Villa stressing you out right now? Wondering if Davis or Samatta will ever score again? Fancy a bit of escapism?
Course you do.
For the season’s penultimate delve into the past, let’s focus on a season where Villa were near the top, and goals were as common as swearwords after that El Ghazi miss last Thursday.
A change to the offside rule in 1925 led to a glut of goals in the following few seasons. Villa and Arsenal were good teams and well placed to take advantage.
Arsenal were under legendary manager Herbert Chapman, who they’d lured from Huddersfield in 1925. They’d won the FA Cup in 1930 (their first major trophy) and were now after the League Championship. Villa were led by W.J Smith, who’d taken over following George Ramsey’s retirement in 1926. A Villa stalwart, Smith started at the club aged 17 and remained with us until his death in 1957.
Villa made the stronger start to the season, winning six out of our first seven games. As if to pre-empt the season’s goal-fest, Villa were involved in a seven-goal thriller against Manchester United on the opening day. Then followed a home win over Sheffield Wednesday and a 6-1 thrashing of West Ham (could do with that again pretty soon). We suffered our first loss at Middlesbrough on 27 September, then won only one out of the next eight matches. On 8th November we met league leaders Arsenal at Highbury. Cliff Bastin and David Jack scored twice as we lost 5-2 in front of 56,000. That result put Arsenal 3 points clear at the top. They stretched that lead to four by New Year’s Day 1931, and also had two games in hand.
The title seemed all but lost.
In January, the teams were drawn together in the FA Cup. With top striker Tom ‘Pongo’ Waring injured, Villa gained a creditable 2-2 draw at Highbury. Waring returned for the replay at Villa Park, but we were beaten 3-1 in front of a crowd of 73,000.
The cup defeat seemed to galvanise Villa, we won 9 out of our next 11 matches. Waring scored 14 goals as Villa blitzed everything in their path. 8-1 v Middlesbrough , 6-1 v Huddersfield and a 4-0 win at St. Andrews were amongst the results during a great run.
On 14th March, we faced Arsenal at Villa Park. Thirsty for revenge, Villa thumped the Gunners 5-1, with Tom Waring and Eric Houghton scoring twice, and Billy Walker getting the other.
The gap at the top was down to just two points.
In typical Villa fashion, we shot ourselves in the foot. A 1-1 draw with Derby saw Arsenal go 3 points clear. We then suffered a disastrous 5-0 hammering by Portsmouth at Fratton Park. Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 the same day to extend their lead with only 5 matches left.
That was it. Arsenal won 4 out of their last 5 to take their first Championship. A 3-1 victory over Liverpool at Highbury meant the title was won with two games to spare. Villa lost our last game at Sheffield Wednesday leaving a final gap of 7 points.
The Villa boys couldn’t be too hard on themselves. We’d scored an incredible 128 goals (a record which stands to this day) including 86 at Villa Park. Tom Waring was the League’s top scorer with 49 goals in 42 games. Arsenal had been brutally consistent, and with today’s 3 points for a win would have totaled 94 points, pretty hard to equal. They’d also scored 60 goals away from home, which 89 years later is still a record.
In the following years, Arsenal were dominant. They won 5 titles and an FA Cup in 1936. World War Two stalled their progress, and they’ve never been as consistently good since. Villa were again runners up to Arsenal in 1932-33, then suffered a sharp decline leading to relegation in 1936. We were promoted in 1938, but in truth, the 1930s were the decade where Aston Villa fell from the pinnacle of English football.
Today, we stand again on the brink of dropping out of English football’s elite league. What we would give for a modern-day Tom Waring or Billy Wright to emerge and save us from returning to the second tier.
Whatever happens tonight, it might help to remember that it’s just another story in the long history of our extraordinary football club.
Let’s hope it has a happy ending.