The most successful football club of the Victorian era was formed in 1874 by four youngsters from the Aston Villa Wesleyan Chapel cricket team. One of those youngsters was Walter Price, who was named Aston Villa FC’s first captain.
Villa initially struggled to find opposition and purpose, but the club’s fortunes quickly improved following the arrival of George Ramsay. The 21-year-old Scot impressed teammates with his football skills and knowledge of the game, and was appointed the new club captain.
Ramsay understood that, in order to succeed, the club had to find an enclosed ground and generate gate money. He was instrumental in setting Villa up at its first permanent home – Perry Barr. Ramsay was succeeded as club captain by another Scot, Archie Hunter, and it was Hunter who led Villa to their first FA Cup final triumph, in 1887, when they defeated West Brom 2-0. Hunter and Dennis Hodgetts scored the goals.
Villa president William McGregor created the Football League in 1888, and the club finished second in the league’s inaugural season. Villa won the league in 1894, the FA Cup in 1895, the league again in 1896, and then the league and cup double in 1897. The double-winning team was captained by Albert Evans, marshalled in defence by Jimmy Crabtree, and spearheaded up front by John Campbell and Fred Wheldon. Both Campbell and Wheldon scored in the 1897 Cup final, and Wheldon top-scored for the club with 22 goals over the season.
The club’s manager during this incredibly successful period was the still-influential George Ramsay. Further league wins followed in 1897 and 1899, taking Villa’s major honour tally during the Victorian era to eight – three FA Cups and five league titles.
The club moved to Aston Lower Grounds in 1897, building a stadium that would eventually come to be called Villa Park. New stars such as Billy Garraty and Billy George emerged towards the end of the 19th century. The Edwardian era was pretty good to Villa, too, but the club’s successes of the Victorian era will never be forgotten.
Aston Villa won eight major honours during the Victorian era – three FA Cups and five league titles. Blackburn Rovers and Wanderers each won five FA Cups, with the cup being considered much more prestigious than the league at the time. Only three clubs – Aston Villa, Preston North End and Sheffield United – won both the league and the cup in the Victorian era. Preston North End and Aston Villa both won ‘the double’ in a single season – in 1888-89 and 1896-97 respectively.
Above - Aston Villa 1894-95, from Famous Footballers 1895-96.
This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany.