Holte History: John Devey


In last week's Holte History, we discussed an Aston Villa player of the late 1800s who did not have a big impact at the club. This week, we will go back to that time period for a different Villan. But this time, our profilee had quite an impact on the club.

John Devey was born on December 26, 1866 in Newton, Birmingham, England. He played for several local, Birmingham area clubs, before making the jump to the Football League. Before we go on, we have to take a look at these clubs, because some of the names are wonderful. Devey played for Wellington Road, Excelsior, Aston Unity and Aston Manor before signing for Aston Villa as a 24 year old in 1891. The signing was criticized, as many claimed that 24 was too old to make the jump to the Football League. Those people were wrong.

In Devey's first season at the club he scored 29 goals in 25 games, as Villa finished 4th. Villa also made the 1892 FA Cup final, but lost to West Brom 3-0, as was mentioned in last week's HH. Villa again finished 4th in the 1892-93 season, and Devery again finished the season as the club's top scorer, netting 19 goals in 30 games.

Although, its difficult to tell exactly when, at some point Devey was made captain of Aston Villa, and from there the club took off. As was also mentioned last week, Villa won the league in 1893-94. Devey was again a main contributor scoring 20 goals. Villa scored 84 goals in 30 games, winning the league by six points over Sunderland.

Villa could not repeat the league success the following season, but did manage to make the 1895 FA Cup final. Villa took a lead after a Bob Chatt goal just 30 seconds in, the earliest goal ever scored in a FA Cup Final. Villa held that lead for the rest of the game and won the cup. After the match, Villa players remarked that Devey had actually scored the goal after Chatt's initial shot had been blocked. Nevertheless, the FA continues to credit Chatt with the goal. Said goal held the record as the earliest scored in a FA Cup final, until Louis Saha scored 25 seconds in for Everton in 2009.

(Quick interjection. The Villa team of 1895 were the last team to have won the original FA Cup trophy. This is mainly because someone in Birmingham thought it was a good idea to display it in a shop window. It was stolen and melted down to make counterfeit coins. Villa were forced to pay £25 to replace the trophy.)

Villa would again become English league champions in the 1895-96 season, winning the league by four points over Derby County. (Same season saw a club named Small Heath got relegated, lulz..) For the first time since he joined Villa, Devey was not the top scorer at the club in 85-96. That being said, he was still second and managed to score 16 goals in 30 games.

But it was the 1896-97 season which saw Villa cement their status as the best team of their era.

On April 10th 1897, Aston Villa took the field in the FA Cup final against Everton. At the same time, Villa had amassed a seven point lead at the top of the league table. The only team that could catch them were Derby County, who needed to take seven points from their last four games, and needed Villa to lose their last three. (Just a reminder that wins were worth two points then, and not three, for those trying to work out the math.) Villa defeated Everton 3-2 to win the FA Cup. Meanwhile, that same day, Bury defated Derby 1-0, meaning the Rams could not catch Villa. This meant Villa became only the second English team to ever win the double, and so far the only team to win both competitions on the same day. No other team managed to win both the league and FA Cup until Tottenham Hotspur in 1961. In addition to being the captain for the double, Devey was again a major part of all of it, scoring 17 goals with only George Wheldon scoring more for Villa with 18.

After the season, key Villans Johnny Campbell and Jack Reynolds left Villa. This along with a serious leg injury suffered by Howard Spencer lead Villa to drop to 6th in 1897-98, along with an early exit in the FA Cup. After this season Devey gave up the captaincy to Jimmy Crabtree. But this didn't stop Villa and Devey. Villa won back the league in in 1898-99, defeating Liverpool by two points. Devey would return to the top of Villa's scoring charts with 21 goals. Villa repeated their league succes the following season, defeating Sheffield United by 2 points. Devey only went and added another 18 goals.

Villa struggled in 1900-01 dropping to 15th place. But needless to say, Devey did his part, scoring 15 more goals. But by 1901-02, Devey had lost his place in the squad and retired at the end of the season. In 308 appearances in John Devey's Aston Villa career, he scored 186 goals. He finished as Villa's all time leading goal scorer. Devey would leave the club in good hand's though, as the man who would break his record, Harry Hampton, began playing for the club in April 1904, just two years after Devey's retirement.

After his retirement, Devey was made a director at Villa, a position which he held for over 30 years. He died, aged 73, in 1940.

Now lets talk about some random things about John. He had several brothers who were decent footballers themselves. His brother Ted played for Small Heath. While his brothers Will, Harry and Bob all played at Villa at some point in their careers. He had another brother, Abel, who played cricket for Staffordshire.

John, himself, was a decent cricketer for Warwickshire, scoring 6500 runs, and making 8 centuries during his career. Not world class, but those are some pretty amazing stats for someone who was playing football at the same time.

Devey was also part of the Association Footballers' Union, which fought to overturn the £4 per week wage limit that the Football League imposed. (I'm guessing they suceeded.)

Another random fact, Devey and the afformentioned Harry Hampton opened a 1500 seat cinema in 1915.

The book "Who's Who of Aston Villa" says of Devey: "He could play in any forward position and there is no doubt that he was one of the finest goalscorers in the country in the 1890s... He never lacked initiative, but was a strong believer in combination, bringing in his fellow forwards and half-backs into the game as often as possible. He was exceptionally clever with his head as he was with both feet and often scored goals from distance when he caught the opposing goalkeeper off guard."

Pure numbers wise, the 1890s and early 1900s were Aston Villa's most sucessful period. And there's no doubt that one of, if not the best players of that era was John Henry George Devey.

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