The Perry Barr Grand Stand

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.

• source: Simon Inglis, Villa Park, 100 Years

That Birmingham badge…

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.

Goalkeeper James Warner, wearing his
Birmingham and District FA badge.

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.

True colours

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.

Aston Villa team group taken in November 1886 (notice the leaves on the ground) to unveil the club’s new shirts. (Standing) Joe Gorman, Frank Coulton, James Warner, Fred Dawson, Albert Allen, Joey Simmonds. (Seated) Richmond Davis, Albert Brown, Archie Hunter, Howard Vaughton, Dennis Hodgetts. (Ground) Harry Yates, Jack Burton.
Aston Villa in striped shirts with their trophies on display to complete the 1887-88 season. (Standing) Tom Vaughton, Philip Clamp, Albert Brown, Isaac Whitehouse, Harry Devey, William McGregor, Joshua Margoschis, James Warner, Alfred Albut, Albert Allen, William Cooke, George Ramsay, Dennis Hodgetts, J. Vickerstaffe, Joe Gorman. (Seated) Dr Vincent Jones, Frank Coulton, Fred Dawson, Archie Hunter, Harry Yates, Jack Burton, Gershom Cox, Henry Jefferies.

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.

Aston Villa 1888-89

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.

Reporters beware!

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.

For the benefit of Mr Law

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.

Kiss and tell

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.

Men of late forties

Aston Villa 1948-49

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.