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The Old Warhorse

Villa were one of the biggest clubs in the early days of football. And today we look at a stalwart of those early Villa teams.

Scott Heavey

Aston Villa director William McGregor (who I'm sure we'll talk about in a future Holte History) is credited as the founder of the Football League. 12 teams played in that first league season in 1888 in which Aston Villa finished second. But there was football before the Football League, and in this edition of Holte History we'll look at one of the major players of those pre/early Football League teams.

Archibald "Archie" Hunter was born on September 23, 1859 in Joppa, Scotland. After playing in Scotland for Third Lanark and Ayr Thistle, Hunter made the trek south of the border and joined Aston Villa in 1878. It is said that he originally came to Birmingham to sign for Calthorpe FC, but adorably couldn't where locate they were. He would end up signing for Villa at the suggestion of a co-worker.

In his time at the club, Hunter helped Villa become one of the most successful clubs of that period. Hunter along with McGregor and another Villa legend, captain and future manager George Ramsay starting employing tactics vastly different that what was being played in England at the time. The three Scotsmen lead Villa in playing a passing game, which was more of a Scottish trait, compared to the dribbling game that most English teams employed.

Aston Villa entered the FA Cup for the first time in 1879-80, making it to the third round. The following season saw Villa win 21 of the 25 games they played, and won the Staffordshire Cup. After Ramsay retired from playing in 1882, Hunter became the captain and would lead them out at Perry Barr (Villa's home at the time) for years to come.

Under Hunter, Villa reached the FA Cup quarterfinals in 1883 and 84. But the 1886-87 FA Cup would be the high point in Hunter's time at Villa.

Hunter scored in every round in the FA Cup as Villa made it all the way down to the final. In the final, Villa had to play West Bromwich Albion. (Who if you recall from other Holte History's was also very good in this era.) What did Archie do in the final then? Oh just score again. The game finished 2-0 and Villa won the cup first of seven times. Hunter became the first player to ever score in every round of the FA Cup.

(I originally went into way more detail about this FA Cup campaign, but after reading about it, I'm probably gonna make it its own Holte History at some point, it sounds super interesting. So stay tuned for that.)

The following season saw the founding of the Football League. Aston Villa finished second, but Preston North End were way too strong and ran away with the league winning by 11 points.

On January 4th, 1890, in a game against Everton, Hunter collapsed and suffered a heart attack on the pitch. Following this he retired from football. Hunter finished his Villa career having scored 42 goals in 73 games, 33 of which came in the FA Cup.

"The Essential Aston Villa" says this about Hunter:

"Archie Hunter was a Victorian sporting celebrity. He was Aston Villa's first truly great footballer and was the idol of the Perry Barr supporters for more than a decade. Archie was a forward who played the game with a rare blend of power and skill, and his strength was a particularly useful quality at a time when barging and kicking were often considered legitimate defensive tactics."

Hunter died on November 29, 1894. And now for a story that I think will probably tug at your heart strings and make you proud to be a Villan. While on his deathbed, Hunter reportedly asked to be shown the crowds at Perry Barr one last time. Hunter's headstone reads:

"This monument is erected in loving memory of Archie Hunter, the famous captain of Aston Villa, by his football comrades and the club as a lasting tribute to his ability on the field and his sterling worth as a man."

Archie Hunter makes me proud to be a fan of Aston Villa Football Club.