Founder member of The Football League 1888
1874-1877 a o r B
1877-1878 x B
1879-1880 (2) y
Jan 81-Jan 84* a o x B
February 1884 o B
Feb 1884 B y
April 84?-cFeb 86 o
cFeb-May 1886 y B
Nov 1886-1887 c o y B
1890-1891 c o B
1890-1892 b m o B
1892-1894 b o d
1893-1894 b h o
1894-1900 b h i B
1901-1905 b h i j A
1901-1908 alt y B
1905-1907 C D
1907-Dec 1923 b h i z B
Jan 1924-1935 b B
1936-1944 b z D
1946-1955 b i s D
1956-Jan 1957 B
Jan-May 1957 b i
1957-1958 b i
1961-1963 f l
Sept1968-Jan 1969 i l
Feb-May 1969 B
Jan-May 1970 B
1971-1973 i l
1982-1983 g t v
1982-1983 Eur E
1984-1985 g k
1985-1986 g v
1985-87 alternate g v
1987-1988 n v
1988-1989 g n v
The club was formed by members of the cricket team attached to the Aston Villa Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Birmingham who wanted to establish a winter activity. After four of their number watched a game of rugby the members decided that the association rules were more to their taste.
Over time Villa developed strong ties with the large Scottish community who were drawn to the city’s burgeoning engineering industry. One Scot in particular, businessman, William McGregor, played an enormously influential role in the club and the professional game. McGregor was a teetotaler and an evangelist Methodist who wanted to do something to help the city. He had seen his first football match in Scotland at the age of eight and a couple of years after Aston Villa was formed he offered to help. A natural organiser and businessman, he was soon a vice-president of the club, and became Chairman at the time of Villa’s first organisationally traumatic period between 1885 and 1887, but which culminated in the club winning the FA Cup for the first time. It was at McGregor’s instigation that the Football League was formed in 1888 when the game threatened to fall into disrepute and collapse owing to fixtures not being kept to.
The team's first colours were described as "scarlet and royal blue stripes" (i.e. hoops - vertical stripes did not appear until the 1880s). The following season they wore black and white tops and in 1878 they purchased a set of black shirts emblazoned with the Scottish lion rampant. William McGregor actually went to Scotland to purchase the lion motifs and they were subsequently sewn on by the sister of the club secretary (ref: The Aston Villa Chronicles). The following season jerseys replaced the original shirts but the lion motif faded badly in the laundry. Charles S Johnstone, an influential player, interviewed late in life said, "Our lion had no chance with the washing lady! He became pale and anaemic so Mac (William McGregor) was deputed to send to Scotland for thirteen lions on shields proper, which could be attached and detached at will....When they were duly attached you could hardly see the man for the lion - we were each as self-conscious as a bride in a wedding dress. We went on the field but the gorgeous lion got us down. We had a most awful whacking and the lion was relegated to the club notepaper and flags."
Lee Gauntlett has found a reference in the club handbook from 1990-91 that states, "Villa wore new maroon jerseys with a lion rampant emblazoned across their chests" in the 1880-81 seaon. For their game against Heart of Midlothian on New Years' Day 1881 Villa wore navy and white hooped jerseys and there is evidence that these colours were worn at least until January 1884. A contemporary press cutting describes Villa as "the Blacks" in an FA Cup tie with Notts County on 12 February 1881. It appears that in the period 1880-82 the team played variously in black, maroon and navy/white. We are seeking more information.
John Lerwill's research suggests that vertically striped in black and white were worn from at least May 1886 (and probably considerably earlier) while Bernard Gallagher has uncovered evidence that " piebald shirts" in white and red were perhaps worn before the striped tops appeared. Gauntlett has found a reference in the Birmingham Gazette dated 5 April 1884 that describes Villa playing against West Brom, "in a brand new and pretty uniform." Alas the writer gives no further detail but it may be he was referring to the first use of the piebald tops. Given the scarcity of original references it is hard to be certain so the graphics presented above are to a degree, provisional.
A contemporary press report submitted by Lee Gauntlett, states that Villa changed in November 1886 to blue and chocolate vertical stripes from the old piebald strip. These new shirts bore the Birmingham coat of arms of the time.
In 1887, the Villa adopted claret and blue for the first time, though the new colours were very similar to the chocolate and blue of 1886. In the early 1890s halved shirts were usually worn but from time to time they used plain claret tops with contrasting light blue sleeves. In 1894, Villa adopted the iconic woolen jersey with a distinctive contrasting neck band as their regular first choice, which John Lerwill has discovered, were designed by Ollie Whateley, who was Villa’s third England international and a graphic artist by trade. This style would be copied by many English clubs. Long after other professional clubs switched to wearing cotton shirts, Villa continued to wear these distinctive woolen jerseys, with subtle vertical ribbing.
By the end of the nineteenth century Aston Villa were established as aristocrats of the English game with five League Championships along with three FA Cup triumphs. In 1896/7 they also achieved the accolade of becoming the second side to do the League and Cup double.
There is a puzzling reference in the Birmingham Gazette of 30 September 1901 (researched by Lee Gauntlett) that states Villa were wearing red jerseys "to deflect the glare of the sun." The match was against Small Heath in the Birmingham Cup but John Lerwill has confirmed that Villa did indeed wear red tops in some League matches between 1901 and 1908. Indeed, William McGregor frequently referred to this in his newspaper column and expressed concern that Villa might drop their iconic claret/blue tops. It transpires that these were lightweight alternatives to the usual heavy woollen jerseys that became unbearable in hot weather.
The photograph of Frank Moss (October 1914) on the right shows just how thick these jerseys were and reveals that they also had a blue "skirt" that was normally tucked into the players' knickers.
During the Edwardian era Villa continued to be a major force, winning the championship once more in 1910 and taking the FA Cup in 1905 and 1913.
Success was harder to achieve after the Great War, an FA Cup win in 1920 providing their only major trophy. In January 1924 a modified design was introduced with a high crew neck with two light blue bands, repeated at the cuffs. These jerseys were originally laced at the throat but the lacing was quickly discarded or lost in the laundry and the neckline became stretched, giving rise to a scruffy appearance, especially when the neckline flopped over on itself. The older, single hooped neckline re-emerged several times but the high, double banded neck did not disappear until the end of the 1955-56 season.
The 1930s were a period of relative decline and the club even suffered the humiliation of a brief stay in the Second Division (1936-1938).
With the introduction of the modern, "Continental" strip made from cotton in 1956, the club crest appeared on their shirts for the first time during their FA Cup, which ended with them winning the cup for the seventh time. It featured the traditional Scottish lion rampant that had first appeared in 1878.
This FA Cup success proved a brief flash in the pan and by 1970 the club found themselves in the Third Division. Before he was sacked towards the end of their relegation season, the charismatic Tommy Docherty introduced a radical new design of strip and a simplified crest. The innovative collars with v inset became de rigueur throughout the League. This unusual strip was dropped after Docherty's departure.
With Ron Saunders at the helm and yet another new crest (introduced in 1973), the late Seventies brought a return to Division One (1975) success in the League Cup twice (1975 and 1977) and in 1981, Villa won the League for the first time in 70 years. The following season, after a falling-out with the club's chairman, Saunders was replaced by his assistant, Tony Barton who led Villa to victory in the European Cup Final followed by the European Super Cup (contested between the European Champions and European Cup Winners' Cup) the following season.
These achievements marked the high point in Villa's career and in 1987, they were relegated to the Second Division. Under Graham Taylor, they bounced straight back and finished as runners-up in 1990. Two years later they became founder members of the Premier League, wearing a striking strip inspired by the iconic hoop-neck jerseys first seen in 1890 and bearing a rather more traditional crest.
In the Nineties, Aston Villa were inconsistent in the league but did win two League Cups, regularly qualified for Europe and were beaten FA Cup finalists in 2000.
In 2006, following the acrimonious departure of manager, David O'Leary, Villa's chairman, Doug Ellis decided to retire on health grounds and sold his 38% stake in the club to Randy Lerner, owner of NFL franchise team, Cleveland Browns. Martin O'Neill was appointed as manager and sweeping changes made behind the scenes, which included yet another redesigned crest, which appeared in 2007. A small white star represented Villa's European Cup win.
In 2008 Villa broke new ground when they wore the logo of Acorns Children's Hospice on their shirts in place of the usual commercial sponsorship.
In 2013, following the trend for retro-inspired kits, Macron designed a home strip based on the iconic Le Coq Sportif version worn when Villa won the European Cup 30 years earlier.
With thanks to John Lerwill, Villa's official historian, for adding valuable detail to the Victorian period covered in this article.
- (a) The Complete Encyclopedia of Aston Villa
- (b) The Aston Villa Collection
- (c) Astonbrook Through Aston Manor website dedicated to the history of Aston with some splendid Victorian photographs.
- (d) The Villa Park Encyclopedia: An A-Z of AVFC (Mainstream Publishing 1997)
- (e) Sheffield United FC - Images of Sport (f) Ipswich Town FC - Images of Sport
- (g) Sporting Heroes
- (h) Aston Villa Official Website
- (i) Football Focus
- (j) Bury FC - Images of Sport (Peter Cullen 1998)
- (k) True Colours (John Devlin 2005)
- (l) Forever Villa (David Instone 2005)
- (m) Association of Football Statisticians - provided by Pete Wyatt
- (n) David King
- (o) Bernard Gallagher
- (p) Derek Hart
- (q) Steve Morris
- (r) Claret & Blue magazine provided by Martin Kender
- (s) Playfair Football Annual 1948-49 provided by Alexander Howells
- (t) Brian Melmore
- (u) Malcolm Pugh
- (v) Christopher Worrall
- (w) David Heaton
- (x) Wikipedia
- (y) Lee Gauntlett
- (z) Simon Monks
- (A) British Film Institute archive (Youtube)
- (B) John Lerwill (Official Aston Villa Historian) author of The Aston Villa Chronicles (1874-1924).
- (C) The Lordprice Collection
- (D) Keith Ellis
- (E) Ettore Bucciarelli
Modern crests are the property of Aston Villa FC.