Feature: The Makers of the Villa - No.4 Archie Hunter
It is many years since I have written that name, and I am "soft" enough to confess that the thrill it once game me lingers still.
More to him than to any other individual player in the long roll of brilliant lads who have played under its banner does Aston Villa owe its position in the football world through all the changing years.
Most of us who saw Archie Hunter in all the pride and glory of his young manhood - saw him many a time carry the Villa to victory by sheer individual effort and skill - are in the "sere and yellow" (some, indeed, have lost most of their leaves), but as long as we shall remember anything in the sporting line, our memories will go back to the romantic days when the Villa was forging ahead in popular favour, and thereby bringing along the game of football to a position which led to its pre-war and post-war obsession by the multitude.
Mr Campbell Orr, in the Midland Athlete, once happily dubbed Archie Hunter as "the prince of centre-forwards"; but he was more than that - he was the absolute king of all football captains, and one of the greatest leaders of sportsmen I have ever known.
He wasn't half a "boss" on the field either; and his boys would go anywhere or do anything for him. Ask any of the few remaining who played under him, and they will tell you that he was the greatest and most commanding skipper of all the past or present teams. A.H.Albut (an old Villa committee man) once said that if Archie never kicked a ball on the field his captaincy was worth two men at any time.
There are heroes today in Aston Villa (or will be shortly) and other teams; there are more big players in Association football than ever there were; but I do not think we shall ever see quite such a hero or so big a player as Archie Hunter; the men who played with him almost worshiped him; the public acclaimed him every time he did anything worth looking at - and that was generally in every game that he played.
It is rather a hackneyed expression to say that a man is a host in himself. Archie Hunter went a little beyond that - he had the knack of making the little host of his comrades such an "altogether" lot that they would follow him as surely as you sometimes see congregations of starlings wheel and swerve and swing at the command of their "pivot" far up in the blue. And in those days - perhaps distance lends enchantment to the view - it was a radiant thing to see the Villa swoop down in crescent-like fashion on the opposing goal, and it always meant danger for their opponents.
As I write, pictures of many such scenes come thronging in at the gate of remembrance, and I can see the old familiar faces, and almost hear the old voices again. What days they were, and what fun we used to get out of life!
Archie Hunter came to Birmingham in 1878 from the "auld toon of Ayr," being born at Joppa hard by. He learnt his football in good company and started as a back. He did not arrive here because of his football craft - he came as a matter of business, and like so many other Scots, he stayed. (You will remember what cynical old Samuel Johnson said about his countrymen).
This was long before professionalism was known in football. He nearly joined the Calthorpe Club (then the most powerful as well as the most aristocratic Association organisation in the Midlands), but "a brither Scot" in the person of GB Ramsay induced him into the Villa ranks.
He became captain next year, and remained (with a short interregnum in 1881) as skipper till his retirement from the game n 1890. His game as a player soon spread, and then two important consequences of that - first, many of the finest players in the district were attracted to the club; and, secondly, the "gates" began to grow by leaps and bounds, so that people who had scoffed at the game, and called the players "leather-headed lunatics" and other opprobrious names , came down to Perr Barr to watch the men they had so sobriqueted, with the result that the great majority remained the keenest of Villa followers.
The crowd is a more cosmopolitan one today, but at the beginning of its career the Villa owed much of its regular support to what used to be known as "the jewellery quarter," and very staunch and loyal they were when rivals appeared.
What made Archie Hunter so powerful among his comrades was this - he possessed a genial masterfulness and a perfect knowledge of the game; he not only knew what should be done, but could show his men how to do it; he had the happy knack of instantly detecting the weak places of an opposing side, and then directing his own folk in that direction.
As a centre-forward, when at his best, I have never yet seen his equal. There may have been cleverer dribblers and more adroit dodgers; but as a commander who always led the van, he was a great tower of strength in himself, and a source of exceeding confidence in his comrades.
To see him break through when the ball came winging in from left or right and storm the opposing citadel with his front rank all round him was an inspiring vision, and he had a lion-like look that was impressive and good to see. He was a chary of praise when on the field, so that any of his rare compliments to players were radiantly received.
Stalwart and lissom, standing some 5ft 10in in his stockings, clean built and sinewy all over, with an eye like an eagle, and the joy of battle shining on his freckled and bonnie face, Archie was the pride of his side, and the prop and mainstay of the Villa for more than a decade; and in the very height of his powers his side won the English Cup for the first time.
I have seen many finals since 1887, but none quite as splendid as that; and I shall not forget the glow and fervour of Hunter's countenance as he received the trophy, with compliments, from Major Marindin - an historic name in the game.
I am tempted to quote "We shall not look upon his like again," for Hunter was not only a leatherchaser of "credit and renown" - the top of his class, and one of the few who will be remembered as long as the game shall last; he was a fine fellow in his friendships and a companion to be proud of.
He was jovial and hearty, and one who ever had a good word and bonnie greeting for the friends whom he was so often pitted against. His comrades loved him, and he was never spoilt by flattery; he would lecture a fellow player on the field, and be a pal to him off it.
He was a keen judge of the points of a player, and never talked about himself. As a personality in the football world - as least, the Midland portion of it - there has never been anybody quite like him; and though he would not stand any of his men being unfairly dealt with on the field, and would warn and perhaps punish assaulters on the other side, for all his strength and skill and determination, Archie Hunter played the game like the gentleman he was, and did splendidly consistent service for the Villa all the time he played for them.
He is one of the landmarks in the club's history; and, without detracting in the least from the merits of any one of the scores who have followed him these thirty years, it may surely be claimed for him that by his prowess, loyalty, and captaincy he did more for Aston Villa than any individual player.
The grass has been growing green over his grave for many a year; but his memory is a fragrant one, and we who knew him in the heyday and joy of his manhood have an abiding regard for the stalwart Scot and kindly comrade who did so much to build up the game and fortune of the club he loved so well.
Snap up match tickets for Villa v Tottenham.