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The Birth Date of Aston Villa


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posted by John Lerwill

Very recent research (by myself and others) sheds some new light on the founding date of the Club.

What actually happened, according to Jack Hughes (a founding father) in a newspaper article at the time of the club's Golden Anniversary in early March, 1924, is that in February of 1874, four members of the cricket club went to see a rugby match at Heathfield Road, Handsworth. The competing teams were the Handsworth Rugby Club and the Grasshoppers of Adderley. [billy] Mason was then playing for the Grasshoppers and the cricketers were anxious to see what the game of rugby was like. After its finish they met in conference under the glimmer of a gaslamp at Villa Cross.

Further, it seems that this gaslamp meeting merely determined that rugby was too rough a game and that football (soccer) was the option that should be recommended. Again according to Hughes, in the first week of March, these four and eleven others of the Aston Villa Wesleyan Bible Class met and agreed that football was to be their game and that is when the club was formed. These 15 (it might have been 16) then each contributed to a pool so that they could acquire their first football. By the way, Hughes stressed in his article that all members should be credited with the founding of the club, and not merely the four that met under the gas lamp.

However, on page 10 of the new 'Complete Record' it states that "the most probable date for that momentous [under the street lamp] meeting was 21 November 1874."

The Complete Record does not provide its authority for that statement, but I believe the basis for it is because it was reported at the time that there was a rugby match between Handsworth Rugby Club and the Grasshoppers on the same day, and it was been assumed that this is the match that was witnessed as described above. However, it's quite possible there was a corresponding (and not reported) match that took place in February, 1874.

Of course, It seems fairly clear now that the famous "first" game against St. Mary's was not, in fact, Villa's first game, but instead the first game that Villa won! That match seems to be the one reported in the press in March, 1875 which describes the events of that match just as has been handed down from Hughes onwards. It seems therefore that all Hughes' assertions are not credible.

But we have another problem. In my deep research into the club's foundation at the British Library, I found two newspaper references of the 1894-1904 period that assert that Aston Villa was founded in October, 1874. And, not only that, but the Villa archives includes a diary of an old sports reporter that states the very same foundation date - October, 1874.

The very fact that these non-proven argumentations exist caused me (in The Villa Chronicles) to be non-committal on the actual foundation date. But what I will state is that at the time of the Golden Anniversary in 1924 there were still a number of Villa people alive who were around in 1874 and do not seem to have queried the March founding month, the date which seems to have become universally accepted by then.

It's therefore strange in some ways that in recent years there's been a questioning of when the Villa were actually formed and to the extent of denying the March date. Without convincing proof, I think the March 1874 date should stand; it may be wrong but we cannot yet state for absolute certainty that it is wrong.

I hope I am not splitting hairs with all this, but the 'get it right' nature in me caused me to feel that it should be aired. Also to admit that my book, "The Villa Chronicles" is not clear on this one topic.

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One can only imagine what those 4 men who met under the gas lamp and 11 others would think if they saw Villa today. A club known around the world, who's matches can be watched live from a small bar in the Andes to a families living room overlooking Sydney harbour. I expect more than anything they would look at our partnership with Acorns over the last few years with much pride that despite the money and commercialism Villa continues to give back to the community.

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One can only imagine what those 4 men who met under the gas lamp and 11 others would think if they saw Villa today. A club known around the world, who's matches can be watched live from a small bar in the Andes to a families living room overlooking Sydney harbour. I expect more than anything they would look at our partnership with Acorns over the last few years with much pride that despite the money and commercialism Villa continues to give back to the community.

That last bit about Acorns would definitely interest them, I think.

Within 5 years of the club's formation the link with the Wesleyan Chapel had been effectively broken, and I gather that H.H. Hartshorne (the first club president and leader of the bible class) was not happy with how football (and the Villa) had developed by the time he died (1913).

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Either way, still 1874!

Nice work, John.

Yeah, but Bolton W was formed in May, 1874 I think, so if Villa was formed in the autumn we (after all) would be the younger to Bolton.

Small point perhaps! :(

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Great research as usual John and a good read.

Off topic, but do we know whether Handsworth RFC won their game?

Hello John!

Thanks for your comments.

But do you know I did not take down the details of the rugby match. Grrr. :oops:

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Just out of interest, what is the oldest surviving photo of Aston Villa and is there a link to it? (be it player/staff/team or stadia)

What seems to be the oldest is the photo of the Villa team that won the Birmingham Cup in 1880.

The best "link" I can give you is the print of it in The Villa Chronicles. The Villa Chronicles gives the correct names and details of the people in the photo.

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