Aston villa legends — profiles of the greatest players and managers of aston villa football club

Aston Villa Legends — Profiles of the Greatest Players and Managers of Aston Villa Football Club

So many great players have represented Aston Villa in their illustrious history that putting together a list of twelve or so greats is close to impossible. Nevertheless, we’ve given it a go. With apologies the great players we’ve excluded, here is our list of Aston Villa Legends. (Current Aston Villa players are not included).

George Ramsay

Position: Forward (later secretary of the club)

Aston Villa Career: (as a player)  1976-1884
(as secretary) 1884 -1926  
The earliest of Aston Villa legends, Ramsay served the club both as player and secretary (a role that effectively made him manager of the team).

He was responsible for transforming the team from a disorganized group playing ‘kick and rush’, to an effective unit playing the passing game. And he was a skillful player himself with people coming to Villa matches just see him play.  

Ramsay retired from playing in June 1882 but took up the role of Secretary which he held from 1884-1926. During this time Villa won the League and FA Cup 6 times each, and establishing themselves as the premier club in England.
Archie Hunter

Position: Forward

Aston Villa Career: 1878-1890

Appearances: 367

Goals: 150

Villa’s first great captain, Hunter joined the club in 1878, ten years before the commencement of League football, and remained until the premature end of his career in 1890.

Ensured his status as an Aston Villa legend by being the first Villa captain to lift the FA Cup, and also the first player to score in every round of the cup during Villa’s victorious 1887 campaign.

Tragically, during a League match against Everton in 1890, he suffered a heart attack and collapsed. He would never play again, and died four years later at the age of just 35.

Billy Walker

Position: Forward

Aston Villa Career: 1920-1933

Appearances: 531

Goals: 244
Aston Villa legend, Billy Walker joined the club in 1914 and spent his entire playing career at Villa Park.

A skillful centre forward, he made 531 appearances, scoring 244 goals, and is the club’s all-time leading goalscorer.

He also stands second on the list of highest appearances and was a member of the 1920 FA Cup winning side.

After retirement Walker had a successful management career, leading both Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest to FA Cup success.

Eric Houghton

Position: Forward / Manager

Aston Villa Career: 1927-1946

Appearances: 392

Goals: 170
An Aston Villa legend who is often referred to as «Mr Aston Villa». Houghton played for the club for two decades and scored 170 goals in 392 games. He was something of a deadball specialist with a powerful shot that yielded 58 goals from the penalty spot and 30 from direct free kicks.

After finishing his playing career at Notts County he went on to become Aston Villa manager and led them to an FA Cup win in 1957.

He then had a spell as Notts County manager before returning again to Villa Park, this time as a director.

Trevor Ford

Position: Forward

Aston Villa Career: 1947-1950

Appearances: 128

Goals: 61
A prolific striker, Ford had a relatively short Villa career, playing 128 games over 3 seasons and scoring 61 goals. Still, he was the hero of the Holte End before a British record transfer fee of ?30,000 took him to Sunderland. At Sunderland he was even more prolific, hitting 67 goals in just 108 appearances before another big money move, this time to Cardiff City.

Ford retired in 1956 but returned a year later to play for PSV Eindhoven in Holland. He returned to the Football League and played his last season with Newport County in 1960-61.

Peter McParland

Position: Winger

Aston Villa Career: 1952-1962

Appearances: 340

Goals: 120

Arguably Villa’s greatest player of the 1950′s, McParland was signed from Dundalk in 1952 for a fee of ?3,880. He spent 10 years at the club, making 293 appearances and scoring 98 goals.

During this time he won the FA Cup in 1957 (scoring twice in the final), the Second Division title in 1960 and the League Cup in 1961.  

He later played for Wolves and Plymouth before finishing his career in the North American Soccer League with Atlanta Chiefs.

Charlie Aitken

Position: Defender

Aston Villa Career: 1959-1976

Appearances: 660

Goals: 16

An Aston Villa legend who is the club’s all-time appearance record holder with 659 appearances spanning an incredible 17 seasons from 1959 to 1976.

He was a member of the 1975 League Cup winning team, and also won the Third division title in his time at Villa.

Spent the last two seasons of his career playing for New York Cosmos in the NASL.

Brian Little

Position: Forward / Manager

Aston Villa Career: (as a player) 1970-1979
(as manager)  1994-1998

Appearances: 301

Goals: 82

Little played his entire career at Aston Villa, making 247 appearances and scoring 60 goals, many of them in a prolific partnership with Andy Gray.

Joining on schoolboy terms when the club had just dropped into the Third Division, he was part of a successful youth setup, and after progressing through the ranks he helped Villa back to the First Division in the early Seventies.

He was also part of the League Cup winning teams of 1975 and 1977, before a knee injury brought his career to a premature halt at the age of just 26.

Moving into management he coached Wolves, Darlington and Leicester City before being handed the Aston Villa job in 1994. He led the team to fourth place in the Premiership in 1995–96 and also won the League Cup. In February 1998, with the club in the bottom half of the table he resigned after  three years in charge.

He has since held managerial posts at Stoke, West Brom, Hull, Tranmere and Wrexham with little success.  

Ron Saunders

Position: Manager

Aston Villa Career: 1974-1982

A free-scoring centre-forward during his playing career, Saunders had spells as manager of Yeovil Town, Oxford United, Norwich City and Manchester City before taking over at Aston Villa — then a second division side — in 1974.

In his first season, he guided Villa to promotion and also won the League Cup. He won the League Cup again in 1977, and in 1981, led Villa to the League title for the first time in 71 years.

In January 1982, with Villa in the quarter-final of the European Cup, Saunders surprisingly resigned due to a contractual dispute. His assistant Tony Barton took over, and guided the club to European Cup glory four months later.

Subsequent moves to rivals Birmingham City, and West Bromwich Albion do not sully his status as an Aston Villa legend

Denis Mortimer

Position: Midfielder

Aston Villa Career: 1975-1985

Appearances: 405

Goals: 36

Villa’s European Cup winning captain began his career at Coventry City, where he made over 200 appearances before moving to Villa Park in 1975. He made 403 appearances in Villa colours, scoring 39 goals and winning the League title, League Cup and, the crowning moment of his Villa career, the  European Cup in 1982.

After leaving Aston Villa, Mortimer moved to Brighton and then blotted his copybook somewhat by joining Birmingham City. Still, he remains an Aston Villa legend and one of the club’s greatest ever captains.

Gordon Cowans

Position: Midfielder

Aston Villa Career: 1976-1985; 1988-1991; 1993-1994

Appearances: 528

Goals: 59
A product of Aston Villa’s youth system Gordon Cowans joined the club as an apprentice in 1974, and was part of a successful team that won the FA Youth Cup. He signed as a professional in 1976 and made his first team debut as a 17-year-old.

Cowans had three spells with Villa broken by stints with Bari and Blackburn Rovers. During his career with the club he won the First Division title, the European Cup, European Super Cup, and the League Cup.

After leaving the club for the final time in 1994 he played for Derby, Wolves, Sheffield United, Bradford City, Stockport County and Burnley before retiring in 1997.

Peter Withe

Position: Forward

Aston Villa Career: 1980-1985

Appearances: 182

Goals: 90
Something of a late-bloomer in the game, Withe had spells in South Africa and the US before signing for Nottingham Forest in 1976, where he won the League title. He then spent two seasons at Newcastle United, and in 1980 moved to Aston Villa for a club record ?500,000.

It was to prove an inspired signing as Withe and Gary Shaw delivered the goals that drove Villa to the League title in 1981.

All in all Withe scored 74 goals in 182 appearances for Villa, but his status as an Aston Villa legend is secure thanks to one strike — the winner in the 1982 European Cup final against Bayern Munich.

Paul McGrath

Position: Defender

Aston Villa Career: 1989-1996

Appearances: 321

Goals: 10

Aston Villa legend McGrath began his professional career with League of Ireland club St Patrick’s Athletic. In his first season he won the PFAI Player of the Year Award and attracted the attention of Manchester United.

He moved to Old Trafford in 1982, but his time at United was disappointing, plagued by knee injuries and an alcohol problem, although he did help the club to an FA Cup win in 1985.

In 1989, he signed for Aston Villa, where he would play some of the best football of his life, helping them to two second-place finishes and two League Cup triumphs. He also received the PFA Footballer of the Year award in 1993.
McGrath left Aston Villa in 1996, and had short spells with Derby County and Sheffield United before retiring in 1998.

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