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)

FA Cup:

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):

Champions: 1980-81

Runners-up: 1989-90, 1992-93

FA Cup

Winners: 1957

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)



  1. My theory ,is Lambert is a smoke screen of delusion
    To hide the failings of a failed owner. Who may even
    Be the artist BANKSY. They seek him here they seek him
    There ,that villa chairman who’s never there

  2. paul has made a very fair point. It is the backroom staff which make the difference. Will we ever know what Culverhouse and Karsa did?

    Lerner starts to lose it when STeve Stride dropped off the board, and of course Deadly had Steve beside him.

    What makes for a grim season in prospect is that no one seems to be in the board room at all and so who is making the decisions off the field should be worrying everyone. I am old enough to remember the days of Charlie Tabberner. Nice people in charge then… and we dropped into the third division.

    trevor fisher

  3. Yes an interesting era – just check out one name from this past – Herbert Chapman. Then you will realise the importance of management.

  4. you could argue that we did not have a manager in Rotterdam, as nice man though he was, tony Barton was not the manager who made the 1982 side and the one that won the super cup in 1983. As Sid Cowans shows, you have to have the players. Sid played for 4 years without missing a single game. And has league, European and European super cup medals to show for it.

    But without Saunder’s it would not have happened, any more than the 1975 and 1977 League FInal cups would have happened. The key factor is having a board room that can pick a winning manager. It is not obvious how to do this. Ron Saunders came from Norwich and Man City having failed with both. So a more useful way forward is to examine how he turned failure into success with Villa. He never did it again.

    Trevor Fisher.

    • The secret to Ron Saunders stewardship was the talent spotting skills of Tony Barton.
      Saunders had Barton helping him…..Barton didn’t have Saunders helping him.

  5. interesting fact but of total irrelevance in todays game,,, go to bed straight away with no tea for you ma boy,,,

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