert relates the same stories, but is not clear when they happened.

So, at the end of all my writings and gesticulations (!), I remain very open to Frank Holt's findings of mid-November, 1874 when the official foundation took place, but still cannot support it 100% simply because it's so long since the event and not really supported by anything concrete other than logical assertions. Why there should be that attempt to set Villa's foundation so many months earlier still puzzles me somewhat. Perhaps there's something that we don't know about.

The one thing that Jack Hughes says that does ring true is that he was consistently saying that all 15 original members were the founders of the club and not the 4 that met under the gaslamp. It resonates with me particularly because Hughes was himself one of the 4 under the gaslamp, so was clearly not trying to claim special credit.

I blame my grandad, who was living in Lozells near the AV Chapel soon after that time, for this intensive investigation!

(c) 2019 John Lerwill

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