Proud history, uncertain future

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It was 1874, the exact date isn’t known due to conflicting evidence but what we do know is it was the beginning of Aston Villa.

The club dominated the Victorian era winning several league titles and becoming only the second team to do the league and cup ‘double’. A feat that wouldn’t be achieved again until 1960-61.

Up until the 1982 European Cup triumph, Aston Villa had won more domestic honours than any other club.

Since then, success has been scarce and of a much lesser value in relation to the illustrious past.

Football became recognised as a professional sport in 1885 and the first football league was formed in 1888 following the ground work of William McGregor.

McGregor moved to Birmingham originally for business purposes and in 1877, the Scot became involved with Aston Villa. He then spent over two decades at the club in a variety of roles, most notably as the club’s chairman.

In 1888, McGregor organised a meeting of representatives of England’s leading clubs. Frustrated at fixtures being cancelled regularly, McGregor helped to establish the Football League, to ensure all member clubs would participate in a guaranteed fixture list each season.

The Football League would involve just 12 clubs. 131 years on from the landmark day and 11 of the 12 teams are still up and running with Accrington folding back in 1896.

Amazingly since then, there have been over 130 different clubs involved and the league currently boasts 72 places across the Championship, League One and League Two. Not forgetting the introduction of Premier League football in 1992.

The 12 teams that contested the inaugural Football League were Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Derby, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Preston North End were champions, going undefeated in all 22 games, winning 18 and drawing four. Aston Villa were runners up.

The era also shows a complete contrast to today in that the Midlands was a prominent so called ‘powerhouse’ making up for half of the league places.

There were no London teams, no Manchester dominance and if the players weren’t from England or Scotland then they were a rarity unlike today’s incredible blend of nationalities on show.

Why the lesson in history?

On Friday, Aston Villa are due to travel to Bolton, to face Bolton Wanderers at the University of Bolton Stadium which holds just short of 29,000.

Bolton, like Villa, were founded in 1874 themselves. Adopting their current name just three years after their arrival into the game of football.

They have spent more seasons than any other club in the top flight without winning the title and their most notable honours include four F.A. Cups and two League Cups.

At the point at which I started to write this, the game on Friday was in serious doubt. Huge financial troubles, players and staff not being paid to do their jobs and a real struggle to pay the public services who are vital week in, week out to ensure our safety and due care are catered for.

In the last hour or so, Bolton seemingly appear to have secured a new owner to buy them more time and in our case as Villa fans, hopefully allow our game to now go ahead as planned.

However, it’s not as simple as job done.

As Villa fans, we have been through enough financial worries and ownership concerns. At the end of last season it came out that missing out on promotion to the Premier League wasn’t just a hope and desire, but a complete must to potentially secure the very existence of Aston Villa.

Out of the founding 12 clubs, only Burnley, Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers hold Premier League status. A league where finishing bottom sees you immediately entering the richest clubs lists across world football with an influx of a 9-figure sum in broadcasting and sponsorship rights.

In a day where the EFL have celebrated the 131st birthday of the League being founded, marking it as a birthday on social media fronts, more and more clubs are being strangled and killed off by both the corporate greed of the Premier League and the allowance of investors promising the world to turn their clubs into the next best team.

I obviously speak as a Villa fan of 30 years old. I’m relatively young in comparison to the many supporters who have been before me and my generation have experienced differences to those of each era.

I grew up listening to stories from my dad, a Holte End regular from 1971 to 2009 who travelled all over Europe and across the football leagues.

I’ve spoken to older generations who were there in 1957, the last time Villa won the F.A. Cup.

But there will be many generations after me who are the future of our club and in fact all clubs.

With the rapid increase in the financial divides, more clubs will struggle to keep their heads above water and more clubs will inevitably exit the football league or fold.

A league set up to guarantee fixtures for clubs who loved football, seeing it’s very own falling by the wayside.

Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Portsmouth, Coventry City, Blackburn Rovers and many others come to mind in recent times.

Notts County, another of the founding members sit bottom of the Football League with only four games remaining.

I’ve seen too many fans, some unfortunately of our own mocking the fact that Bolton have been struggling to fund the security at games.

Whoever your club and whoever your rivals, today should be a day to remember the great work that William McGregor did in starting off the development of the sport we all love and in our own case, the growth of our team in Aston Villa.

Today should also be a lesson for the Football Association, the Premier League and the EFL in how to ensure fairness to some degree and to fully analyse just how ‘fit and proper’ the ‘fit and proper owners’ test really is.

 

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