The most imposing structure ever built at Aston Villa’s Perry Barr ground was the Grand Stand, erected in mid-1887, shortly after Villa’s first ever FA Cup Final triumph, a 2-0 win over West Bromwich at the Oval in 1887.
In order to raise the cash Villa set up a Pavillion Fund. This more than paid for the £383 costs of the construction, and guaranteed each individual subscriber a seat.
The stand itself measured some 30 yards long and was designed by Daniel Arkell, a local architect who had, that same year, finished a much grander edifice, the Victoria Hall on Victoria Road (now an Islamic study centre). Arkell advised the Villa for several years while they were at Perry Barr, and was later disappointed when the club chose another architect for the club’s new home at the Lower Grounds. But in 1887 his neatly embellished Grand Stand was quite the most handsome stand in the Midlands.
Its proud opening took place before a representative match, Birmingham & District v Lancashire, on October 22, 1887, watched by 11,000. Deemed by the Birmingham Daily Gazette to be ‘in every respect admirable,’ the new stand had nine rows of seats, accommodating 700-800 spectators (who had to peer past no fewer than 14 slender columns), with a ‘reserve promenande of ashes’ along the front. The flat area, together with two sets of old wooden terraces placed on either side of the stand, held up to 1,500 spectators.
As surviving etchings show, the stand was chiefly characterised by a central pedimented roof gable, on the front of which was a clock donated by a Mr Wray of New Street. Above the gable flew a large pennant-style flag with the intials AVFC. The ridge of the roof was lined by decorative ironwork.
This casual line-up of Villa players was taken in November 1886 when Villa switched from wearing what was described by the club captain Archie Hunter as a piebald uniform to chocolate and light blue, striped shirts.
Close inspection of the players in this group show that five of them have the Birmingham coat of arms and its “forward” motto attached to their tops. They are, left to right: Frank Coulton, Albert Brown, James Warner, Jack Burton, Dennis Hodgetts and Joey Simmonds.
There is a reason for this. The badges were ‘awarded’ for representing the Birmingham and District FA in its match against the Sheffield Association played at Bramall Lane a few weeks earlier on Otober 23, 1886. The “Brums” won convincingly, 7-1. One other Villa player who took part in the game, but minus his “badge” in this photograph, was Archie Hunter.
The Birmingham representative side was chosen by ballot at a general meeting of the Association’s members held at the Grand Hotel in Colmore Row on Wedenesday, October 6, 1886. Harry Yates was selected as a reserve, but not called upon.
During its formative years Aston Villa Football Club took the field in various colours and styles. Seemingly the norm was to use the team strip for a couple of seasons and then change to new colours and another style.
The transition to claret and blue began in season 1885-86 when the club colours were described by secretary George Ramsay as Coral and Mauve jerseys. In the Alcock Annual for the same season Villa’s colours are listed as Coral and Maroon. As to the style, club captain Archie Hunter, referred to it as “the piebald uniform which was inartistic and never popular.”
In November 1886, the team switched to wearing a vertical-striped jersey, described in the club minutes as Chocolate and Light Blue, although one newspaper report noted the Chocolate colour as Cardinal [Red]. The team continued wearng these striped jerseys and colours until the end of 1887-88, as confirmed by team photographs and the mention of Chocolate and Blue in the Alcock Annual of 1887 as Villa’s colours for that season.
It was at a General Meeting of Aston Villa on June 2, 1888, when members voted and defined the official club colours. Rule 3 stated: The Club Colours shall be CLARET and LIGHT BLUE.
An item in the Club Minutes, August 17, 1888, made mention of an order for new jerseys: Resolved we have 1 dozen new jerseys, Club Colours but in quarters. Quotations from Gr[?] and Mr McGregor.
Ten days later another mention of new jerseys appeared in the minute book: Quotations not having been received, it was decided that they are not now obtained. Resolved instead of Jerseys we have Shirts, the Club Colours in quarters and same be had of Mr McGregor.
This historic team photograph, the first ever depicting the official club colours of Claret and Blue, was taken on June 22, 1889. The two trophies are the Mayor of Birmingham’s Charity Cup and the Birmingham Senior Cup. The lineup is: (Back row) Frank Coulton, Harry Devey, James Warner, Harry Yates, Gershom Cox, Fred Burton, Joe Gorman. (Front row) Arthur Brown, Albert Allen, Archie Hunter, Dennis Hodgetts, Bartholomew Garvey.
• Special thanks to Vic Garvey, grandson of ‘Bat’ Garvey, for the use of this picture.
From a Birmingham newspaper report, January 8, 1897
There was a rumour current in local football circles last week that Aston Villa were endeavouring to secure Divers, the Celtic forward who was recently suspended indefinitely because he refused to play unless certain reporters were excluded from the ground. How Messrs Jones, Doe, and Clucas must have trembled in their shoes when they heard that that player might leave his home in Glasgow to take up his quarters in Birmingham! Doubtless they wondered how the Villa committee would act if they were placed in the same predicament as the Celts recently were. However, their alarm was needless, for Divers is not coming to the Villa, and the local football scribes can continue to say whatever they please – in their usual fair manner of course – until some of the adversely criticised players happen to meet them one dark night, and then – but it’s too awful to contemplate.
OLD VILLANS’ CLUB President: J. E. Margoschis Honorary Treasurer: H.Devey Honorary Secretary: C. S. Johnstone
Dear Sir, As you may have seen from the Press and from the Villa News, “Sammy” Law, the famous centre-back of bygone days, is unable to follow his employment of engraver owing to failing eyesight.
We earnestly appeal to you as a lover of the game to lend a helping hand to one who has always been associated with our club from its earliest days, and who assisted it in no little measure to attain the prominent position it has now reached.
He not only did yeoman service to his club as an amateur, but represented his city in the old Inter-association Matches v. London, Sheffield and Glasgow.
In better times no one was more willing to make sacrfices for his club, or to assist a fellow Villan who might be in difficulties.
Knowing our members as we do, we feel that this appeal will not be made in vain, but will meet with a prompt and substantial response in the usual Villa way.
Contributions may be sent to Mr F.B. Ramsay, Mr J.E. Margoschis, or myself.
Thanking you in anticipation, I remain, Faithfully yours C. S JOHNSTONE 33, Turville Road, Handsworth
• The fundraiser for Sammy Law in 1913 raised £65, equivalent to about £7,500 in 2020.Sports journalist Jack Urry had this to say about Law in a tribute he wrote for the Villa News and Record:
If you had enquired for Mr Samuel Law when he played for Aston Villa, they would not have known whom you meant, for Sammy was an immense favourite with the crowd, not only because he was an excellent half-back, but also because he was, perhaps, the most agile player ever seen at Perry Barr – which is saying a good lot. No merrier man ever went on to a football field, and I think his opponents had almost as great an admiration for him as his friends, though when it came to strenuous work in the game, Sammy Law was generally there or thereabouts – but always scrupulously fair. The only thing that used to rile one of the finest sportsmen I have ever met was a deliberate succession of dirty tricks by friend or foe. As they say in rural places, “he couldn’t abide it” and used to express his feelings both on and off the field. The fact was, he played the game first as a game, and did not allow his conduct to spoil victory or exasperate defeat; and it was principally his sporting proclivities which endeared him to the first supporters of Aston Villa.
Sammy Law had a somewhat uncommon appearance on the field. Rather on the small size, but sturdily built, he was as nimble as a cat, and the way he could dance around an opponent, and especially the manner in which he could recover lost ground, were features which made him so useful and skilful a half-back. He used to wear mutton chop whiskers of a sunset hue – a la Lord Dundreary – and as they were always beautifully brushed and glowing it may be guessed that his figure was a rather conspicuous one, and he was, so to speak, the cynosure of all eyes wherever he went; not that Sammy was in any way egotistical; on the contrary, he was one of the most modest footballers I have ever met, though nobody sang the praises of his comrades louder that he did.
From the Villa News and Record, September 25, 1920
“It should be an instruction to football professionals not to kiss the man who scores the goal. It happened at Stamford Bridge last Saturday.”
This was at Chelsea’s home match against Manchester United. The visitors won 2-1. Aston Villa were also playing in London that day and beat Tottenham Hotspur by the same score. Villa’s goals came from Arthur Dorrell and Billy Kirton.
Back row: George Edwards, Eddie Lowe, Johnny Dixon, Keith Jones, Frank Moss, Con Martin, Vic Potts. Middle row: Hubert Bourne (Trainer), Dickie Dorsett, George Cummings, Alex Massie (Manager), Bob Iverson, Albert Brown, Phil Hunt (Assistant Trainer). Front row: Billy Goffin, Trevor Ford, Harry Parkes, Leslie Smith.
Here’s another striking programme cover from the past. It’s from the 1947-48 season and was produced for Villa’s home match against the eventual League champions, Arsenal. The Gunners had beaten Villa 1-0 earlier in the season but Alex Massie’s men took revenge at Villa Park notching up a 4-2 victory with goals from Johnny Dixon, Trevor Ford (2) and Leslie Smith. Joe Mercer, who later became manager of Aston Villa, turned out for the visitors. The attendance was 65,690. Villa finished sixth in the League, on level points (47) with Wolves in fifth place who had a better goal difference after beating Villa twice (1-0 and 4-1) in two matches played over the Christmas period.
Much doubt was expressed among a certain section of Aston Villa supporters before the present season commenced as to whether the committee had acted wisely in paying such a heavy sum as £300 to the Small Heath club for the transfer of their crack left-winger, George Frederick Wheldon, and a large number of “wiseheads” did not refrain from maing public their opinion that Wheldon had seen his best days, and would be of no use to Villa. Where are those “prophets” now?
As it has proved, the investment was one of the best the Villa have made in recent years, for the ex-Heathen has been the most consistent of as brilliant a quintette of forwards as ever stepped on a field, and is well worth every penny the League Champions paid for him.
He had the honour of playing for England against Ireland at Nottingham a few weeks ago, and scored three of the goals obtained by his side. In the opinion of many competent judges he is the best inside-left forward in the country, and England would have no cause to regret it had he been chosen to play against Scotland at the Crystal Palace tomorrow.
Wheldon has scored more goals for the Villa in League matches this season than any other player, the number to his credit being sixteen, Jack Devey being responsible for fifteen, In addition to being a champion footballeer, Wheldon is a smart cricketer, and played for Worcestershire on several occasions last summer. He is 26 years of age, being born on November 1st,1879, so should be of much use to te Villa club for many years to come.
From the Midland Daily Telegraph… Association Notes by Dribbler
On Saturday, Arthur Brown, one of the best forwards who has ever put a toe to a ball, played for the first time in his native city. The people of Coventry have taken, and still take, more interest in the doing of Aston Villa than any other leading club. That interest was, in the first instance, created by the fact that Coventry claimed the two Browns as her sons, a claim that has often been disputed; but any doubt that may have entertained was removed on Saturday.
Arthur Brown says that he was born in the Spon End district, but he cannot name the exact spot. Albert was also born there; but when he was four and Arthur nine years of age, the family removed to Birmingham. They have relations in Coventry – in fact, a cousin of the two brothers occupied a position on Singer’s committee.
Arthur served his football apprenticeship with a club called the Florence, who used to play on Aston Park. In the same team was Howard Vaughton, who has since become celebrated as a cyclist, boxer, skater, Staffordshire county cricketer and international footballer; also Eli David, the king of the left screw kickers. Olly Whateley, too, the patentee of the “daisy cutter” shot, sometimes gave the Florence a lift.
From that club Brown passed into the ranks of Aston Unity, and in the season of 1878-79 played in a memorable cup-tie against Aston Villa at the Lower Grounds, the game ending in a one to none victory for the Perry Barr men. The winning point was scored by George Ramsay, now the paid manager of the Villa club, in the last minute of play.
The next season found Arthur playing for the Villa. Again the club was pitted against the Unity in the Birmingham cup competition, but this time the latter went down by 16 (ten scored by Brown) to none. On this occasion Ted Brown, another member of the Coventry family, was among the defeated ones.
In the season 1881-82 Arthur Brown represented England aganst Sotland, Ireland and Wales, in playing in company with Howard Vaughton, and that great right-winger George Holden. In the Ireland match Brown placed four goals to his credit, and against Scotland got the only goal that fell to the Englishmen. By the way, he wore his international white as an under jersey in last Saturday’s game.
To enumerate his many grand performances with Aston Villa is impossible, to say nothing of the many occasions upon which he has distinguished himself for the Birmingham and Staffordshire Associations. He was, in his day, a very good shot, and a prettier dribbler or a more tricky forward has never been seen.
He was reinstated as an amateur as recently as a month since. At the time when he was such a prominent figure in the football field, first class players were unable to reap the rich harvest that now falls to their share; and Brown’s unselfish devotion to the game is fully shown by the fact that he is at present playing for a club who cannot well afford to pay the travelling expenses of its players.
His brother Albert was elected to play for England a couple or three seasons ago, but as the Villa had a big match on, he was prevailed upon to forego the honour, and he will probably never get another chance, although he hopes to again appear with the Villa after Christmas.
source: Lionel Bird
From the Villa News and Record, September 1, 1906
“For his size, Arthur Brown was probably the most brilliant and successful player produced in the Midlands. Sturdy, though small, he could dribble through opponents with astonishing ease and grace. In his day he had no local rival, and was scarcely overshadowed by his great captain, Archie Hunter. As a pair, they were simply formidable in many games as centre-forwards. Full of grit, good-tempered, and a magnificent worker, he shone in any company. Made a big mark in international games and was not exactly overburdened with honours.”
“The lady who scampered across the Perry Barr ground amid yells and jeers from some 20,000 throats did the 80 yards in little more than evens. We saw more of her red stockings than we had paid for, and this incident was about the funniest of the whole afternoon.”
And from anothe section of the same journal… “The crowd kept breaking out in various parts, causing the special constables and Mr McGregor and Mr Ramsay to sprint about in very uncomfortable fashion. One female, thirsting to be among the classes, started from the popular side and raced across to the stand, to the no small amusement of the crowd. She wore red stockings.”
The match was Villa’s infamous FA Cup tie with Preston North End on January 7, 1888. Because of the chaotic scenes and field encroachments caused by overcrowding, an agreement was reached between the two captains and match officials to treat the fixture as a ‘friendly’ and replay the match at a later date. But the change in status wasn’t relayed to the crowd and arguments about the outcome continued for days until a week after the match the FA announced that the 3-1 victory by Preston would stand, and Villa were disqualified from the competition for failing to keep order at their ground.
Blackburn Rovers are badly in want of new players, and are making strenuous efforts to strengthen their team. An emissary from Rovers was in Birmingham last week to persuade, if possible, the Villa to transfer Jack Reynolds to them, but the League Champions do not intend to part with the “veteran” yet awhile: he will be very useful should one of the regular halves get injured or go “off colour”. Though his appearance betokens his age, Reynolds is by no means the oldest player belonging to the Villa club, and he has plenty of good football in him yet.
• Source: a local newspaper report, December 11, 1896
This Aston Villa lineup shows the team wearing blue and white hooped jerseys as the club’s first choice kit for season 1881-82. The two trophies are the Birmingham Senior Cup and the larger Birmingham Charity Cup.
Villa beat Walsall Swifts 4-1 to lift the Mayor of Birmibgham’s Charity Cup in its inaugral season. The Final was played at Aston Lower Grounds on May 6, 1882.
Villa won the Senior Cup for the second time defeating Wednesbury Old Athletic in the Final, also at the Lower Grounds, on April 1st.
The lineup is, (Standing) Oliver Whateley, David Anderson?, Edmund Lee, Archie Hunter, Eli Davis, George Copley?. (Seated) Howard Vaughton, Arthur Brown, Andy Hunter, Sammy Law, Joey Simmonds.
Here’s the front and back view of Aston Villa’s fixture card for season 1889-90. It shows the club’s reserve team fixtures and was printed by John Gateley, a letterpress printer whose company was located in Weaman Street (where the Birmingham Mail offices are now.). In 1891 John Gateley was living in Grosvenor Road, Handsworth, with his wife and two servants. He was also a season-ticket member of the club.
George Ramsay, the Villa Secretary once wrote to Gateley – in March 1887 – complaining about some posters he printed for the club and said this:
“I have just seen the Port Vale Bills which are not to order and the Committee have refused to accept them. You must therefore print anotheer 100 in the proper diamond form. Last time you printed across the diamond I told your people how disappointed we were and that we would never have any more done that way. If you were trying to save time we would rather wait a couple of days than put out such an abominably ugly thing. I have told Smart to return them. Please do the others at once. Yours Geo. B. Ramsay”
E. Smart was an employee of Gateley. Two months earlier Ramsay issued another complaint via Smart:
“Can I depend on you having about half a dozen Bills for January 8th match pasted about the ground next Saturday, 3 on the back of the big stand, 3 in the road, 2 at Bowan’s Corner. In explanation to my last card your son tells me Mr Gateley told him he had no Bills left. This was not true as I saw Gateley thereafter who told him to come back in a few minutes and he would have them ready and they were lying there for him. Besides if he could not get them he should have let me know at the time. I hope it will not occur again or I will get some one else to do it that I can depend on. If you cannot do it this week let me know at once.”
1890-91 wasn’t the best of seasons for Aston Villa. Without Archie Hunter to lead them – he had retired in January 1890 – the team struggled to compete at top level, finishing in ninth place in the League and exiting from the FA Cup in the second round. However, Villa retained two local trophies, the Mayor of Birmingham Chaity Cup, and the Birmingham Senior Cup, and also lifted the Staffordshire Cup for a second time.
The end of season line-up is: (back row) Alfred Albut, Fred Dawson, Joshua Margoschis. (middle row) James Lees, Billy Dickson, Jimmy Warner, James Cowan, Albert Allen, Tom McKnight, Charlie Hare, Harry Devey, George Campbell, Fred Burton, Isaac Whitehouse, Jack Graham, William McGregor, Archie Hunter. (front row) Fred Cooper, Charlie Athersmith, Albert Brown, Gershom Cox, Dennis Hodgetts, Louis Campbell, George Ramsay.
Perhaps the greatest of all Villa captains to have donned the claret and blue shirt, Archie Hunter arrived in Birmingham from Scotland on 8th August 1878 without “a single friend in the town”. But the Scotsman did not remain friendless for too long. Withing days he had joined Aston Villa, a move to prove a major factor in establishing the club’s early successful playing history.
Triumphs of the Football Field, narrated by Archie Hunter, the Famous Villa Captain, was first serialised in the Birmingham Weekly Mercury of 1890. It records Hunter’s early life in Scotland and his successful career with Aston Villa before his premature death in 1894. As well as offering an insight to the genesis of Aston Villa, the book also provides plenty of tales and anecdotes of football life in the late 19th century.
The excess which has attended the matches played by that redoubtable football team, the “Aston Villa,” at their ground in the Wellington Road, has attracted the attention of the Handsworth Overseers, who propose to rate the club field – of about six acres – at something like £250 per annum, in lieu of the old rating of £25 or so. It is known that the club has had much “gate-money” of late, and the “grandstand,” recently erected, is another proof of prosperity. Probably the “Aston Villa” gentlemen will appeal against this heavy impost and some compromise be arrived at. “Riches bring cares,” as the old saw has it.
Shown above is an early mention of Aston Villa’s nickname – the Villans – in a report of their match against Stafford Road that was published in the Midland Athlete, dated February 23, 1881.
An earlier mention of the nickname, but spelt “Villains”, appeared in the same journal – published November 17, 1880 – in the report for Villa’s away match against Notts Forest: “…but the attempt was frustrated by Simmonds, and the “Villains” coming down the right wing in pretty style…”
The “Villans” nickname was also given to another team at the time, known as Perry Villa. It’s recorded in a report – again in the Midland Athlete – for their match against Basford Rovers, a club from Nottingham. The match was played at Perry Barr on Saturday, December 17, 1881.
The ‘Villans’ nickname became the basis for a popular character developed by cartoonists during later decades. The cigarette card illustration shown above is a typical example.
During the time Villa’s home ground was at Wellington Road, in Perry Barr, the team was also given the nickname: “Perry Barr Pets”.