The letter all Aston Villa fans should know


March 2, 1888 and April 17, 1888 were important days for football thanks to Mr. Aston Villa himself.

The first was the day that Villa director William McGregor wrote a letter that changed the face of the game forever.

The second was the day of the formation of the Football League.

McGregor’s idea turned out to be revolutionary – he asked football dignitaries across the country to come together and form a league.

At this historic moment, McGregor started a chain of events that led to the current system used in countries around the world.

The letter established a structure for teams to compete in regular matches.


The plaque on the statue of William McGregor at Villa Park

His letter was first sent to Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End and West Bromwich Albion.

He said, “Please offer the following suggestion as a way of overcoming the difficulty: that ten or twelve of England’s most prominent clubs combine to organize return matches each season. “

At that time, clubs only faced each other in cups and friendlies, but the game was rapidly gaining popularity, and Mr. McGregor decided that a new system was needed to build on that.


The Trinity Road stand and the statue of William McGregor at Villa Park.

Football visionary William McGregor has had a lifelong association with his beloved Aston Villa.

McGregor, born in Braco, Perthshire in 1847, moved to Birmingham in 1870. He joined the Villa committee at the age of 30 and then held all the club positions.

McGregor owned a drapery shop in Summer Lane, Aston, and lived on Witton Road.

He had become attracted to Villa because of the club’s ties to a local Wesleyan chapel, where he was a member of the congregation.

McGregor used his business and local politics skills to ultimately win a place on the club’s board of directors.

He had always been a “man of ideas”. He encouraged sobriety and demanded that Villa players who liked a beer join him in an Aston High Street cafe every Monday to discuss the evils of the drink.

The more he got involved in the game, the more he wanted to see an established structure – especially as professionalism began to embrace the sport.

But he didn’t like the word “league” and preferred to label his new idea of ​​regular competition between clubs like Association Football Union.

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His idea came from conversations with a friend Joe Tillotson, who told him fans were tired of watching one-sided friendlies.

Villa manager Tillotson was so angry when Villa opponents pulled out on a Saturday that he burst into Mr. McGregor’s cloth store to express his anger at the way soccer is played. was chaotic and lack of money to get to the clubs.

“The clubs were not exempt from the preliminary rounds of local and national cup competitions at the time, and it was not instructive to see a solid club beat a minor team by 26 goals to zero,” McGregor said in a statement. chronic. “You couldn’t expect people to be interested in such devices, but the professional payroll was there, and it had to be respected. “

What impact did his letters have?

The whereabouts of Mr. McGregor’s original letters are unknown. Unfortunately, they were probably destroyed or lost over time. But they had an immediate impact.

The winners met three weeks later, on the eve of the FA Cup final, at the Anderton Hotel on Fleet Street in London to discuss the idea. Another meeting in April at the Royal Hotel in Manchester agreed on a name for the competition – the Football League.


The stakeholder group increased to 12.

The Soccer League was formed by founding members Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The Football League was officially formed on April 17, 1888.

The inaugural season began on September 8, 1888.


William McGregor is best known as the founder of the Football League
William McGregor

On the 125th anniversary of the League’s formation in 2013, spokesperson John Nagle said McGregor’s plan was the signal for the game to decide whether to progress or be strangled at birth.

“The fact that years later the Football League continues to thrive and that League football has become a sporting phenomenon around the world is the greatest tribute possible to McGregor’s foresight,” said Nagle.

“You only have to look at the match lists of previous years to see the problems faced by the clubs.

The encounters were sporadic, with clubs sometimes going for weeks between matches when they needed the certainty of regular matches and regular income – as they do today.

“With hindsight, this may have been the most obvious thing to do, but 25 years have passed since the formation of the Football Federation and no one has found anything so visionary. McGregor’s idea met the needs of clubs and the paying public, while being very simple in its infancy, “added Mr. Nagle.

“The fact that 125 years in the Football League continue to thrive and that League Football has become a sporting phenomenon worldwide is the greatest tribute to McGregor’s foresight. “


Peter Warrilow of the Aston Villa Supporters Trust at the grave of William McGregor in 2011

He died in December 1911 and was buried three days later in St Mary’s Cemetery, Handsworth.

His funeral was on a Saturday afternoon when, a short distance away, his Villa team, wearing black armbands, defeated Sheffield United 1-0 at Villa Park.

Over the following decades, her grave, like the cemetery around it, was neglected, but it has since been restored and dedicated again thanks to the hard work and generosity of Villa supporters.

He is also commemorated by a statue outside Villa Park.

The bronze statue, by sculptor Sam Holland, is on display in front of the directors’ entrance to the Trinity Road stand and was unveiled on November 28, 2009.


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