Aston Villa F.C. in the 1880s

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The 1880s was a decade that saw Aston Villa F.C. go from a small club to one that could challenge most teams in the country at the time. It also saw their most significant contribution to the game across the globe, with William McGregor creating the world's first Football League.

1879–80[edit]

Villa collected their first ever piece of silverware, the Birmingham Senior Cup in 1880. They defeated Saltley College 3–2 in the Final with goals from Eli Davis, William Mason and George Ramsay in front of 6,000 at Aston Lower Grounds (modern-day Villa Park).

Villa's first attempt to win the FA Cup came in the same year, but ended in controversy and confusion. Having defeated Stafford Road 3–2 in the First Round replay, Villa were drawn to play the then-successful Oxford University in the Second Round. Perhaps feeling that it was a waste of time spending good money on travel expenses for a match they felt they would lose, the Villa board took the decision to 'scratch' (forfeit) the game.

FA Cup details[edit]

  • 1st Round v Stafford Road (A) 1–1
  • (Replay) v Stafford Road (H) 3–2
  • 2nd Round v Oxford University (A) — (Villa 'scratched')

1880–81[edit]

In 1881 Villa departed the FA Cup at the Third Round stage. Their first ever official defeat coming against the same team against whom they had achieved their first victory in the competition, Stafford Road. They also defeated Hearts 4–1 in a "glamour" friendly at Wellington Road.

FA Cup details[edit]

1881–82[edit]

This year saw several Club records being set. Howard Vaughton and Albert Brown became the first Villa players to gain international caps. They represented England against Ireland at Belfast. It was not a bad start for the 'Perry Barr Pets' either as Brown scored four, while Vaughton scored five in a 13–0 victory.

Vaughton was a dangerous inside-left for Villa throughout the decade, picking up a Cup Winner's medal before his retirement through injury in 1888. He also owned a silversmith's which still exists today in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, and was commissioned to make a new FA Cup trophy when the original was stolen while in holders Villa's care in 1895. No England player has ever bettered his record of five goals in one international.[citation needed]

It also saw a significant friendly defeat against the famous Queen's Park club of Glasgow. While Villa were beaten 4–1, they learned from the Scottish club's innovative passing style. It was about this year that Villa began to wear what were described as 'maroon' shirts emblazoned with a large 'Lion Rampant' that now forms the central feature of the club's badge. The Lion Rampant was chosen by William McGregor as the club's emblem in tribute to his native Scotland, and also in recognition of the club's Scottish stars Ramsay and Archie Hunter. This was the first time the Villa kit had come to resemble anything like that worn by the team today. Throughout the 1870s they had worn a variety of kits, including all white, blue and black and all green.

FA Cup details[edit]

1882 also saw a creditable Cup performance as Villa dispatched Nottingham Forest and Notts County (after a replay) before succumbing to Wednesbury Old Athletic in the Fourth Round (Villa received a 'bye' in the Second Round).

  • 1st Round v Nottingham Forest (H) 4–1
  • 2nd Round - Villa received a 'bye'
  • 3rd Round v Notts County (H) 2–2
  • (Replay) v Notts County (A) 4–1
  • 4th Round v Wednesbury Old Athletic (A) 2–4

1882–83[edit]

1883 saw an increased takeover by professionals in the English game with Preston North End, in particular, attracting and paying a number of stars (mostly from Scotland). This move away from amateurism was to prove an advantage for Villa, whose industrial Birmingham home gave them access to large numbers of potential supporters. This is turn meant they could afford to pay decent wages to players with the ticket revenue accrued.

The year also saw Villa's longest run in the FA Cup. They beat Walsall Swifts, Wednesbury Old Athletic, Aston Unity and Walsall Town before a controversial 4–3 loss to Notts County. A County player appeared to punch the ball off the line in the dying stages, but the referee was unmoved. The beaten Walsall Swifts and Walsall Town would later merge to make the present-day Walsall FC.

FA Cup details[edit]

  • 1st Round v Walsall Swifts (H) 4–1
  • 2nd Round v Wednesbury Old Athletic (H) 4–1
  • 3rd Round v Aston Unity (H) 3–1
  • 4th Round v Walsall Town (H) 2–1
  • 5th Round v Notts County (A) 3–4

1883–84[edit]

After victories over Walsall Swifts, Stafford Road and Wednesbury Old Athletic (7–4), Villa were given their first FA Cup game that would mean having to travel outside the Midlands. They travelled to Glasgow to play Queen's Park. At the time, Scottish clubs regularly entered the 'English' FA Cup. After another large defeat 6–1, the Villa committee decided to change the playing style. At this time, before managers or coaches, committees picked the team. For the first time, Villa would now use two backs rather than one.

FA Cup details[edit]

  • 1st Round v Walsall Swifts (A) 1–0
  • 2nd Round v Stafford Road (A) 5–1
  • 3rd Round v Wednesbury Old Athletic (A) 7–4
  • 4th Round v Queen's Park (A) 1–6

1884–85[edit]

The 1885 FA Cup saw Villa's first encounter with the West Bromwich Albion. Villa lost 3–0 in their Third Round Replay.

FA Cup details[edit]

  • 1st Round v Wednesbury Town (A) 4–1
  • 2nd Round v Walsall Town (A) 2–0
  • 3rd Round v West Bromwich Albion (A) 0–0
  • (Replay) v West Bromwich Albion (H) 0–3

1885–86[edit]

This year saw Villa's most modest Cup performance since their first effort to win the trophy, in 1880. Villa were beaten in the Second Round by Derby County.

FA Cup details[edit]

  • st Round v Walsall Town (A) 5–0
  • 2nd Round v Derby County (A) 0–2

1886–87[edit]

Villa started their road to The Oval (then the home of FA Cup finals) with a club record 13–0 victory over Wednesbury Old Athletic that still stands today. After Derby Midland were beaten (6–1) Villa needed four matches (three replays) to defeat Wolverhampton Wanderers. A bye in the Fourth Round added to victories over Horncastle and Darwen meant that Villa were set for their first Semi-Final, against Scottish giants Rangers, to be played at Crewe.

In a bid to win the trophy, the Scottish FA allowed Rangers to borrow players from other clubs. Consequently, stars from Queen's Park and Hibernian were amongst the eleven that lined up to face Villa. However Villa won 3–1 to reach their first FA Cup final.

The Final pitted Villa against local rivals West Bromwich Albion. With Albion installed as favourites, thousands travelled from Birmingham and the Black Country to watch the game. Winger Dennis Hodgetts opened the scoring for Villa in bizarre circumstances. The Albion keeper didn't bother to prevent the ball going into the net, as he believed, wrongly, that Hodgetts was offside. The legendary Archie Hunter added Villa's second. He prodded the ball over the goal-line while lying on the floor following a deliberate collision with the West Brom goalkeeper. Such 'attacks' on goalies were legal and commonplace back then. After a goalless second half, Hunter received the trophy, and with it the distinction of being Villa's first FA Cup winning captain.

Villa's team in their first FA Cup Final was as follows- Jimmy Warner (goalkeeper); Frank Coulton, Joseph Simmonds (backs), John Burton, Frederick Dawson, Harry Yates (centre/wing-halves), Richmond Davis, Albert Brown, Archie Hunter (c), Howard Vaughton, Dennis Hodgetts (forwards).

To add gloss to their victory Villa took on, and defeated, Scottish Cup winners Hibs the following Saturday. They could now make a legitimate claim to being 'best club in the World'.

FA Cup details[edit]

Further information: 1887 FA Cup Final
  • 1st Round v Wednesbury Old Athletic (H) 13–0 (Villa's all-time record win)
  • 2nd Round v Derby Midland (H) 6–1
  • 3rd Round v Wolverhampton Wanderers (H) 2–2
  • (Replay) v Wolverhampton Wanderers (A) 1–1
  • (Replay) v Wolverhampton Wanderers (A) 3–3
  • (Replay) v Wolverhampton Wanderers (H) 2–0
  • 4th Round Villa received a 'bye'
  • 5th Round v Horncastle (H) 5–0
  • 6th Round v Darwen (H) 3–2
  • Semi-Final v Rangers (at Crewe) 3–1
  • Final v West Bromwich Albion (at the Oval) 2–0

1887–88[edit]

The following year was not as successful. With competitive football at a premium, William McGregor (Villa's President) sought to create a competition involving regular matches and wrote to the leading clubs of the time (all based in the North of England and the Midlands).

After some discussion the clubs agreed to set up a twelve team league. Each club would play the other home and away, for a total of twenty-two matches each. Villa were to be joined in the inaugural competition by Stoke, Wolves, West Brom, Notts County, Burnley, Blackburn Rovers, Derby County, Bolton Wanderers, Everton, Accrington (no relation to the present-day Accrington Stanley) and Preston North End. Interestingly, the league was never styled 'the English League' as McGregor invisioned that Scottish clubs would one day wish to join.

Meanwhile, in Villa's last pre-league FA Cup campaign, they reached the Fifth Round, beating Small Heath 4-0 on the way. This was their first meeting with modern rivals Birmingham City. Preston were a fine side and the match was billed as a clash between England's best teams. This prompted a then-record crowd of 27,000, which the police had some difficulty keeping off the pitch. With Preston leading 3–1 and chaos in the stadium, the clubs tried to calm things down by declaring the match a 'friendly'. However, the FA overruled the decision and decided that the result would stand. Villa, the holders, were out.

FA Cup details[edit]

  • 1st Round v Oldbury Town (A) 4–0
  • 2nd Round v Small Heath (A) 4–0
  • 3rd Round Villa received a 'bye'
  • 4th Round v Shankhouse (A) 9–0
  • 5th Round v Preston North End (H) 1–3

1888–89[edit]

Villa finished as runners-up to Preston's 'Invincibles' double-winning team in their first league season. Ignominy was suffered in the FA Cup, however, as Villa lost 8-1 to Blackburn Rovers. This still remains their heaviest ever defeat.

FA Cup details[edit]

  • 1st Round v Witton (Lancashire) (H) 3–2
  • 2nd Round v Derby County (H) 5–3
  • 3rd Round v Blackburn Rovers (A) 1–8