For most clubs in the English game, the manager has a large (if not the final or biggest) say in decisions on player personnel and acquisitions. While sporting directors, and other similar positions, are and will continue to move into England, the manager still has the biggest say at a lot of clubs, including Villa. This has been the case for a long while, but it wasn't always. Today, we will take a look at Aston Villa's first ever manager.
From the founding of the club until 1934, the club was run by the board of directors. George Ramsay is listed as the first ever manager of Aston Villa, but really, he was just the secretary in charge of the club. While Ramsay most certainly had a giant impact and was a formative figure in the club's most successful period, there would have been other people who had a pretty big impact on that success. Ramsay's reign went from 1884 to 1926, during which the club won six Division One Championships and six FA Cups. After he stepped down, W.J. Smith took over as secretary, but was unable to replicate the success of Ramsay. So it was in 1934 that the club decided to appoint one man as official manager of the club.
Villa's choice seemed like a decent one on paper. They chose Jimmy McMullan. The former Scottish international was and still is considered one of Manchester City's greatest ever players. McMullan was also captain of the "Wembley Wizards" Scottish team that famously beat England 5-1 at Wembley in 1928. Following his Man City career, McMullan was briefly player-manager at Oldham Athletic before leaving for Villa.
In May 1934, the board ratified McMullan's appointment. Even back then, teams only talked about their new acquisitions glowingly, as the board said:
"Mr. James McMullan is a cool, calculating team manager who knows his football from A to Z - not as a theorist but because of a hard practical experience of many years.
He has gathered international caps in wholesale fashion. He is a quiet man, with a humorous twinkle in his eye and a definite knowledge of what he wants and the best way to get it.
He will be a most popular man at Villa Park and achieve the purpose for which he was appointed.
He is like Lord Roberts - not too big but of high quality."
Whatever all that means.
McMullan signed a two-year contract worth £550 per year and an additional £250 if Villa won the League or the FA Cup, £500 if both.
In McMullan's first season at the club, Villa finished 13th, in the same position they did the previous season. McMullan did manage to improve the team's record by one whole point. His second season saw the club drop off in a big way. Villa finished 21st in the 1935-36 season, getting relegated for the first time in the club's history. I'm sure you're shocked to know that McMullan was not brought back after that.
McMullan's replacement, Jimmy Hogan, got Villa promoted back to the First Division two seasons later in 37-38. Villa would remain in the top flight until 1967. McMullan would go on to manage Notts County and Sheffield Wednesday.
Jimmy McMullan was not the right manager for Aston Villa, but if it wasn't for him. we may be in a time where Randy Lerner was making tactical decisions. Okay, he probably wouldn't, but that sounds terrifying.