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From the Archives: Princely full-back Spencer a true gent

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From the Archives: Princely full-back Spencer a true gent

By Paul Brown

One of the purposes of these features is to highlight the vast changes in the game over the years - and give fans a snapshot of claret and blue life from the past.

The delightful innocence of football at the turn of the last century is brought to life beautifully via the career of Howard Spencer.

Full-back Spencer was one of the most well-known and well respected players in his day and he played a leading part in Villa's golden era.

Scrupulously fair, Spencer's skill and sportsmanship earned him the title of "prince of full-backs."

R Allen, in 'All in the Day's Sport', wrote: "He was the outstanding example of what Aston Villa tradition on the football field came to mean.

"I shall never forget the neat-looking, scrupulously clean-playing, solid, safe-looking, full-back, tackling crisply, confidently, side-tapping the ball into place for the long, low, raking, perfectly placed clearance."

And John Lerwill, in his comprehensive book 'The Aston Villa Chronicles' brings to life a lovely story first detailed in the Sports Argus of 1900, which goes a long way to illustrating Spencer's sense of right and wrong.

It is recorded that on one occasion, Spencer had been suffering some bad fouling from an opponent.

He went up to the player and said, most impressively and distinctly: "Now, don't do that again! I won't have it! I won't have it!" Needless to say, Spencer had no further trouble during the game.

The Villa News & Record of 1906 insisted that Spencer is "the type of player worthy of emulation by all young players." The same could also be said of the young stars of today!

Standing out on the field with his blond, wavy hair, classic features and stylish play Spencer was not only a brilliant person, he was also a brilliant player.

Lerwill added in his book, again referencing the Sports Argus, this time of 1906: "A famous left-winger once remarked after a match in which he was up against Spencer: "It isn't natural! If I had to play against Spencer every week I should give it up! It's much like running against a brick wall."

A pupil of Albert Road School in Aston, Spencer signed for Villa from Birchfield Trinity and made his debut in a 3-1 win against West Bromwich Albion at Wellington Road on October 13, 1894.

At the end of his first season, and still only 18, Spencer collected the first of his three FA Cup-winners' medals, the second arriving in the double year of 1897. Then in 1905 he led Villa to victory against Newcastle United at the Crystal Palace.

Initially Spencer partnered Jimmy Welford and then formed an excellent partnership with Albert Evans.

He collected four league championship winning medals (1896, 1897, 1899, and 1900) and, after appearing in a junior international, gained six full England caps in addition to representing the Football League nine times.

He was also Villa's first captain of the Three Lions and the very first player to have his picture appear in the matchday programme, The Villa News & Record.

Although announcing his retirement in the 1907 close season Spencer still took part in pre-season training and the practice match following which he advised that, if any time the club were in need of his services, he would oblige.

In fact Spencer was taken up on this offer and turned out in three league games in November, making his final league appearance against Newcastle United at Villa Park on November 30.

In 1909 Spencer was elected to the Villa board following the death of vice-president Howard Toney and he remained a director of the club until 1936 when he retired following Villa's relegation from the top flight.

Even then, his Villa association continued.

After declining a request to become a Life Member, Spencer became a vice-president at that year's annual meeting.

A very successful coal merchant, Spencer died at Four Oaks, Sutton Coldfield on January 14, 1940.

But his legacy will live on as well as his place in claret and blue history.

Click here to buy season tickets for the new term as Villa embark on a vibrant new era.

AVFC Official
By @AVFCOfficial 12th June 2012