A History Of Aston Villa--Not So Brief, I'm Afraid

Perhaps we should learn not to leave trophies in shop windows, hmmm? (Photo by Kirsten Schlewitz)

Aston Villa, or God's Own Club as it's been decreed around these parts, was formed in 1874 when a quartet of men met under a gas-lamp. How romantic, and perfectly befitting of the club's name. Villa played their first match against a local rugby team, with the first half being played under rugby rules, and the second under football rules.

The Villans grabbed their first hardware in 1887, when they triumphed over local rivals West Brom 2-0 in the FA Cup. The next year, a dozen teams joined up to create the Football League under Villa director William McGregor, who wanted to form the league to guarantee fixtures and avoid having matches canceled regularly. Thus football was on its way to becoming a professional game, and the Football League on its way to birthing four divisions, one of which, of course, became the Premier League.

By 1900, Aston Villa could claim to be the most successful football club of the early years, winning five league titles and three FA Cups-even doing the Double in 1897, the year they moved to Villa Park. The club also collected quite a few trophies in their next thirty years, with three more FA Cups and another league title.

Although the official club history prefers to scrub out the years from 1931-1957, leaving a big gap in the timeline, I'll let you in on the secret: Aston Villa were relegated for the first time in 1936. Shocking, I know. The club was back in the top flight by 1938, but World War II stopped English football for seven seasons. During the decade following the war, Villa rebuilt their team while keeping themselves in the middle of the table, and managed to beat Manchester United's "Busby Babes" to capture the FA Cup in 1957.

In another black hole of Villa history, the club was relegated in 1959, but crowned Second Division champions in 1960. From there they went on to win the brand-new League Cup in 1961, which, like with so many clubs, began the start of decline. Aston Villa were relegated for the third time in 1967, but instead of bouncing right back up as before, the team sank even lower, into the Third Division in 1969. By 1977, ten years after they were initially relegated, the Villa were back in the First Division and winners of the League Cup-and had also managed to win the Cup in 1975, while still in the Second Division. And in 1981, they were lifting a trophy again, this time for the league title-the first time the Villa had won the league since 1910.

And you know where we're coming to now, the year of 1982. The year Aston Villa were crowned European Champions, earning the right to put a little star on their crest. Granted, it's been nearly 30 years since Villa won in Europe, and nearly 15 years since the club has won any significant hardware, given that the last major trophy came in 1996 with the lifting of the League Cup. Of course, winning once again marked the beginning of the fall, and by 1987 the club were relegated once again.

Back in the First Division the next season, the Villa were founding members of the Premier League when it broke away from the Football League in 1992.  The team won the League Cups in 1994 and 1996, but league form fluctuated from 15th place to 4th place. The 2000s brought more of the same, with an FA Cup final followed just a few seasons later with a 16th place finish.

Which more or less brings us to where Aston Villa are today. David O'Leary had spent more than £13 million on a few players, but rumors spread that the chairman that was frugal. That chair, Doug Ellis, brought in Martin O'Neill at the start of the 2006 season. But by the end of September, a new owner was in place, American Randy Lerner. For the past three seasons, Villa have qualified for European play in the UEFA/Europa League, all three times by finishing sixth in the Premier League.

Why go through the trouble of relaying all this about the history of Aston Villa? Because, my friends, those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. Last season, Villa made it to a League Cup final, an FA Cup semi-final, and had a run at fourth place in the Premier League. Is it time for a slow spiral into relegation? Or is the club finally strong enough to beat back the cobwebs and continue their strong showing in the league?

Many are nervous over the fact that Villa are currently without a permanent manager. To them, I offer this last piece of Villa history, designed to lift the spirits: In 1982, with Aston Villa in 19th place but set to play in the quarter-finals of the European Cup, the manager resigned, leaving the assistant manager to take over. Three months later, that assistant manager guided the Villa to a win over Bayern Munich, leaving the team as one of only four English teams who have won a European championship.

 

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