Based in Aston, Birmingham, the Premier League football club known as Aston Villa can trace its roots back to the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel cricket team. Players reportedly met beneath a gaslight one evening in 1874 to form a new football club. By the end of the 19th century, they would prove to be the most successful side in all of England.
In those early days, a fierce local rivalry soon developed with neighbouring Birmingham City. The so-called “Second City Derby” between the two clubs has been played since 1879. Other enduring match-ups dating back to those formative years include West Midlands derbies against West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Coventry City.
Villa’s first major triumph came in 1887, when they defeated West Brom by a score of 2-0 to capture the FA Cup before a crowd of 15,000 spectators. When the Football League was formed the following year, the Lions were an obvious choice for First Division participation.
Aston Villa gained their first League Championship in 1893-94 and then went on to dominate with four more titles between 1895 and 1900. Along the way, they also picked up two more FA Cup trophies (1895 and 1897), proving themselves without peer in the waning years of the Victorian Era. That period was also marked by a move from Perry Barr to Villa Park in 1897.
The “Villans” continued to be a force as the 20th century unfurled, winning a fourth FA Cup in 1905 by beating Newcastle United by two goals in front of 101,117 onlookers. A sixth League title in 1910 and a record-equaling fifth FA Cup in 1913 were prelude to a stunning upset over heavily favoured Huddersfield in the 1920 FA Cup final.
For a team that had never known anything but success, the middle part of the century was a bitter disappointment. They could muster no better on the League table than a runner-up finish to Arsenal in 1931 before suffering the humiliation of relegation to the Second Division in 1936. A tier-two Championship in 1937-38 brought them back to the top flight, but by then the War years were upon Britain and football languished.
It was not until 1957, after 37 years without a major victory, that Aston Villa regained a glimmer of their former brilliance by taking the FA Cup over Manchester United 2-1 in the final. A brief drop back to Division Two was amended by winning that title in 1959-60 and then taking possession of the newly created League Cup by beating Rotherham United over two legs in 1961.
The Lions’ roar was short-lived, however. By the end of the 1969-70 season, they had fallen to their lowest point ever—relegated all the way down to the Third Division. It took the appointment of Ron Saunders as manager in 1973 to spur a turnaround. Under his guidance, League Cup victories followed in 1975 and 1977, and at long last the League Championship was regained in 1981. As a fitting conclusion to Saunders’ reign, the Lions gave him a victory over Bayern Munich to win the European Cup in 1982.
Then, gravity prevailed once again. Relegation in 1987 was followed by two turbulent decades of inconsistent performances and managerial changes. In the first season of the Premier League (1991-92), Villa were runners-up to Manchester United, but a pair of League Cups, earned in 1994 and 1996, were the only silverware the squad would have to show for twenty years of struggles.
So it came about after the turn of the new millennium that sweeping changes occurred at Villa Park. American businessman Randy Lerner took over as chairman, and the team got not only a new crest but also a new kit sponsor.
For a while, Martin O’Neill seemed to be the answer to the Club’s managerial needs, but he resigned abruptly in 2010. A succession of replacements has left former Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish in charge under a three-year contract, much to the chagrin of many fans who detest anything related to their longtime rival.
Betting on Aston Villa to finish near the top of the table nowadays is a bit risky. Until there is more stability in the Club, the drought of Premiership titles should continue. They are quite capable of the occasional upset, paying long odds, but the attendant risk may be too great for more conservative handicappers.