From the Archives: Manager McMullan's "master key" to Villa Park
While numerous other clubs had been operating with a manager for a number of years, Villa declined to do so until 1934.
As was the habit in those bygone days, the team was run by the board of directors.
But the club changed with the times and, as the matchday programme remarked: "Aston Villa's directors have stepped away from tradition in making the appointment of a team manager.
"The scheme that had held the field for many years we considered might be bettered and so Aston Villa's methods are to move with the times as all methods must."
The man handed the responsibility of being the club's first manager was Jimmy McMullan, a former Scotland international who had played in two FA Cup finals for Manchester City as well as winning the Scottish Cup with Partick Thistle.
The board were impressed with the character of the man as well as his footballing principles: "Mr James McMullan is a cool, calculating team manager who knows his football from A to Z - not as a theorist but because of a hard practical experience of many years.
"He has gathered international caps in wholesale fashion. He is a quiet man, with a humorous twinkle in his eye and a definite knowledge of what he wants and the best way to get it.
"He will be a most popular man at Villa Park and achieve the purpose for which he was appointed.
"He is like Lord Roberts - not too big but of high quality."
In the minute book of May 1934, the board of directors reported the appointment.
It revealed he was recruited for a period of two years at a salary of £550 per year, with a potential bonus of £250 if the first team won either the League or the FA Cup - or £500 for winning both.
Unfortunately, McMullan never received a bonus as his time at Villa ultimately proved unsuccessful.
But, having scoured around the vast archives in B6, we have found something of infinitely more value than a mere monetary incentive.
We have come across something called 'McMullan's master key', thought to have been handed to the boss from the board to enable him to move to and fro in the many rooms and corridors of Villa Park.
Obviously in the earliest days of association football, the board at any club were the major players in terms of power and influence.
However, this simple gesture of handing the gaffer a "key to the kingdom" was surely a precursor to the growing sway of the "manager" in later years.
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