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Thursday, July 5, 2012
A brief history of Aston Villa

Rob Smyth

Formed: 1874
Admitted to Football League: 1888
European Cup: 1981-82
UEFA Super Cup: 1982
First Division/Premier League: 7
Second Division: 2
Third Division Champions: 1
FA Cup: 7
League Cup: 5

The Premier League era has not always been kind to them but, in terms of major honours won, Aston Villa are the fourth most successful English club, with their 20 trophies placing them behind only Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. They were also the first English side to both do the Double and win the European Cup, and winners of the inaugural League Cup.

Villa were founded in 1874, when four members of the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel cricket team met under a gas light, and it was one of their directors, William McGregor, who set up the Football League in 1888. Villa were founder members and, under the management of their former player George Ramsay, became the most successful English club of the Victorian era.

They won five league titles in seven seasons from 1894 to 1900, and the FA Cup in 1887, 1895 and 1897 - the latter making them the second English side to do the Double. In the same year they moved to a new stadium, officially called Aston Villa Grounds but soon to become known as Villa Park.

There was a sixth league title in 1910 - Villa also finished second on five occasions between 1903 and 1914 - as well as further FA Cup wins in 1905, 1913 and 1920. Ramsay remains the only manager to have six FA Cups.

A period of relative mediocrity set in thereafter, despite the presence of the prolific Billy Walker, whose 244 goals are a club record, but it was a still huge shock when Villa were relegated for the first time in 1936. They were promoted after two season, but much of the next two decades were spent in mid-table.

Villa won their first trophy for 37 years in 1957, beating Manchester United in the FA Cup final, but it was a false dawn: they were relegated two seasons later. They won Division Two at the first attempt, and the following season brought another trophy to Villa Park when they beat Rotherham in the first-ever League Cup final. Again Villa failed to build on their success, and were relegated for a third time in 1967. On this occasion there was no instant return, and Villa plunged into a series of nadirs. They almost went bankrupt, after which the entire board resigned, and were then relegated to Division Three for the first time in the club's history in 1970.

By now Villa were under the chairmanship of Doug Ellis, who ran the club from 1968-75 and 1982-3006. Villa stayed in the third tier for two seasons before beginning their ascent back to the summit. In 1974 they appointed the uncompromising Ron Saunders as manager; in his first season they won promotion to the top flight and another League Cup. Another League Cup followed in 1977 - a season in which Andy Gray became the first person to win both the Player and Young Player of the Year awards - then came the big one. In 1981, Villa, who had only once finished in the top five of Division One since the war, won the title, famously using only 14 players all season.

Saunders quit halfway through the following season after a contract dispute. His assistant Tony Barton took over and guided Villa to an unforgettable European Cup victory, achieved with a 1-0 victory over Bayern Munich in Rotterdam. Peter Withe scored the winner; he shared hero status with Nigel Spink, the substitute goalkeeper who performed sensationally in only his second first-team game.

Villa actually finished 11th in the season they won the European Cup - no European champion has finished lower - and after a few more seasons in mid-table they were relegated in 1987. The new manager Graham Taylor achieved promotion at the first attempt, and two years later Villa finished second in Division One. Taylor left to manage England and was replaced by the Czechoslovakian Dr Jozef Venglos, the first non-British or Irish manager of an English top-flight side.

With the club almost relegated, Venglos left after one season. His replacement, Ron Atkinson, took Villa to second place in the inaugural Premier League season of 1992-93 - a campaign during which the majestic defender Paul McGrath was voted Player of the Year.

Success eventually came through the League Cup, with victories in 1994 - when they ultimately denied Manchester United a domestic Treble with a tactically immaculate 3-1 win - and 1996. Villa remain one of English football's top clubs, and finished in the top ten in 16 of the first 20 Premier League seasons, including three consecutive sixth-placed finishes from 2008 to 2010.

Things went downhill over the next few years however, as they sold some of their best players and finished 9th in 2010-11 before falling to 16th the following season. The unpopular Alex McLeish paid the price and Paul Lambert led them into a new era.

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