Year of formation… 1874 or 1875?

According to the testimony of John Hughes, a founder member, the Aston Villa Football Club was formed in March 1874. His account, serialised in two parts in the Sunday Mercury and Sunday News 50 years later in March 1934, records that Aston Villa’s first match “took place on the third Saturday in March in the year 1874.”

Hughes article also quoted the “full and complete match report” which appeared in the Birmingham Daily Mail as follows:

“Aston Villa v. St Mary’s, Aston Brook. This match was played at Birmingham on Saturday last and ended in a victory for the former by one goal to nil. Yeomans and Perry played well for St Mary’s and Price and Hughes for the Villa.”

Sunday Mercury and Sunday News, March 30, 1924

Reseachers have yet to locate the particular edition of the Birmingam Daily Mail. Jack Hughes did not reference the publication date of the report in his article. He also stated that the fixture against St Mary’s was Villa’s “one and only match in the season of their inauguration.”

Jack would have been about 71 in 1924 when he wrote his ‘jubilee’ account of the club’s formation. He died peacefully at his home in Finch Road, Handsworth, seven years later.

John ‘Jack’ Hughes, Aston Villa’s first ever goalscorer.

Jack mentioned in his report that he was one of four young men deputed to attend a rugby match and express an opinion if the game was suitable as a winter sport for the cricketing members of the Aston Villa Weslyan Chapel’s male bible class. One of its members, W. B. Mason, was assisting the Grasshoppers club in their fixture against Handsworth which was played near Heathfield Road. After the match the so-called “committe of inspection” made its way to the top of Heathfield Road “and there in the dim light of the lamp” considered that the Rugby game to be “a little too rough”.

Seemingly, there were two fixtures between Handsworth and Grasshoppers in 1474 – the first on Wednesday, February 4, and the second on Saturday, November 21. Certainly Mason featured in the latter game, confirmed by the Birmingham Morning News on November 24, 1874. Ostensibly, there was no line-up of the teams published for the earlier match.

This is Hughes’ description of Villa’s “first ever match” which he claims to have taken place on Saturday, March 21, 1874. The first half was payed under Rugby rules, the second under ‘Association’ rules.

“The first match was contested on land in Wilson Road, Birchfields. It was to be cut up for building purpose, but the gentleman to whom it belonged offered us the temporary use of it. His name was Wilson, hence the name of the road – Wilson Road.

“Although we did not score any goals under rugby rules in the first half, our defenders excelled. I’m afraid, however, we did very little football, for the time was mainly occupied in lining up, throwing in and scrimmaging.

“The second half was much more to our liking. Instead of the oval ball we used a round ball, and we manipulated that wit much greater freedom and accuracy. Our opponents, too, put up a much better show. It was a strenuous game, and the ball travelled from end to end of the field at a rapid rate.

“The orphan goal, which enabled us to register Aston Villa’s first win came towards the end of the game. The ball came sailng down the centre to me, and running on towards goal, I made a shot towards the goalkeeper. It rebounded of him back to me, and at the second tie of asking I shot the ball into the net. Thus, not only was I instrumental in founding the famous club, but I was responsible for the goal which won Aston Villa’s first match.”

Sunday Mercury and Sunday News, March 30, 1924

It’s probably likely that the match Hughes reported did not take place on March 7, 1874 but a year later on March 13, 1875. A brief report on the game between Aston Villa and St Mary’s found its way into the Birmingham Morning News on Tuesday, March 16:

“On Saturday a match was played between the Aston Villa Football Club and the St Mary’s Football Club, on the ground of the former. The first part of the afternoon was devoted to the Rugby rules, neither side getting a goal. Half time being called, the sides changed goals and proceeded, as before arranged, to play according to the association rules. After about half an hour of spirited play on both sides, a goal was won by the Villa team. At the conclusion of the game the ball remained in neutral ground, neither side gaining any advantage. Special praise is due to J. Hughes for the Villa, and to Mr Youlden on behlaf of the St Mary’s, who played exceedingly well.”

Birmingham Morning News, Tuesday, March 16, 1875

But was this Villa’s first ever match? Not according to three earlier press reports. Seemingly the first arranged fixture for the Aston VIlla Football Club was against Aston Park Unity scheduled to be played at Aston Park on New Year’s Day, 1875. However the “non-arrival” of most of the Villa team meant that two teams “were selected from from the members and friends present on the ground, and an excellent game resulted.”

Jack Hughes was one of the Villa team who turned up to play with other “Villans” Price and Cartwright. The match report appeared in the Birmingham Morning News on the following Monday, January 4.

The fixture was re-arranged and played the next weekend on Saturday, January 9. Unity were victors scoring a single goal as reported by the BMN on Tuesday, January 12.

“Aston Park Unity v Aston Villa – These clubs met under ‘Sheffield Association Rules’ on Saturday last at Aston Park, and a well-contested match resulted. Hundy kicked off at 30 minutes past three, and for some time the game was carried on pretty evenly, but just before halftime the Villa obtained a goal, which, however, was disallowed, owing to one of their side having ‘fouled’ the ball. On changing ends at half-time the Unity carried the ball into their opponent’s quarters, and a goal was at length obtained out of a ‘bully’ in front of the goal. The rest of the play was slightly in favour of the Unity, but when darkness stopped the game the ball rested in neutral territory. Both sides worked hard, but W. Hundy, F. Kirby and W. Shuttleworth for the Unity, and W. Price, Mason and G. Matthews for the Villa, deserve special mention.”

Birmingham Morning News, Tuesday, January 12, 1875

Villa’s lineup was: G. Matthews (captain), W. Price, J. Hughes, McBean, A. Walters, W. Scattergood, H. Matthews, E. Lee, A Robbins, G. Mason, Weis. Villa’s nominated reserves and match officials were C. Midgley, T. F. Smith and Lewis.

Aston Villa’s third fixture prior to the game against St Mary’s was another match against Aston Park Unity played at Aston Park on Saturday, January 30. It resulted in a two-nil win for Unity. Jack Hughes was not in the Villa line-up for this match reported in the BMN on Tuesday, February 2.

From these press reports it can be seen that Aston Villa had arranged three games with Aston Park Unity before taking on St Mary’s in the ‘historic’ half-rugby-half-soccer match claimed to be the club’s first ever fixture.

The claim of Aston Villa Football Club being formed in 1874 can be considered legit, so also Jack Hughes’ claim to fame as the club’s first goalscorer, But his assertion that the fixture with St Mary’s was the club’s first match is certainly questionable. The re-scheduled match against Aston Park Unity on January 9, 1875, is more likely the truth of the matter.

Match reports contributed by Rod Evans

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