There are two main reasons that Jack Grealish has become such a favourite for Aston Villa supporters. The first is that he's young and extremely talented. That's a combination that excites any fan base about the potential that player has. The second is that he grew up supporting Aston Villa. Grealish grew up in the Midlands and joined Villa at six. When you mix in the first reason with the second, you get a combination that any fan will love.
Jack Grealish grew up a Villa supporter, but his roots with the club go even deeper than that.
William "Billy" Garraty was born on October 6, 1878 in Birmingham. As a kid, he played football for several local clubs before signing with Aston Villa in August 1897. Villa were coming off a league and cup double the season before and were the dominant club of that era. They had won three of the four previous league titles and two of the last three FA Cups.
Garraty wasn't able to break into the first team consistently until the 1899-1900 season. He had made several appearances in Villa's 1898-99 title-winning season, but it was the year after where he started to make his mark. Garraty scored 27 goals, finishing as the top scorer in the league, as Villa again won the title in 1899-1900.
The following seasons saw Villa slip back to the pack a little bit. Despite the team taking a step back, Garraty continued to make a name for himself. He became one of Villa's best players, leading to a call up to the England team in 1903. In his one appearance for the national team, Garraty helped England beat Wales 2-1.
Despite no longer being the dominant title-winning force that they had been, Villa were still a good side. And in 1905, they went on a cup run. They beat Leicester Fosse (now known as Leicester City), Bury, Fulham and Everton to reach the 1905 FA Cup Final. Waiting for them were the league champions: Newcastle United.
Newcastle had won the league by one point over Everton. Villa had finished six points back, in fourth place. But despite the slight dip in form from the previous decade, this was a legendary Villa side. It featured the likes of Garraty, Harry Hampton and their captain Howard Spencer. Newcastle stood no shot.
Hampton scored both Villa goals, but Garraty put in a man of the match performance as Villa beat Newcastle 2-0 to win the FA Cup for a fourth time.
Garraty continued to play for Villa until 1908, when he moved to West Bromwich Albion, but we'll forgive him for that. He finished his Villa career with 259 games and 112 goals. He played two seasons for West Brom before moving to Lincoln City. He retired at the end of the 1910-11 season. In retirement, he briefly worked as a trainer for Villa before becoming a beer-delivery driver. He died in 1931.
Sixty-four years and four months after Garraty died, Jack Grealish was born. Grealish is the great-great-grandson of Billy Garraty. 110 years after Garraty helped Aston Villa win the FA Cup, Grealish has the chance to do the same.
Villa might win on Saturday, they might not. Grealish might play well, he might not. No matter what happens though, at least one Aston Villa player will take that pitch knowing how much it means to Villa fans, and that's pretty cool.
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