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Aston Villa FC

Aston Villa FC is an English professional football club from the borough of Aston, Birmingham which is located in the West Midlands region of the country.

Nicknamed the Villains, it is one of only 3 clubs that was the founding member of both the English Football League and more than 100 years later the English Premier League.

As one of the most successful teams of England, Aston Villa has won 7 First Division league-titles and ranks 5th position in the all-time English top-flight table. It has also won 7 FA Cup and 5 League Cup trophies. Villa is among the 5 English clubs to have lifted the European Cup and it also went on to win the UEFA Super Cup in 1982.

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Identity

Playing in claret shirts with sky-blue sleeves, Aston Villa is easily recognisable on the field although the colours were later adopted by several other clubs. The club-crest on the shirt depicts a rampant lion along with a white star to symbolize its European Cup victory. The kit is usually completed with white shorts and blue socks.

Aston Villa plays its home-fixtures at Villa Park which has remained its spiritual home since 1897. It is the 8th largest stadium in England and the biggest in the West Midlands region. The arena has also hosted 16 international matches making it the first one in the country to do so in 3 different centuries.

The biggest rivalry of the club is with Birmingham City and matches between the two sides are known as the Second City Derby. But in recent decades West Bromwich Albion has been the more direct rival on the field. Villa also has a rivalry with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Coventry City, the other major clubs in the West Midlands.

History

Aston Villa Football Club was formed in March 1974 by Jack Hughes, Fredrick Matthews, Walter Price and William Scattergood. The four founders were part of the cricket team of Wesleyan Chapel in Handsworth, now belonging to the city of Birmingham, that were looking for a way to stay fit during the winter months.

Pioneers of the Game

During a practice match at Aston Park in 1876, the club came upon a young Scotsman named George Ramsay. Dazzled by his ball skills, he was asked to join the club and soon grew to become the captain of the side. Meanwhile he also began attracting spectators to the games, all keen to watch him in action.

Ramsay took charge of training and introduced ‘the passing game’ which was the style used in his native Scotland rather than ‘the dribbling game’ prevalent in England at the time. Aston Villa grew into one of the best teams from the Midlands and won its first trophy by taking the Birmingham Senior Cup in 1880.

With the professionalization of English football in 1885, Aston Villa decided to hire a full-time paid manager for the team. Despite receiving 150 applications, George Ramsay naturally turned out to be the overwhelming favourite for the members. On 26th June 1886, he was named as what is understood to be the world’s first football manager.

The Golden Era

The club rose to immediate prominence and won the FA Cup for the first time at the end of the 1886/87 campaign. Skipper Archie Hunter was the first major star of the sport after becoming the first player to score in every round of the competition. In 1888/89 Aston Villa was among the 12 teams for the inaugural season of the Football League.

Despite founding the League, Aston Villa was not crowned its champions until it secured the title in 1893/94. The club won its 2nd FA Cup in 1894/95 before following up with the league-title for 1895/96. In 1896/97, it retained the Football League and won the FA Cup to complete the double.

Success continued into the early years of the 20th century with Aston Villa taking the FA Cup for the 4th time in 1904/05. It clinched the Football League for the 6th time in 1908/09. It secured another FA Cup on the eve of World War I, following which English football was suspended for the next 4 seasons.

Fading Glory

In 1919/20, Aston Villa won the FA Cup for the 6th time while Billy Walker became the star player of the decade scoring 244 goals in 531 games and went on to captain both his club and country. In 1926, George Ramsay retired as manager and his replacement Billy Smith could not carry on the success while other clubs were catching up.

Villa remained a top-5 team for much of this period but could only manage a couple of runners-up finishes at best. In the 1930/31 season, the club scored 128 goals which is still a top-flight record to this day. Legendary striker Tom ‘Pongo’ Waring scored 49 league-goals with Eric Houghton also netting 30 times.

But the club suffered major issues defensively in the 1935/36 campaign and despite spending a load of cash on new signings it could not buy its way out of danger. The team conceded 110 goals by the end and Aston Villa, one of the elite football clubs of the time was relegated for the first time in its history.

A Long Rebuilding Period

Former chairman Fredrick Rinder was brought back to the club and he re-inculcated the club policy for developing young local talent. He hired the progressive-minded Jimmy Hogan to be the next manager and two years later Aston Villa earned promotion back to the top-flight as the Second Division champions.

But like all the other clubs in England, football activities were halted for 7 years during World War II and the careers of many players came to an end. The team had to be rebuilt once again and former player Alex Massie took charge as the manager until the end of the 1940’s.

Another former player, Eric Houghton later led the club to its 7th FA Cup in 1956/57 by defeating Manchester United 2-1 in the final, setting a then record for the victories in the competition and ending a 37-year trophy drought. But form in the league was not as good and it was relegated once again at the end of the 1958/59 season.

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Further Decline

Aston Villa returned to the top-tier after a one-year absence after taking the Second Division title in 1959/60 under the guidance of manager Joe Mercer. In the following 1960/61 campaign, Villa went to lift the newly introduced Football League Cup in its inaugural season.

But Mercer had to remove himself as the manager in 1964 due to health complications. The scouting network coaching structure and finances went downhill in years after as the club failed to compete in the modern game. Ultimately, Aston Villa was relegated from the top-division for the third time in 1966/67.

Aston Villa would have to face its lowest point at the end of the 1969-70 when it was relegated to the Third Division. Still it was able to reach the League Cup final in 1970/71 where it lost 2-1 to Tottenham Hotspur. The club managed to win the Third Division title in 1971/72 to move up to the 2nd tier.

Back Among the Elite

Ron Saunders, a fitness fanatic with no-nonsense management skills, was appointed as the manager of the club for the 1974/75 season. Aston Villa won its 3rd League Cup title before finishing the Second Division as runners-up behind Manchester Utd to earn its way back into the top-flight.

Aston Villa won the League Cup yet again in 1975/76 while striker Andy Gray became the first to be named PFA Young Player of the Year and PFA Player of the Year during the same season. Meanwhile, the club established itself as a consistent top-half side by the end of the 1970s.

Finally in 1980/81, Aston Villa went on to pick up the First Division title after 71 years earning them a spot amongst the elite of Europe for the first time. But in the middle of the 1981/82 season, Ron Saunders left the club following a dispute with the chairman with the club in the quarter-final of the European Cup.

His soft-spoken assistant Tony Barton took charge and he led the side to a 1-0 victory against German powerhouse FC Bayern München in the European Cup final to take the club to its greatest glory. Aston Villa then went on to win the European Super Cup with a 3-1 win on aggregate against FC Barcelona.

The Contemporary Period

But just after 5 following its European triumph, Aston Villa was relegated from the First Division once again in 1986/87. After earning a swift promotion back to the top-flight, Aston Villa ended 1989/90 as runners up to Liverpool FC. Therefore Aston Villa was among the founding members of the Premier League in the early 1990’s.

The Premier League Era

Under its charismatic manager Ron Atkinson, Aston Villa ended the inaugural 1992/93 season of the Premier League as runners-up to Manchester Utd. The team did manage to win the League Cup in 1993/94 by defeating Manchester Utd 2-1 in the final. But league form remained inconsistent and Atkinson was sacked in November 1994.

Brian Little was the next manager and he took the club to its 5th League Cup victory in 1995/96 with a 3-0 win over Leeds Utd in the final at Wembley. Aston finished the Premier League in 4th position that season before following it up with a 5th place in the subsequent 1996/97 campaign.

John Gregory became the manager in February 1998 and led the team to four straight top-8 finishes in the Premier League. Villa also reached the final of thee FA cup in 1999/2000, losing to 1-0 to Chelsea FC but failed to complete its objective of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.

Graham Taylor began his second spell as manager of Aston Villa but ended the 2002/03 season in 16th spot. David O’Leary was brought in for the 2003/04 season with the club taking 6th position in the Premier League. But he got fired as well after Villa ended the 2005/06.

The appointment of Martin O’Neill at the start of 2006/07 season brought fresh hopes to the club as he steadily drove Aston Villa up the table in the next few years. It went to the final of the League Cup in 2009/10 where it once ended up losing 1-2 against Manchester United.

Recent Decline

In spite of leading Aston Villa to 3 consecutive top-6 finishes, Martin O’Neill stepped down from his role right before the start of the 2011/12 campaign. His replacement Gérard Houllier had to step down due to health problems with Birmingham City boss Alex McLeish named as the new manager despite howls of protests among the fans.

After finishing the season in 16th place, McLeish made way for Paul Lambert but Villa remained stuck in the bottom-third of the Premier League. With the club in a severe relegation-fight for 2014/15, Tim Sherwood was brought in as manager and he took them to safety in 17th position.

Aston Villa struggled in the 2015/16 campaign and Sherwood was sacked after 6 straight defeats. Frenchman Rémi Garde was his replacement but lasted just 5 months and Villa finished the season in 20th spot and was relegated to the 2nd tier bringing an end to its 29-year stay in top-flight.

The Present

With boyhood fan Dean Smith as its manager, Aston Villa was able to earn its passage back to the top-division at the end of the 2018/19 season. It ended the Championship in 5th position, securing a promotion-playoff berth and defeated Derby County 3-1 in the final to return to the Premier League after a 3-year absence.

On its return to the top-flight, Aston Villa battled hard to avoid relegation and ended the 2019/20 season in 17th place. Smith guided his team to 11th place in 2020/21 but the British-record transfer of influential skipper Jack Grealish had significantly damaged the squad for the future.

After a dreadful start to 2021/22, Smith was booted out of the role with former England international Steven Gerrard taking over as the new manager. With some interesting forays in the transfer-market, Villa eventually ended 10 points above the drop-zone in 14th spot and expectations have certainly risen for the upcoming 2022/23 campaign.

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