Archibald (Archie) Hunter was born in Joppa, Ayrshire, on 23rd September 1859. A talented centre-forward, he played for Third Lanark.
Hunter moved to Birmingham in search of work in August, 1878. Hunter found a job and a fellow-workmen, George Uzzell, suggested he should join local club, Aston Villa.
The captain of the club was another Scotsman, George Ramsay. The two men introduced what was known as the "passing game". This was the main style used in Scotland whereas in England most teams relied on what was known as the "dribbling game".
As Graham McColl pointed out in his book, Aston Villa: 1874-1998: "It was a style of play modelled on that which was prevalent in Scotland at the time which was prevalent in Scotland at the time and which had been pioneered by Queen's Park, the Glasgow side. This type of sophisticated teamwork had rarely been employed in England. Instead, individuals would try to take the ball as far as they could on their own until stopped by an opponent."
Another Scotsman, William McGregor, joined Aston Villa in 1877. Although he was only a moderate footballer he was a great organizer. With his encouragement, Aston Villa entered the Football Association Challenge Cup in the 1879-80 season.
In the 1880-81 season Aston Villa won 21 of their 25 games. They also won the Staffordshire Cup that year. In 1882 George Ramsay retired from playing and Hunter replaced him as captain of the club. Ramsay now became club secretary. Under the guidance of Hunter, Ramsay and William McGregor, the club reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in 1883 and 1884.
In 1884 the great Scottish team, Queen's Park, was invited to Birmingham to play a friendly game against Aston Villa. Archie Hunter later recalled "no sooner had we begun to take up our positions (for the match) than pigeons could be seen flying from all parts bearing away the news that the battle had begun." Aston Villa won 2-1 and Hunter commented that "I was followed home by a multitude roaring as if I had won the Battle of Waterloo".
Hunter was known as the "Old Warhorse". In his book, Who's Who of Aston Villa, Tony Matthews argues that Hunter "was an individualist with a commanding personality; he was robust yet decidedly fair and never committed a foul in anger... he was a mixture of toughness and cleverness, a player who often ran down the touchline, pulling defenders all over the field."
Aston Villa did very well in the 1886-87 season. They lost very few games and scored over 130 goals in the process. Stars of the team included Archie Hunter, Albert Brown, Dennis Hodgetts and Howard Vaughan. Aston Villa also had a good run in the 1886-87 FA Cup. They beat Wolverhampton Wanderers (2-0), Horncastle (5-0), Darwen (3-2) and Glasgow Rangers (3-1) to reach the final for the first time. Their local rivals, West Bromwich Albion, also reached the final.
The FA Cup final was to be played at the Kennington Oval. The experienced Archie Hunter believed that this ground would be to the advantage of Aston Villa: "Our style of play is suited to a big ground, and the Albion with their long passing have the advantage on a small field. On the Oval we both shall have an equal chance, and where things are equal the short passing game is always the best. These are my reasons for thinking we will win on Saturday."
Aston Villa beat West Bromwich Albion, 2-0, with goals from Hunter and Hodgetts. In fact, Hunter became the first player to score in every round of the FA Cup competition.
The first season of the Football League began in September, 1888. Preston North End won the first championship that year without losing a single match and acquired the name the "Invincibles". Eighteen wins and four draws gave them a 11 point lead at the top of the table. Aston Villa finished in second place with 29 points. Hunter scored seven goals in 19 games.
On 4th January, 1890, Hunter collapsed of a heart attack while playing for Aston Villa against Everton. He accepted medical advice and retired from football. Hunter had scored 42 goals in 73 first-class games, 33 of which came in the FA Cup.
In 1890 Archie Hunter wrote a series of articles for the Birmingham Weekly Mercury about his time as an Aston Villa player. This material was later published as a book, Triumphs of the Football Field.
Archie Hunter died of heart failure in a Birmingham hospital on 29th November 1894. He was 35 years old. In their book, The Essential Aston Villa, Adam Ward and Jeremy Griffin pointed out: "Archie Hunter was a Victorian sporting celebrity. He was Aston Villa's first truly great footballer and was the idol of the Perry Barr supporters for more than a decade. Archie was a forward who played the game with a rare blend of power and skill, and his strength was a particularly useful quality at a time when barging and kicking were often considered legitimate defensive tactics."
I was christened in the courthouse of the prison because at that time the church was undergoing repairs and could not be used for the ceremony. Not far from Joppa my father had a farm, but he died while I was too young to remember him; and before I was many years older the family removed to Ayr, where I was sent to school. My three brothers - all dead now - were athletes, and I suppose the love of good, hearty games ran in our blood. The excellent country air, and the rural life we led, gave us plenty of strength and fitted us for out-door sports.
It wasn't long before I was playing football at school with the other lads; but football in those days was very different to what it is now or ever will be again. There were no particular rules and we played pretty much as we liked; but we thought we were playing the Rugby game, of course, because the Association hadn't started then. It didn't matter as long as we got goals; and besides, we only played with one another, picking sides among ourselves and having friendly matches in the playground. Such as it was though, I got to like the game immensely, and I spent as much time as I could kicking the leather. We were a merry lot, but by and by I had to leave school while I was still very young, and I was rather sorry, I can assure you.
I was sorry to go, but I wanted to continue playing, so I joined the Ayr Star Football Club, which was then a Rugby Union team and for a short time I played the strict Rugby game. After playing the season under the Rugby rules we held a meeting, not, as you might think, in some comfortable room, but under the blue canopy of heaven, and by lamp-light; and after considerable discussion we determined to alter the name of the club from the 'Star' to the 'Thistle'. But there was soon to be a great change. The Queen's Park, the leading club in Scotland, adopted the Association rules almost as soon as they were made and of course, most of the other clubs began to follow the example. The 'Thistle' Club was one of them. I had only played in two matches under the old code, officiating as full back... but now we began to practise dribbling...
And we went in for the new game with enthusiasm, I can tell you. Every other night saw us in hard training, and we learnt the art of working well together. In my opinion that is the secret of success. Good combination on the part of the players is greatly to be preferred to the muscular powers of one or two of them. Strength has got very little chance against science.
While I was in Scotland I had become acquainted with the Calthorpe Football Club, which used to come up and play the second team of Queen's Park. There were some very fair players in the Calthorpe and I made up my mind, on arriving in Birmingham, to join them. But one of my fellow-workmen, George Uzzell, mentioned Aston Villa to me as a club that had come rapidly to the fore and asked me to become a member of it. I hesitated for some time, but at last my friend told me that a "brother Scot," Mr. George Ramsay, was the Villa captain and that decided me. Mr. Ramsay was a Glasgow man and had exerted himself very considerably to bring the Villa team into the front rank. He was himself a good right-wing forward and was well supported by W. B. Mason. So to Mr. Ramsay I went and we at once became good friends and remain so to this day.
Mr. Ramsay was practically the founder of the Aston Villa Football Club. He had had good tuition in the game while in Scotland and as a member of the Oxford Club he had gained plenty of experience and taken part in several first-class matches. A short time before he left, his club had tied three times with the Glasgow Rangers for the Scotch Cup. He was keeping goal and he relates that on the last occasion he saved his goal at the expense of a broken nose.
Mr. Ramsay was a capital all-round player and could take any position and give a good account of himself. Coming to Birmingham he found football here in a very backward state. The four principal clubs were St. Mary's, Aston Unity, Calthorpe and the Birmingham. One day Mr. Ramsay saw a few lads playing together in the big public park facing Park Road, Aston and he watched them with some amount of curiosity and amusement. They were connected with the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel and only had the most primitive ideas of the game. Mr. Ramsay describes their play as "a dash at the man and a big kick at the ball;" they were entirely ignorant of dribbling and were evidently in the most rudimentary stage of knowledge - quite "juvenile," as Mr. Ramsay said.
Well, when he had watched the lads some time he spoke to a bystander and suggested that they two should join in the game. Then he called to one of the players, William Weiss by name and proposed that he should be allowed to play on one side and his chance acquaintance on the other. When his broad Scotch had, after much trouble, been understood, the proposal was agreed to and Mr. Ramsay began to play. He soon showed that science was superior to all their big kicks and easily dribbled the ball past the men who had never seen a display of the kind before. They were amazed when they saw how he played and when all was over they surrounded the player, who had footed the ball.
McGregor and Ramsay were a formidable partnership. Within three years of McGregor's arrival they had established the club as a force to be reckoned with in local football. A 22-0 win against Small Heath (the forerunners of Birmingham City) gives some indication of their strength at the time. The recruitment in 1878 of 19-year-old Archie Hunter, another Scot who had come to Birmingham in search of work, was a particularly inspired move. Hunter, whose impressive playing style and sense of sportsmanship made him a favourite with the fans, was considered to be the best centre-forward of his day and he was one of football's first superstars. His influence in the side was considerable and when Ramsay retired from playing in 1880 through injury, Hunter took over the captaincy.
I may mention one incident in our match with them which shows how players are sometimes carried away by excitement. While I shot for goal the ball skimmed the bar and the Aston Unity goalkeeper immediately caught me round the neck, held me fast and seemed about to deliver a tremendous blow at my face.
Everybody saw it; but my rival recovered himself in time and afterwards offered the fullest explanation of his action. I am quite convinced that he had no deliberate intention of doing me any personal injury; he simply lost his self-control for a moment and was unable to restrain himself. In football there are many temptations of this sort and it requires a great amount of good heartedness and coolness to refrain from taking advantage of the proximity of an opponent.
But the best players set their faces very sternly against roughness of all kinds, and some of the finest footballers I know are the most generous and good-natured of men on the field. I don't think much advantage is ever gained by bad temper or spiteful play. If one man is rough, another recriminates; and if one side shows bad blood, the other side is sure to have its bad blood stirred up also. You can play to win and play with perfect fairness; that is my experience.
Our encounter with the Blackburn team took place on their ground and we took over with us Albert Brown, whose first season it was with the Villa and he played a most serviceable game. He is, as you doubtless are aware, still playing for the Villa and is considered to be one of the cleverest members of the team. He came from the Aston Unity and was the brother of Arthur Brown, my old centre-forward comrade.
The match was fairly exciting, the tactics of the Rovers at the opening of the game being remarkably good. They scored a quarter of an hour from the start, Hugh McIntyre shooting the ball through goal. We equalised matters before half-time and directly after play was resumed Jimmy Brown, of the Rovers, lowered our flag again. But again we got level and in good time; and playing up in true form we began to press our opponents very hard. Then Albert Brown came to the front and sent the ball spinning through the posts for the third time. The Rovers felt called upon to make an effort and only by the cleverness of Mason, our goalkeeper, were we saved several times. Jimmy Brown, however, equalised matters again and now the intensist excitement prevailed, for we only had a few minutes to keep on playing. Fortunately, we were equal to the emergency and Olly Whateley kicked the winning goal just before the whistle blew.
I regard this as one of our best matches and our win by four to three advanced us another step in local popularity. Jimmy Brown, whom I have mentioned, was a good centre-forward and had won international honours. After McIntyre - who also distinguished himself by his good play that day - he captained the team. Brown was very fast, a splendid dribbler, and a sure shot. The two Hargreaves, though not playing that day, were noted members of the Blackburn team and the elder of them was for some time captain, but had to retire on account of an injury to his leg. Among our own men who deserve special mention for their play against the Rovers is Vaughton; and Mason also worked well at goal.
We lost the toss and had to play uphill with a stiff wind against us. I kicked off and we invaded the Queen's Park territory. A corner kick fell to the visitors, but Riddell cleared; a long kick by Miller, however, kept the ball hovering in our quarters. Some fine passing by Whateley and the two Browns made affairs look perilous for the Scotchmen, but McDougall got the ball back and a shot from another player sent the ball into Harvey's hands. He returned the ball into play and Albert Brown went away with a rush, but Harvey in brilliant style tackled him and the ball went out. Simmonds next had some hard work to do and saved some hard shots. Two corners fell to the visitors and the second one made the prospect look dark for us; but Harvey was equal to the occasion and punched the leather out of goal admirably. Whateley took the ball up field and passed to me, but McDougall was waiting and we were again repulsed. A few minutes later a splendid exhibition of passing by Albert Brown, Vaughton and Whateley carried the ball into the enemy's quarters and roused intense enthusiasm. The younger Brown then sent the ball flying into McCullum's hands, but the latter saved his goal and some scientific play which followed drew forth the acclamations of the crowd. Christie next put us on our defence and after some hot shots the visitors gained another corner kick. This was placed right in the mouth of our goal, but Freddy Dawson came to the rescue and the now baffled `Spiders' came down on us with renewed vigour and attempted to score. A scrimmage ensued and out of this Anderson put the leather through, scoring the first goal, five minutes before half-time.
The spectators greeted the success of the visitors with a loud round of applause as the excitement now reached fever heat. No further score was effected when ends were changed and having the wind in our favour we now played a more aggressive game than before. We were urged on by the shouts of our supporters, who expected us to make a bold bid for success. Davis and Vaughton took the ball down the field and a long and continuous attack on the Queen's Park timbers resulted. Obtaining possession on the right wing I put the ball into McCullum's hands and from his return the ball struck Arthur Brown's knee and rebounded through goal, the score thus being equalised.
The applause was uproarious and hats and sticks were thrown into the air by the enthusiastic crowd. Our hearts beat wildly when the ball was started again. Christie put in a magnificent run and centred which evoked cheers, but Riddell repulsed him. Nevertheless we were severely pressed, for the Queen's Park men were making strenuous exertions to score the winning point. Harvey was kept busy and did his work manfully and the critical nature of the game affected the onlookers considerably. Putting on an extra spurt we took the ball into the opposition territory and were several times within an ace of scoring. Darkness, however, was coming on rapidly and each side played a desperate game. Misjudged kicks were not uncommon, for it was hard to keep cool. At last we secured a corner, the first we had had that day and though it was unproductive, we kept the ball in the opposition territory. A final shot of mine caused the ball to strike the post and it rebounded into play. Vaughton kicked over in self-defence; Eli Davis took the corner grandly and a rush on our part resulted in the ball going through off Albert Brown. This was the winning point.
Only a few minutes remained and then Major Marindin sounded the whistle and the Villa had won at last - won by two goals to one. I cannot attempt to describe the scene that followed, the vociferous cheers that greeted us cannot be described in words. The people rushed over the field shouting as long as they had voices left; they shook us by the hand until our joints were in danger; they patted us on the backs until we were sore. I doubt whether many people went home that day with the same hats they brought out and lost property in the shape of walking-sticks and umbrellas would have made a good stock for a second-hand dealer. At night people went about singing a ballad, with a refrain, "The Villa have licked Oueen's Park" and I was followed home by a multitude roaring as if I had won the battle of Waterloo.
There was one old gentleman who was in the habit of rushing forward at the end of a game and holding my hand in a tight grip until I had walked off the field. Nothing could induce him to loose it. Then there were those who thought that the highest compliment they could pay us was to deliver thumps upon the back and their aim was not always true, but fell upon the neck or head, or anywhere. I have been carried shoulder-high, too, but how that came about belongs to another occasion.
We were drawn against the Albion in the tie for the Mayor of Birmingham's Charity Cup and great local interest centred in the match.
The match was played at the Oval, Wood Green, Wednesbury and it is said that more than 12,000 spectators were present. All the week the Villa team had gone into strict training, for we felt that the encounter would have to be decisive.
The game began evenly, but unfortunately, before many minutes had passed Horton, the captain of the Albion, was hurt and play had to be stopped for a time. On resuming, the Albion began to attack and a free kick to the West Bromwich then nearly proved disastrous. A good run by Eli Davis, Vaughton and myself then won a round of applause from the crowd and I finished with a shot into the opposing citadel which Roberts, the Albion goalkeeper, cleverly saved. The Albion then retaliated, but no score was gained.
Albert Brown next dashed off with the ball and passing it smartly to me gave me a chance of putting it through the posts, the registration of the first point for the Villa calling forth cheers from our supporters. The Albion now began to press us hard and in turn were encouraged by the plaudits of their followers. Vaughton, however, raised the siege and before half-time was called Whateley scored a second point for us. This thoroughly roused our opponents, who began to play a desperately hard game, but we still had several attempts at scoring and Roberts was deservedly applauded for the skilful and dexterous manner in which he repelled our charges.
Then came a lively incident. I sent the ball into the hands of Roberts and while he was in the act of stooping to pick it up Albert Brown rushed forward and sent him and the leather through the timbers. Poor Roberts received a kick which rendered him hors de combat for a time, though the occurrence was purely accidental.
With a score of three against our opponents' none we resumed play with a good heart, but the tide turned and Bayliss, one of the forwards, scored for the Albion. But now, if I may say it, came the sensation of the day by my executing one of those "famous runs" which people speak of to this day. I took the ball the whole length of the field, passed four men and eluding all opponents, kicked and scored. This achievement is added to the list of 'Archie's big runs' which it seems footballers are in the habit of recalling whenever they meet to talk of Villa victories.
Against such a team as the Albion the performance was considered almost phenomenal. Thus the game ended and at last we had had the satisfaction of defeating our tough opponents by four to one.
The history of the 1886-7 season is the history of much hard work, some exciting struggles and many victories. Our record I have already given you and you will have observed that we only lost four matches out of the fifty-six played, only one of those four was of any importance. The West Bromwich Albion knocked us out in the first round of the Birmingham Cup Tie and that, of course, was a reverse which we felt; but the remaining three defeats were not in connection with events of much consideration. Our teams this year had undergone some changes and it was just at this time that the professional element was being introduced. Some of the old members, myself among the number, who had been playing as amateurs, had a great reluctance to be paid for our services. Our diffidence may or may not have been reasonable, but it was sincere. When we finally ceased to be amateurs I may say that we left it entirely with the committee to arrange terms; and I never have much sympathy with players who put pecuniary conditions first and think of the sport afterwards. But professionalism is so strong and competition for good players so great that a "pro" may ask for a good round sum as a retaining fee in addition to a high salary and stand every chance of obtaining both.
A good member of our team whom we missed this season was Eli Davis, who had taken part in so many of our encounters and shared with us all our varying experiences. We had some difficulty at first in getting a successor to him. Our attention had been directed to a very promising young player named Loach, who had distinguished himself while a member of the West Bromwich Albion. He was considered one of their best forwards and was induced to join the Villa. In the first two matches in which he took part he played well and we had great hopes of' him, but afterwards he sprained his knee and fell off and had ultimately to be replaced. One of our new members, who is still playing well, was Freddy Dawson, a capital centre half-back. One or two more new names will be introduced as we get further into the season.
I may also mention that this year the leopards changed their spots - or rather, the Villa changed their colours, which is, perhaps, a simpler matter. In November we decided to put aside the piebald uniform, which was inartistic and never popular and we donned in its place the light blue and cardinal vertically-striped jerseys which afterwards became so well known. There was another advantage in the change of colours. The old uniform was associated with some notable reverses and we were determined, if possible, in this season to turn over a new leaf and alter everything for the better.
We met West Bromwich Albion in the first round for the Birmingham Cup and there was the usual excitement as to the result. The Albion were at this time remarkably strong and every member of the team was a picked player capable of excellent work. Starting with the goalkeeper, Bobby Roberts, I don't think there was a finer goalkeeper in the three kingdoms. He was, I am firmly convinced, the mainstay of the team. It was a marvellous shot that he could not stop and the man who got the better of Bobby was extraordinarily clever. The Albion would not have achieved the triumphs it did if Roberts had been missing.
I used to speak of him as their salvation, for when all the other players were equally matched, Roberts' superiority just turned the scale in the favour of his own team. He is still playing and last season joined Sunderland, but we are soon to see him again in his old position between the posts for West Bromwich Albion. May he do as well again for them as he did of old.
Then (here was Green, who played back, a faithful and hard worker, who was particularly sure in defence. James Bayliss, the captain, was a splendid centre forward and Charlie Perry was hard to beat as a centre half-back. But there:- you may as well mention the lot of them - Aldridge, Horton, Timmins, Woodhall, Holden, Paddock, Pearson and Wilson - for they were indeed a fine set of fellows and in combination almost irresistible. As you know they had defeated the Villa time after time, although once or twice we had shown ourselves more than a match for them. We had now to try conclusions with them once more and for the Birmingham Cup too! Well, you may take it for granted that nobody expected an easy or a one-sided game and in this expectation nobody was disappointed.
As we had to play the Albion on their own ground, it added to their chances and I may mention that we had never won on the Stoney Lane ground. Nor did we this time. The battle waged furiously; we put forth all our strength and did all we knew; we gave the Albion some hard work also. They rushed the leather through after five minutes' play, but they never had another chance all afternoon. Greek had met Greek and no mistake. The Albion combination was seen to great advantage. Wherever the ball was, there were two or three men ready for all emergencies. Whenever one of our team obtained possession of the ball he was pounced upon and fairly forced to leave it. Instructions had been given, I have been told, for the West Bromwich men to "keep an eye on Archie" and I had never a chance. Loach, who was playing against his old club, failed to show to advantage, though some excuse can be found for him. The gate, I may add, made a record for the district, for 20,000 spectators were on the ground. Imagine if you can the ear-splitting cheer they sent up when the Albion scored and when they left the field winners of the game. At one portion of the game the barriers gave way and one man was very seriously injured.
We travelled from Nottingham to Birmingham and obtained the necessary apparel for training and went on the same night to Droitwich. Outside the station a brake was waiting for us and on a pitch dark night a dozen of us rode through the quiet country lanes to a little unfrequented place on the river Severn called Holt Fleet.
Here we arrived at midnight and being tired with the day's exertions and drowsy with the ride, we tumbled off to bed. The hotel accommodation in those days at Holt Fleet was of a limited character and the host was not accustomed to such large parties asking for accommodation. He was not prepared for us and the first night we had to rough it. Six of us slept in a top attic in which three beds had been placed. I say we slept, but this is not quite correct. We were put there to sleep, but the pestilence that stalks by night was opposed to us.
All this, of course, was remedied later on by the obliging host, who did his utmost to make us comfortable. But you will wonder why we chose this place for our purpose. It was not our discovery, but was recommended to us by W. G. George, the champion mile-runner. It was his custom to walk, when training, from Bromsgrove to Droitwich and Holt Fleet lies between these two places. The district is very favourable for athletes. There is a fine stretch of open country and there is the river, which affords every facility for boating and swimming. Then the walks all around are delightful and the brine baths at Droitwich are, of course, very convenient.
Since we were there other football teams have experienced its advantages, the Wolverhampton Wanderers in particular. Well, here we stayed for a week with our trainer, Billy Gorman. He was a famous sprint runner and had won a special handicap; and when he ceased to take part in public contests himself he devoted himself to training athletes and a capital fellow he was.
We got up each morning at eight o'clock prompt and breakfasted. Afterwards we strolled about as we pleased for an hour or so. Then we put our uniform on and by permission, which was kindly granted by Lord Dudley's overseer, we were allowed the use of the ground behind the hotel for sprint running and long distance running. It was curious to observe the difference which practice speedily made in some or our physical abilities. There was Dennis Hodgetts, for example, who was called our slow man. Up to this time he was indeed lacking in that desirable quality of fastness which is so serviceable on the field. But after this training he wonderfully developed into one of the speediest of the set and was only excelled by Richard Davis (late of the Walsall Swifts) who had the reputation of being the fastest player for short distances. All the others were very quick: Albert Brown, Joey Simmonds, Jack Burton, Freddy Dawson, Howard Vaughton, Harry Yates and Albert Allen, but the sprint running improved their form tremendously.
As for me, I went in for long distance running, with Warner our goalkeeper, who had no particular need to go in for this training and Coulton, for my companions. Albert Allen, I should here explain, was our reserve man who was in readiness to take Dawson's place if necessary, for Freddy had seriously hurt his knee and we were very uncertain whether he would be able to play. However, when the right time came the question was put to all the team and they decided that he was fit, so Allen was not needed after all.
Well, so the morning went. Sometimes the team walked along the delightful lanes for eight or ten miles, in charge of one or two of the members of the committee and myself and then we returned to dinner.
After dinner we were allowed to lounge about again and then the team were called together for football practice, a gentleman on another side of the river having placed at our disposal a suitable patch of ground. Here we worked hard for an hour and a half, perfecting ourselves in all the science of the game and mastering every trick that could be thought of. It was sport, but we were very much in earnest and though we enjoyed ourselves we spared no pains to learn everything that was to be learnt.
Returning, we were rubbed down and examined by the trainer and then sat down to tea. After partaking of that meal we frequently took a mile and a half walk; and by ten each evening the Villa team were in bed. Such was our training day by day.
For breakfast we had ham and eggs, or fish and we drank tea or coffee. We had no lunch, except perhaps a glass of beer if we were accustomed to it. For dinner we had fish, mostly, salmon or lampreys. Not infrequently our host would bring us in a freshly-caught salmon and on one or two occasions we enjoyed ourselves by going on fishing expeditions also. Sometimes we had a little roast beef or mutton and occasionally fowl; but fish constituted dinner most frequently. Tea consisted of chops and steaks and we went to bed without supper.
Of course, every day was not alike and we had small adventures which formed an agreeable variation to the routine. It was our special delight to come across our fine old trainer seated by the riverside, rod in hand, waiting patiently for the fish that never came, while there was no lack of diversion at night. Pillow-fights were quite the order of the time and as most of us were used to the advantages of town life it was only natural that we should endeavour to find as much amusement as possible in that quiet out-of-the world spot. On some of the nights we were kept at the hotel entertained by the county hop-pickers out of work, who to earn an honest penny dressed themselves up like Red Indians, stuck feathers in their caps, blacked their faces and performed all sorts of wild antics, dancing and singing.
"On changing ends we had the wind in our favour and at once commenced a rattling game. Getting hold of the ball I ran down the field with it and passed to Richard Davis, who raced along with the leather at his toe, eluding the backs and the half-backs. I was close behind him and as he centred the ball beautifully across the mouth of goal I followed him up, met the leather as it came across and with a peculiar screw sent it spinning over my shoulder, completely out of the power of the goalkeeper to stop it. This caused a sensation, I can assure you and the applause which followed was simply deafening. Another goal followed and at the end we had won the fray by three goals to one. The victory was hailed with rapturous cheers and I shall never forget how elated we all were when the news reached us on the field that just at the same time the West Bromwich Albion had defeated Preston North End by the same number of goals. For now the National Cup was secured for the Midlands and whether we or the Albion actually won it was, for the moment, a very secondary matter. It was a red-letter day for us and everybody seemed to know it. We were cheered as we left the field, followed by a cheering multitude to the station and when we arrived in Birmingham we found an immense crowd assembled to welcome us.
The Rangers took their defeat rather badly and sore disappointment was felt by their followers. But I honestly think we overplayed them altogether. Although the game was equal in the first part we felt that we had them at an advantage and in the second part the facts proved that we were much their superiors. Richard Davis and Vaughton distinguished themselves on our side and I think I may claim that this was another of my `days out. But let me tell you what a critic remarked at the time: `There was little doubt,' he said, 'after the first half what the result of the struggle would be. The Rangers had not the combination that was such a conspicuous feature of the Villa play and it is scarcely surprising when the Rangers were virtually an eleven of the whole of Scotland. As a body of men they were, however, full of life and vigour and the forward division was essentially perfect. Their weakness lay in the contingent round the goal. The last half was all in favour of the Villa and fifteen minutes before the call of time it was evident that the Rangers were hopelessly beaten.
The victory of the Albion over Preston North End was unexpected. We had fully counted upon meeting the North End in the final and it has remained one of the most startling surprises recorded in the history of football how the Albion managed to beat them. The Albion scored the two winning goals just on the call of time and doubtless their victory was due to the famous trick of their forwards' breaking away' suddenly, pressing the other side hard and unexpectedly rushing the ball through goal. This was always a great feature in the Albion's matches and one that our previous experience had prepared us for. I ought to add before turning to the next match that on returning from Crewe we were received at every station with cheers in which even the railway officials joined and at one point a signalman was observed to be making a vigorous demonstration in his lofty box. As for the final reception, it was to be remembered.
The teams engaged to play in the match were as follows:
Aston Villa: James Warner, goal; F. Coulton and J. Simmonds, backs; H. Yates, F. Dawson and ,J. Burton, half-backs; Albert Brown and Richard Davis, right wing; Howard Vaughton and Dennis Hodgetts, left wing; Archie Hunter, centre (captain) forwards.
West Bromwich: R. Roberts, goal; H. Green and A. T. Aldridge, backs; E. Horton, G. Timmins and C. Perry, half-backs; G. Woodhall and T. Green, right wing; T. Pearson and W. Paddock, left wing; W. Bayliss, centre (captain), forwards.
We started for London on Friday and took up our quarters at Charterhouse Square. In the evening we had a short stroll and then retired at ten o'clock. We were up betimes in the morning, all in good spirits and happily all in good health. We met our committee and a few friends and proceeded to Kennington Oval, where presently we were joined by the members of the Albion, who were also in excellent form and very sanguine as to the result of the match. All the well-known supporters of both clubs were present in good force, including Mr. Hundly, our genial host at Holt Fleet and early in the morning heavily laden trains poured into the stations and discharged their living freight of football enthusiasts. Our chocolate-and-blue colours could be seen everywhere in the morning, especially along the Strand and all the principal thoroughfares. At half-past two there was a general stampede towards Kennington Oval and cabs, cars, carriages, traps and a thick line of pedestrians could be seen moving down the road. Arriving on the ground, it was at once manifest how great an interest the encounter had awakened. There was a dense multitude of from fifteen to twenty thousand, many familiar faces being among the number. At the last moment,5-to-4 on the Albion could be obtained and the betting in their favour was very brisk.
A few minutes before three we entered the field and were greeted with a hearty round of cheering. I had given the Villa team special instructions how to play this match; briefly they were these - every man was to stick to his position and look after the opponent he was facing. This, of course, does not give such opportunities of brilliant play, but it is a measure of safety which I strongly commend. Let every player single out his man and determine to beat him and if he is equal to the effort the game is won. This course demands an amount of unselfishness on the part of the players which is very hard to exercise, but I have so often seen brilliance and danger combined that on such an occasion as the one I speak of we could not afford to run any such risk. Consequently the match from beginning to end was less scientific than the match with the Rangers. In this respect it was doubtless disappointing. But as a hard, fierce struggle it is not to be surpassed.
Bayliss won the toss and I kicked off exactly at half-past three. As I did so a subdued hum of excitement could be heard and we knew that everybody's nerves were strung to the utmost. I don't know whether I am equal to describing all the details of the match. So far as play went I was coot enough, but so intent upon the game that when it was all over I could only remember a confused multitude of incidents in no particular order, but all warm, vigorous and exciting. I remember how we scampered up and down the field, what wild rushes were made, how the ball bounded here and there, the desperate charges that followed, the frenzied scrimmages, the impulsive shooting, the grand work of the goalkeepers, the attack and defence, the dangers and the relief, the terrific and prolonged struggle and yet, up to half-time, not a single goal! I recall with a thrill how we saw at one point that the Albion were getting the better of us and how we saw them with dismay closing round our citadel. Then how exhilarating it was to see the danger past, to know that the attack had been unavailing and to find ourselves racing away with the ball towards the opposite goal. How often Warner and Roberts saved I cannot tell. Time after time the shots went in scorching hot and always the men between the timbers were equal to the emergency and this was why when half the game was over there was no score.
Changing ends, the Albion cut out the work and Hodgetts and Vaughton on our side commenced putting in an immense amount of good work. A determined attack by them was repelled by Tom Green, who got away up the field and was stopped by Coulton, who returned. From this kick Davis with a long shot centred to Hodgetts, who was close in goal and he with consummate ease, put the ball through, completely baffling Roberts. Then what a cheer arose! The Villa had scored and the jubilation of our supporters was boundless. By the time they had settled down again we were in the midst of a fast and dashing game. It seemed, however, as if no further points would be gained. Both sides were playing desperately and every man was working as if his life depended upon the victory. We were constantly in front of goal and a foul being given to the Albion there, matters looked dangerous. But it was only at the end of the game that the finishing stroke was to be given to our victory. I got possession of the ball and eluding the backs got right in front; but the ball was going at such a furious pace that I perceived I could not reach it. Roberts saw reach the ball and give it the necessary push. If I had not adopted this expedient I could not possibly have scored. The cheers had scarcely subsided when the whistle blew and the Villa had won the Cup by two goals to none.
Major Marindin, President of the Football Association, who acted as referee, was good enough to say that the match was not won be science but "by Archie Hunter's captaincy." As soon as the whistle blew I was surrounded by the enthusiastic crowd and for a few moments I thought I should be torn in pieces. They nearly wrung my hand off and those who could not get near enough put all the heart they could into shouting "Bravo, Archie" and "Well done, Villa." Finally, I was lifted shoulder-high and amid the wildest demonstrations carried all round the field, nor would my zealous friends release me until the moment came when I was called upon to receive the Cup.
I did not know it then, my career as a footballer was rapidly coming to an end. I broke down while playing Everton the following season. The ground was in a fearful condition after heavy rain. Pools of water and masses of mud made play almost impossible and to add to our troubles a biting east wind was cutting us and seemed to pierce us like a knife. I was playing my hardest when I fell into a pool of water. Just before I had received a severe bruise and with the additional shock to the system I fainted away. On reaching home I was advised to relinquish play and that advice I have taken.
There are no more Triumphs of the Football Field for me. I have thrown in my lot with the Committee and shall do all I can to foster the game. But often, when acting as umpire for my old team, I have been almost carried away with the excitement of the game and would have given anything to rush to my old position, get the ball at my toe and race with it down the field. And whenever the leather comes bounding by me it is hard to resist passing it on to one of my old colleagues playing around me. I can't tell you how sorry I am to be out of the game henceforward; but I have had my day and must be satisfied."
The best thing a forward can do is to dribble the ball through all opposition and score. This I have done many times; in fact, "Archie's runs" were sufficiently frequent to obtain a sort of celebrity. I was particularly fortunate in my play when my brother Andy was my partner. He was so accurate and so reliable that I was able to put forth my best efforts and make certain of getting the ball through goal. A forward to be worth anything must be a complete master of the dribbling game, must have good judgement and be sufficiently strong to resist the charges and bumps of his opponents.
I am convinced that it (football) will maintain its position as the most popular game in this country and that it will remain at the head of scientific sports. There is one enthusiasm for cricket and another for football and the enthusiasm for the latter game appears to me to be excited by deeper and heartier feelings. At all events I have no fear that football will decline, though I am sorry that it is so largely maintained by the professional element. Speaking as a professional myself, I may say that I can only look upon professionalism as an unavoidable misfortune. While it is of immense assistance to the game in many respects, it appears to me that it lowers its character and I myself should have felt happier very often if I could have continued to play as an amateur and so regarded the game as a game and not as a business. However, this is a matter for the Association to deal with.
I should like, as one who has been credited with some success in dealing with a football team, to offer a little advice to captains - to those who are not accustomed to their duties yet, or who may be called upon at some future time to assume the position. First and foremost I would impress this upon them - treat the players as men and not as schoolboys. I have seen a great deal of mischief resulting from neglect to do this. When the players are only treated as boys they are apt to regard themselves as boys and act accordingly. They become selfish, obstinate and quarrelsome, turn sulky if they are displeased, or wrangle with one another on the field. Insubordination can never be provided against unless every player is made to feel that he will be called to account as a man and I am certain that this system works well.
Then let all prejudices be avoided. I have known Scotchmen or Welshmen disliked by Englishmen simply on account of their nationality and I have known Scotchmen and Welshmen act just in the same way towards Englishmen. Now these prejudices ought to be stamped out. The team, however it is composed, must play as a team and not as a gathering of different men out of harmony with each other. I always tried to foster good feeling in Aston Villa and I think we were one of the merriest and happiest teams in the country. For myself I never bothered my head about the country a man came from and as long as we had good players and good fellows among us, it mattered not whether they were English, Scotch or Welsh.
"As to guiding the players, I think a captain should make it one of the first rules that every man should get into the habit of defending his position. I greatly dislike to see men scampering wildly over the field, leaving their places unprotected, forgetting their own particular duty and doing another man's work. If a man is playing back let him remember that and single out his opponent and be prepared to tackle him whenever the opportunity arises. We won the match with the West Bromwich Albion through sticking to this plan and I think many more matches would be more evenly contested if the custom were more generally adopted.
The greatest mistake which players are in the habit of making and one which I most often cautioned my team about, is (his: when they think there is a foul, or that somebody has played off-side, they stop dead in their play and wait for the referee's decision. This has lost many a match that should have been won.
Young players especially cannot be told too often that it is not they who can stop the game and however sure they may be that an appeal will be supported, they must on no account relax their efforts until the whistle sounds. I have seen many times, at a doubtful point in the game, the ball rushed through goal simply because no opposition has been offered and then, perhaps, the referee has decided that the game ought to have been continued and allowed the goal. Most clubs have suffered in this way and I would earnestly impress upon footballers the necessity of playing their hardest until a definite order is given to them to cease.