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.
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.