One of the most important, and stressful, jobs in the game of football is the position of club manager. Now, more than ever due to intense pressure, ‘the gaffer’ can be removed from their position in just a matter of weeks from monumental success.
The job role has modernised and redeveloped through time, though where did the role of a manager come into place? Which point in the national sport timeline did a manager have responsibility in overlooking football players? And who even was the first ever football manager?
The world’s first ever appointed, paid football manager, in 1886, was a Scot called George Ramsay; who would become a formidable force in English football.
George Ramsay was born in Glasgow on 3rd March 1855. It was at the age of 21 years old when he made the trip south, arriving in Birmingham to work as a clerk in a brass foundry. His first interaction with Aston Villa was completely accidental. Had the rough Scotsman not come across a practice football match – in 1876 – between a bunch of ill-organised, inexperienced cricketers, it is unlikely that the name Aston Villa would be a household name today.
Walking past a Villa players’ practice match in Aston Park, he was asked to make up the numbers, taking them up on the invitation. Impressed by his incredible skills, the Villa players invited him to join the club; to which he agreed to sign. Shortly after signing for Villa he was appointed captain of the club.
A number of prominent Scots were associated with Villa at the time, including star player Archie Hunter,and, of course, William McGregor: the club president. In addition, the committee had also decided to adopt the Scottish Lion Rampant for the club crest.
Word spread about how fine a player George was, spectators began turning up to watch the little man nicknamed ‘Scotty’. In 1880, Ramsay led Villa to their first trophy – the Birmingham Senior Cup. The following season Aston Villa won 21 of their 25 games also winning the Staffordshire Cup in the same year. George Ramsay was in outstanding form. Unfortunately, a serious injury forced Ramsay to retire from first-class football in June 1882. Two years later, he was appointed as club secretary.
His influence wasn’t restricted to the pitch. He also negotiated the purchase of Villa’s new ground at Wellington Road, Perry Barr. Villa played at Perry Barr until 1897 when the club moved to the Aston Lower Grounds, next to Aston Hall, which later became known as Villa Park. According to club folklore, it has been stated that Ramsay was the first man to kick a ball at Villa Park.
The club decided to convert from amateurism to professionalism in 1885. The committee decided that, in order to maintain their recent risen status, developments and procedures must be changed.
What seemed such a small, unremarkable advertisement appeared in the pages of a local newspaper in the English midlands days later…
‘Wanted: manager for Aston Villa Football Club, who will be required to devote his whole time under direction of the committee. Salary £100 per annum. Applications with reference must be made not later than June 23rd to Chairman of the Committee, Aston Villa Club House, 6 Witton Road, Aston’
Villa would then make a landmark appointment, in 1886, creating a position which would become the very norm to every club in the world for the foreseeable. They would appoint a ‘manager’ of the football team. In the end, the outcome was that the role was to be handed to their club secretary, George Ramsay. This decision meant that technically Ramsay, a Scot, was the first paid manager anywhere in world football.
Although the wording of the advertisement described the position as ‘manager’ the convention of the time was followed and Ramsay was generally referred to as the club’s secretary. The committee would pick the team but it was Ramsay who taught them how to play beautiful football.
In all Ramsay’s association with the football club lasted 59 years, there is a time, particularly at the start of his tenure, which will always be known as Aston Villa’s ‘Golden Age’. The great Scot led his teams to an astonishing six league titles and six FA Cups between 1893 and 1920, a managerial record that stands today.
In terms of winning titles, he is ranked 3rd behind Sir Alex Ferguson and Bob Paisley. Break those titles down and it shows his record of six League Championships and six FA Cups is second only to Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger respectively.
What is more impressive is the 49.59 per cent win ratio he achieved during his remarkable tenure at Villa Park that has Ramsay ranked above some of the football’s biggest names. In 2014, it emerged his relentless success leaves him ninth in a table ranking Premier League/First Division managers through history on their overall win percentage records. This puts him ahead of Liverpool legend Bill Shankly on 49.31 per cent, double winning Spurs coach Bill Nicholson on 48.72, and Nottingham Forest’s Brian Clough, who had a 45.03 win rate during a trophy-laden career, including two European Cups.
Ramsay held his position as secretary of Villa until 1926, when he was 71, then becoming an advisor and vice-president. He died in October 1935 and was laid to rest in St Mary’s churchyard, Handsworth Wood. His gravestone reads “Founder of Aston Villa”.