Willie Groves

Willie Groves

William (Willie) Groves was born in Edinburgh on 9th November 1869. A centre-forward he played football for Edinburgh Thistile and Leith before joining Hibernian in the Scottish League in 1886. The following year he won a Scottish Cup winners' medal when his team beat Dumbarton 2-1 in the final.

On 10th March, 1888, Groves won his first international cap for Scotland against Wales. Groves scored one of the goals in Scotland's 5-1 victory.

The following year Groves scored a hat-trick playing against Ireland. Soon afterwards he signed for Celtic. Groves' club reached the final of the 1889 Scottish Cup but lost 2-1 in the final played at Hamden Park.

On 5th April, 1890 Groves won his third international cap when he played for Scotland against England. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.

In October 1890 Groves signed for West Bromwich Albion. He was later converted from a centre-forward to an attacking left-half. WBA struggled in the Football League in the 1891-92 season. However, they did enjoy a 12-0 victory over Darwen. It is still the record score of a match played in the First Division of the Football League. Goalscorers that day included Tom Pearson (4), Billy Bassett (3) and Jack Reynolds (2).

WBA had a good run in the FA Cup beating Old Westminsters (3-2), Blackburn Rovers (3-1), Sheffield Wednesday (2-1), Nottingham Forest (6-2) to reach the final against Aston Villa. In his book, Association Football in Victorian England, Philip Gibbons argues that: "Villa dominated the early proceedings, with Athersmith and John Devey exerting pressure on the Albion fullbacks. However, the West Bromwich side soon responded as Billy Bassett passed to Roddy McLeod, who crossed the ball to the waiting Geddes. He shot towards the Villa goal and Warner failed to collect the ball clearly. It rolled between the Villa goalposts to secure a surprising one-goal lead for the Albion team."

Billy Bassett was also involved in WBA's second goal. He won the ball on the halfway line and after running at the Aston Villa defence he passed to Alf Geddes. His shot was saved but the goalkeeper could not hold onto the ball and Sammy Nicholls had the simple task of scoring from the rebound. Jack Reynolds scored the third with a shot from 25-yards. Willie Groves had won a cup winners' medal.

In 1893 Willie Groves and Jack Reynolds joined local rivals Aston Villa. WBA was furious about what they considered to be the poaching of two of their best players. WBA appealed to the Football Association and Villa was eventually fined £25 for approaching Reynolds and Groves without the consent of WBA. Eventually they were also forced to pay £100 for the transfer of Groves.

As Tony Matthews points out in his book, Who's Who of Aston Villa: "Groves was a dashing centre-forward who developed into a stylish left-half. Swarthy, well-featured and well set-up, he had devastating speed and packed a thunderous shot."

Aston Villa won the First Division of the Football League championship in the 1893-94 season. The club scored 84 goals in 30 games. The main contributors included John Devey (20), Dennis Hodgetts (12) and Charlie Athersmith (10). Defenders, Willie Groves (left-half), James Cowan (centre-half) and Jack Reynolds (right-half) were also key members of the team.

After a dispute with his contract, Groves left Aston Villa in November 1894. He rejoined Hibernian in August 1895. Groves developed tuberculosis and was forced to retire from football.

Willie Groves died in poverty in Edinburgh on 13th February, 1908.