Tom Pank remembers…

From the Aston Villa News & Record, December 26, 1927

“When I was first on the Aston Villa committee we used to meet in a small room at the “Village Maid” in Finch Road, and of the few then present, I can think of only one beside myself left to tell the tale. It was considered a bold venture when we took the ground at Perry Barr.

“I wonder how many of the present directors would like to be employed taking round bills announcing the matches, and asking shopkeepers to exibit them. The line of type announcing the the price of admission was always the same: “Admission 3d. Ladies free” and if 30s. was taken at the gate it was reckoned good.

“On match days the first committeeman on the ground was required to fetch the corner flags and goal tapes from a w.c. in the garden of the cottage where George Ramsay lodged. The present generation may not know what “goal tapes” are; they were a red tape about one-and-a-half inch wide, which were stretched across the two posts instead of the existing crossbar. You can well understand the disputes that arose as to whether the ball went under or over this loose, twisting, blown about contraption. Then think – no back nets, no linesmen, no offside and no efficient referee.

All our players then were occupied in business and could not, as a rule, get away before one o’clock on Saturdays. I used to leave Smethwick at the time, walk to Lozells, gobble down any food I could get as I dressed in my football togs, then run down Birchfields straight onto the playing pitch.

“I wonder how many players who have handled the Birmingham Charity Cup and perhaps admired the figure on the top, are aware that when Mr Moore (the modeller) desired “the perfect figure of an athlete,” the Birmingham Association flattered me by asking me to pose, which I did on seven or eight occasions at Mr. Moore’s private house in Leonard Road; so I shall always be in Brum, unless that Cup gets pinched like another I remember.”

• Less than two years after Tom Pank’s article was published in the Villa matchday programme, he died at the age of 70 in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital as a result of injuries received in a motor accident. He joined Aston Villa in 1875 and remained a playing member until 1882. In 1924 Pank was elected as a vice-president of the club.

The original Aston Villa

The original Aston Villa, as painted by a local amateur artist, W. Green, probably around 1850.

“At the western edge of Aston Manor, where Heathfield Road and Lozells Lane (now Road) met, was built a house called Aston Villa. It is thought some time during the late 18th or early 19th century. For several decades the house served as a school for the ‘sons of gentlemen’ before being converted into the Villa Cross Tavern around the 1870s. (The building was finally demolished in the mid-1930s, to be replaced by a new pub, which in 1997 was serving as a job centre.

The Vila Cross Taavern, c 1890, flanked by Heathfield Road and Lozells Road.

“Extremely modest compared with the likes of Aston Hall or Heathfield House, Aston Villa appears to have been one of barely a dozen major buildings, erected in the area during the period 1750-1835. Yet it was of sufficient importance that, by 1824 at least, the immediate vicinity around the house became known as Aston Villa, andd later more formally as the Villa Ward. The junction in front of the house became known as Villa Cross, from which Villa Road, as now, led to Soho Hill.

Built in 1865, the Aston Villa Wesleyan Chapel and its adjoining Sunday school building on the corner of Lozells Road and George Street. It was demolished in 2008 to make way for a new worship centre.

“Another institution to adopt the name Aston Villa was a Wesleyan Chapel, founded in 1850 on the corner of Lozells Road and George Street, virually opposite Aston Villa. It was here in the adjoining Sunday school building that pupils followed the muscular Christian creed of the day by forming a cricket team, probably in 1872.”

Simon Inglis, Villa Park, 100 Years.

It was the members of the Aston Villa Wesleyan Chapel cricket team who in 1874 decided to form a football section to keep themselves active during the winter months, and so the Aston Villa Football Club was born.

• Local historian Don Abbott has published more details about the original Aston Villa at the Sporting Heritage website.