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A Legend as Both Player and Manager

This man could score goals on the pitch and win matches in the dugout.

Paul Gilham

A lot of the time it's difficult for a great player to return to the club at which he was a great player. Even if the player had never managed before, or didn't have a great time in his previous stops. Fans just tend to get irrational when a player, who did so much for the club during their playing days, return. These expectations didn't hurt Eric Houghton.

William Eric Houghton was born on June 19, 1910 in Billingborough, Lincolnshire, England.

Houghton had an athletic background. Two of his cousins played professional football. He won his grammar school's 100 yrds, the 220 yrds, and 440 yrd races and was second in the mile. He also played a bit of cricket later in his career. But his real talent was football.

After a season with Boston United, Houghton was signed by Aston Villa as a 17 year old in 1927. He made his debut in January 1930 in a home match against Leeds United.

The following season was when he began to make a real impact. As was discussed in a previous Holte History, Aston Villa's 30-31 season was fairly successful. Villa finished second in the league, and scored 128 goals (which is an English record for the most in a top flight season). Pongo Waring (click that Holte History link above for information about him) scored 50 goals. In his first full season at the club, Eric Houghton chipped in with 30. (He 'chipped in' with just seven less than the entire Villa team scored last season.)

Houghton become known for his powerful shots and his ability to score from set pieces. 30 of his 170 Villa goals were scored from set pieces. He also became Villa's go to man for penalties, scoring 72 of the 79 he took. While Villa never won any major trophies in Houghton's time at the club, (except for a Second Division championship in 38-39, and the wartime cup competition in 1944) but it certainly couldn't be pinned on Houghton. His goal tally reached double digits in 10 consecutive seasons during his Villa career.

In 1946, he left to join Notts County, where he would eventually take over as manager in 1949. In his first season as manager, he helped Notts win the Third Division South championship. After a few seasons, Houghton returned to Aston Villa as manager in 1953.

Houghton was manager for one of Villa's most legendary games: the 2-1 win over Manchester United in the 1957 FA Cup Final. The win was a major upset over the "Busby Babes", which denied United a chance at becoming the first English team to win the double since the Villa team of 60 years before. (Fun fact: Villa's run to the final included a 1-0 semifinal win against West Brom in a match held at St. Andrews. How awesome must that have been to go to?)

Despite the Cup triumph, Villa never managed to get any sustained success in the league, and Houghton was asked to resign in 1958. In his book, "Going for Goal", Peter McParland said of Houghton's sacking: "We had just beaten Hearts in a floodlight friendly when the Boss walked into the dressing room and, with tears in his eyes, told us he was leaving the club. It came as a great shock to all of us. He had not said a single word to any of us about going, though he had known for 24 hours. But it was typical of him to keep back the news so that those players bidding for a first team place would not be upset. "

Despite essentially being fired, Houghton couldn't stay away from Villa for long and later returned to Villa as a director. He died in Sutton Coulfield on May 1, 1996 at the age of 85.

Well end this profile with another quote from McParland's book:

"All the players liked Eric. He's a real gentleman. Infact he's too nice a chap to be a football manager. A Villa fanatic, he lived, slept and dreamed of Aston Villa seven days a week. Whenever he was called on to do a party piece, he would always stand up and sing his Villa song 'An Old jersey of Claret and Blue'. After he left, he was offered several thousand pounds by one Sunday newspaper for his story, but Eric refused to get involved in any mud-slinging against the club he loved "

Eric Houghton: Aston Villa Legend