Feature: The Makers of the Villa - No.5 Howard Vaughton
It should really be Oliver Howard Vaughton, but nobody ever knew him by his first name; and in the long ago, when he was a sort of Admirable Crichton in pretty nearly all the games of sport in the Midlands, there was only need to say 'Howard' - the surname was taken for granted, so literally familiar as a household word was his name.
It was in those days an almost hackneyed phrase to call him "the best all-round athlete in Birmingham"; and to give you some idea of what we used to think of him, let me quote some words which I wrote concerning this muscular Christian 36-year-old, when was described as "one of the smartest athletes who ever donned football warpaint, bestrode a wheel, skimmed over hedges and ditches as a cross-country runner, whirled through the wild mazes of the skating rink, cut wondrous figures on the crackling ice, wielded the willow in tough encounters on the tented field of cricket, or rode to hounds with ladies fair and squires of high degree."
A little flamboyant, perhaps, but quite true; and I could add a few more accomplishments attained before and since that date, such as swimming, hockey, polo, golf; but we are regarding him mostly as one of the makers of the Villa - and he was one of the very builders of that organisation.
I suppose there are still some of his kidney knocking about in the world of sport - we have known of a few who have approached his standard; but none in all the years who have come up to it.
Would that the Villa had a few more of his sort in their ranks today; they wouldn't be down at the foot of the ladder, and folks rather pitying their declension.
Howard Vaughton is still with us, hale and hearty, but not of course as springy as he was in the heyday of his power, when he was probably the "fittest" man in the Midlands, for he was a "sport" for the pure love of the game, and there was never the lightest smear on his character.
I'd like to tell you heaps of stories about him in various connections; but I must reserve myself to football, and be brief in that.
He commenced his leather-chasing career in 1875 in the Waterloo FC, which won all its matches bar one in Aston Park, and then dissolved for some reason. Thereupon he joined the Birmingham FC.
It was in 1880 that Howard Vaughton joined Aston Villa and for 10 years he played in nearly every one of their first-class matches.
That was the period when the Perry Barr team was beginning to make a reputation that has seldom been dimmed since, and will surely shine again as brightly as ever before long.
It is the truth to say that during every one of the few occasions on which he was absent the fine combination of the team was to some extent broken, and the side never did so well, for he was never a selfish player, and in this respect he was a brilliant example to his comrades and any other players who delighted to watch him.
First of all he played with Eli Davis - a radiant outside left winger, who was superseded by Dennis Hodgetts some years later, and then, after a year or two with Andy Hunter, with Olly Whateley on the right wing - one of the finest combinations the club ever had in the forward ranks.
Howard Vaughton was a regular player for many years in the important association matches against Sheffield, London and Lancashire; and how many times he was an international I do not remember - and I am writing this in a place where I cannot refer to the archives - but he played several times against Scotland, Wales and Ireland and in 1882 he kicked five of the 13 goals obtained by England against the "distressful country."
He took part in innumerable finals for the Birmingham, the Staffordshire, and the Mayor's Cups; and in 1887 he was a finalist in the team that won the English Cup. Here his partner was Dennis Hodgetts; and you should have seen him play with one of the finest exponents of association football he game has ever seen.
Good as their exhibition was in this match, it was eclipsed by that at Crewe in the semi-final of the same year, when the Villa played a team that was nominally Glasgow Rangers, but which should have been called the Pick of Scotland, for it was an international band of moss-troopers.
Hugh McIntyre - a famous Blackburn Rover, and once the wicket-keeper for Lancashire - told me that Vaughton and Hodgetts that day made the finest left wing he had ever seen, and he was a very keen judge; and I well remember in what high terms of praise Archie Hunter spoke of their exhibition afterwards.
But I could yarn about Howard Vaughton and his comrades till my readers grew tired, so I will content myself with having proved that the subject of this gossiping sketch was one of the real builders of the fame of Aston Villa.
Before the war he was a pretty regular frequenter of their matches; but whether he neglects his golf to go now I do not know. He had - and still has - the rare gift of making himself thoroughly liked by all who come within his orbit, though he has never failed to speak his mind when the circumstances required it.
I remember on one occasion acting as referee in a match where I may have made some mistakes and Howard Vaughton delivered me a lecture that made my ears tingle, though I think he was unfavourably disposed towards me.
I regret that I have no room to give particulars of his cycling [which was first-rate and good to watch], his skating [as long ago as 1876 he won the first prize for figure skating in the All-England Skating Contest and in 1880 he was the recipient of one of the four badges given by the National Skating Association for the best figure-skating on ice], his cricket [he was a fine steady bat and a first-rate field for both Warwickshire and Staffordshire, and one of the foremost men in the Midlands] and his swimming and hockey - to say nothing of his golf; but I have often thought that a good book could be made of the Sporting Worthies of the Midlands, and if ever such a volume is produced Howard Vaughton would be in the first rank.
I take the egotistical liberty of again quoting my own stuff of 1883, and with that I will wind up: - "All his comrades of the Villa have a sincere regard and esteem for their gallant little vice-captain. The time will come when his public exhibitions on the football field and elsewhere will be things of the past, but in the years to follow the sport-loving people of the present generation will have the satisfaction of knowing that they watched the performances of an athlete of whom Birmingham may well be proud, and whose lithe and active figure and bright and cheerful face will be remembered when many another will have been long forgotten."
And that was a true prophecy.
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