Instead of a manager, Villa originally used a ‘board of directors’.
No, this has nothing to do with Paul Lambert, Tim Sherwood, Rémi Garde or Roberto Di Matteo. It’s to do with Aston Villa and managers, full-stop.
When you look back at Aston Villa’s history of over 140 years, there’s a story that sounds like it’s straight out of ‘A Venglos View‘…but it’s actually true.
You know the ‘Proud History’ mantra of Aston Villa due to our great trophy haul in the early days of football, after we invented the football league? I’m talking about this little collection:
Football League (top flight):
Champions: 1893-94, 1895-96, 1896-97, 1898-99, 1899-1900, 1909-10 (6)
Runners-up: 1888-89, 1902-03, 1907-08, 1910-11, 1912-13, 1913-14, 1930-31, 1932-33 (8)
Winners: 1887, 1895, 1897, 1905, 1913, 1920 (6)
Runners-up: 1892, 1924 (2)
That’s six league championships and six FA Cup wins (including the double-winning season of 1896-97), not to mention eight league runners-up spots.
Do you know the single thing that all this early success of the club was down to?
It all happened before Aston Villa decided to even bother enlisting the services of an actual manager.
Yes, without a manager for decades, Villa were world-beaters. Other teams were using managers, as they became increasingly fashionable, but Villa kept to their guns and their footballing Luddite nature served them well.
Instead of a manager, Villa originally used a ‘board of directors’. It would seem they knew a lot more about football than their modern-day counterparts!
Do you want to know the secret to attacking football? Again, it’s not having a manager. Villa scored 128 goals in the 1930-31 season (still a top-flight record), three years before they finally gave in and recruited their first manager.
As the ‘Aston Villa: The Complete Record’ book states:
‘While numerous other clubs had been operating with a manager for a number of years, Villa declined to do so until 1934 when, as the club programme revealed: ‘Aston Villa’s methods are to move with the times, as all methods must.’
There’s a cautionary tale to come though about not sticking to your guns and giving in to peer-group pressure…
Villa’s first manager was Jimmy McMullan, a former Scottish international, who was appointed June 1934.
You could say, he started something of a curse for Villa and Scottish managers (Docherty, McNeill, McLeish, and Lambert). His first game was a 2-1 defeat by the Blues. The club finished 13th, unlucky for McMullan, as he then won only three out of the opening 11 games of the following season. A run that included a 7-0 defeat by the Albion, a result that prompted McMullan to resign. Villa were later relegated at the end of the season for the first time in their history.
So much for the supposed benefits of having a manager. I mean, just look at Villa’s record from 1934 to the present day when they’ve employed them…
Football League (top flight, inc Premier League):
Runners-up: 1989-90, 1992-93
Runners-up 2000, 2015
One league and one FA Cup in 80-odd years. It’s a paltry return compared to what managerless Aston Villa teams won in a much shorter space of time.
To cut Villa managers some slack, at least they proved useful in winning five League Cups and of course a European Cup.
Although, if Villa’s history is anything to go by, if Villa began that night in Rotterdam without a manager, they would have probably beaten Bayern Munich by four or five! It’s worth pointing out that the manager who was reasonable for building the team, Ron Saunders, walked out the club at the quarter-final stages of the cup that season; maybe that actually helped?
Joking aside, considering Villa’s tradition and history, it’s amazing to think only one Villa manager has experienced winning a top flight league championship (Ron Saunders) and a single Villa boss has lifted the FA Cup (Eric Houghton).
So on top of Saunders, Houghton, Barton, the only managers who have won a proper trophy (i.e. not the Intertoto or Peace Cup) are Joe Mercer, Ron Atkinson and Brian Little. So six managers in total. No doubt that’s been a Villa quiz question a few times over the years.
Just six trophy-winning managers in 140 years. It makes you wonder why we bother employing them, when you look at the managerless halcyon days of winning trophies for fun.
(Article updated: 03/10/16)