An “official tribute” photograph

Aston Villa Football Club 1889-90

There was a period during the latter half of the 1880s when Villa team groups began to show more club officials in the line-up than players. This probably gave birth to the phrase “official team group”, signifying that the photograph was commissioned by the Villa hierarchy as a record of the club’s success in winning trophies.

This photo, taken to record the club’s trophy haul for the 1889-90 season, is a typical example. In fact, there are only TEN Villa players in the lineup. The 19 other men are all club officials.

So which Villa player is missing from the “official photocall”? It has to be the great Archie Hunter and team captain who collapsed while playing for Villa at Everton on January 4, 1890. Hunter was later given medical advice to retire as a player, which he accepted, and he never took to the field again in Villa colours. It’s possible that Hunter may have returned to Scotland for a period to recuperate, hence his absence from the team photograph. He later served on Villa’s committee until his premature death in November 1894.

The imbalance in the photograph between players and officials was intentional. It’s a tribute photograph intended to honour an “absent friend”; a full turn out by club officials, and where no other player was drafted in to fill the vacant spot left by Hunter – hence only ten players in the group. Officials and players were united in expressing their esteem for the club captain they considered irreplaceable.

The standing players are: Albert Aldridge, Frank Coulton, Dennis Hodgetts, Thomas Clarkson, Albert Brown and James Cowan. Seated are Harry Devey, Albert Allen, Gershom Cox and goalkeeper James Warner.

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