clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Villa's Greatest Athlete?

Andy Ducat is not the best player in Villa's history, but might he be the best athlete?

Michael Steele

As you may or may not know, we are right in the middle of the third Ashes test between England and Australia. (That's cricket for those of you in the 'not know' category). At time of writing, Australia are in the driver's seat at 303/3 after the first day. You may be wondering what this has to do with Aston Villa? Well this current Ashes series has nothing to do with Aston Villa. (Apart from England batsman Ian Bell being a Villa fan.) But the 1921 series did, because of a man named Andy Ducat.

Andrew Ducat was born February 16, 1886 in Brixton, London, England. His family later moved to Southend, which is where Ducat spend most of his young life. He eventually joined local football club Southend United in 1903. He played a couple season for the, then non-league, club, before he joining Arsenal in 1905.

He began his career at Arsenal as a center forward, but lost his place in the starting eleven soon after joining. After that happened Ducat switched to the old-timey position of right half and got himself back into the squad. He excelled in his new position and became a regular from the 1907-08 season onward. He played so well after the switch, that in 1910 he was called into the England squad. Ducat won three caps that year, and even scored the only goal in 1-0 win against Wales.

While playing in London, Ducat joined the ground staff at The Oval cricket ground, home of the Surrey Country Cricket Club (one of the counties/teams that make up the professional cricket league in England). Not long after that, he started to play for the team at Surrey, making his debut in 1906. Ducat played as a batsman from 1906 until his retirement in 1931, when he was 45.

Meanwhile back on the football pitch, Ducat continued to be a standout for Arsenal. But financial problems began to plague the club, and they were forced to sell him. Aston Villa swooped in and signed Ducat for £1,000 in June of 1912.

In September of his first season at Villa, Ducat broke his leg in a game against Manchester City. This caused him to miss the rest of that season, including Villa's FA Cup triumph of 1913. Ducat's Villa career was then cut even shorter due to the outbreak of World War I.

After the war, with the English league starting back up, Andy Ducat was named captain of Aston Villa. He missed out on the 1913 FA Cup campaign, but now as captain, Ducat led Villa on another cup run. Villa made it to the 1920 FA Cup Final, where they beat Huddersfield 1-0 in extra time. Ducat earned another three England caps that year, ten years after his first three.

The FA Cup triumph was the height of Ducat's Villa career, but it signaled the beginning of the end of it. He left Villa and joined Fulham in 1921. The book Who's Who of Aston Villa said of Ducat: "An outstanding wing-half of the unflurried, academic type and a great sportsman, he was rarely spoken to by the referee, never booked or sent off and played the game with passion and total commitment."

Now let's switch back to the cricket. The zenith of Ducat's cricket career came when he was called into the English cricket team to play in the 1921 Ashes series against arch-rival Australia. He made his debut in the third test of the series at Headingly in Leeds. In making his debut for the England cricket team, he booked his place in an exclusive club. Ducat is one of just 12 people to have played for both the English national football team and the English national cricket team.

With England down 2-0 in the five-match series and legendary English cricketer Jack Hobbs out due to injury, Ducat came out to bat for England in the number four spot. Australia were well in front, having scored 407 runs in their first innings. They had England in a hole, at 13 runs for the loss of two wickets. It may sound like I'm building this up to have a Hollywood movie ending. You can picture it, I bet. Ducat comes in and saves the day and wins the match for England. That's not what happened and the movie isn't getting green-lit anytime soon. Upon contact with the 21st ball he faced, Ducat's bat broke into pieces and a shard flew into the stumps, knocking off the bails. The ball also balloned to a fielder who caught it. Ducat was out for three runs. (Which is bad, for all the cricket-illiterate readers out there) The second time he batted didn't go any better, as Ducat was gotten out for two runs that time. Australia steamrolled to 219 run win and clinched the Ashes, taking a 3-0 lead. That was the only international cricket match Andy Ducat would play.

(Side note: the England captain for that test match was the Honorable Lionel Tennyson, grandson of this guy.)

Despite never making it back to the national team for either sport after 1921, Ducat continued on playing both. He retired from football in 1924 and became manager of Fulham. In 1926, after two mid-table finishes in the Second Division, Ducat was sacked.

He continued playing cricket through 1931. When he retired from that, he became cricket coach at Eton College and a sports reporter. In 1942, he was playing as part of the Surrey Home Guard against the Sussex Home Guard in a cricket match at Lord's Cricket Ground. The match was supposed to be a morale booster as World War II was raging on. While he was batting, Ducat collapsed on the pitch due to an apparent heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Andy Ducat was 56 years old.

His death was seen as a shock to those who knew him, as he was still quite fit for someone who was 56. Bob Attwell, who was batting with Ducat, said of the scene: "I could do was remove his false teeth, give his heart a thump, and give some massage and artificial respiration, but it was all to no avail."

Andy Ducat was clearly fantastic at both sports he played. He was named one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year in 1920, while the Arsenal website ranks him as the 43rd greatest player in club history. While he didn't make a major impact on the international stages of either sport, the fact that he got there in both shows the type of athlete Andy Ducat was.