20 Greatest Aston Villa Players of All Time
With the new Premier League season just around the corner—a season that could be as promising as any since Martin O'Neill's departure in 2010 or as depressing as last season's campaign—we take a look at my 20 Greatest Aston Villa Players of All Time.
The following list is in no particular order because it's just too difficult to compare players who played in different eras, different leagues and alongside different players.
So, instead, we simply recall the players who will live long in the memory of Villa supporters.
Charlie Aitken 1959-1976
Charlie Aitken is the ultimate Aston Villa man and his appearance record is almost certain never to be beaten. The Scottish defender turned out 660 times in claret and blue during his 17-year stint with the club.
Staggeringly, 657 of those were starts.
During the mammoth amount of appearances, Aitken played in three separate divisions, as well as the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup—and the Charity Shield, too.
Aitken had to bide his time as he eventually made his Villa debut almost a full year after joining. From there, however, he established himself at left-back, making the spot his for years to come.
Aitken’s finest moment in a Villa shirt was lifting the League Cup in 1975 as Villa beat Norwich at Wembley.
Olof Mellberg 2001-2008
"The Viking" transferred to Aston Villa from Racing Santander in 2001 and was an instant hit with the fans. Relentless, strong and powerful in the air, Mellberg turned out for Villa 232 times and will always be remembered for his dislike of Villa's arch-rivals Birmingham City, as reported in The Guardian.
I don't particularly like Birmingham City after the four games we have played against them in the Premiership. I can't say the atmosphere between us has been brilliant. Not that we have to like each other.
During the transfer window In Januray 2008, the Swedish international defender announced that he had signed a pre-contractual agreement with Juventus and would be leaving Villa at the end of the season.
To honour a loyal servant, the fans dedicated the last home game of that season to the Swede—naming it "Mellberg Day." During Villa's final match, against West Ham at Upton Park, Mellberg returned the favour, giving each and every travelling fan a shirt that read: "Thanks 4 Your Support."
Peter Withe 1980-1985
"Shaw, Williams, prepared to venture down the left. There’s a good ball in for Tony Morley. Oh, it must be... It is... Peter Withe!"
That is exactly why this man is on the list. Peter Withe secured the winning goal—albeit off his shin via the post—in Aston Villa's 1-0 victory over Bayern Munich in the European Cup Final in Rotterdam on May 26, 1982.
Withe spent five years with Villa following his £500,000 transfer from Newcastle in 1980. And in those five years, the forward notched 92 goals in 233 appearances, with 20 of those coming in a title-winning season.
To this day, no Villa player has managed even to match Withe's record of league goals in one season.
Gordon Cowans 1976-1985, 1988-1991 & 1993-1994
Gordon "Sid" Cowans will go down in Villa history as a true club legend. The midfielder made more than 400 appearances in three successful spells for the club he first joined in 1976.
Renowned for his sublime passing, Sid became one of the most decorated players in the club's history, winning the league, the League Cup and European Cup, along with the European Super Cup.
County Durham-born Cowans arrived at Villa as a 12-year-old schoolboy and is still, at the age of 54, very much part of the club's fabric. He returned to Villa as a youth coach, alongside Tony McAndrew and Kevin MacDonald, but has since earned a promotion to first-team coach.
Pongo Waring 1928-1935
Thomas "Pongo" Waring is another pre-Second World War player to feature on the list of Aston Villa greats. He gained his nickname after a cartoon character of the time.
Players are always remembered for scoring goals and, with a strike rate of three goals every four games, Pongo will live long in Villa’s history.
A favourite character at the club—loved by both players and fans alike—Pongo was certainly a character, as former Villa captain Billy Walker wrote in his autobiography:
There were no rules for Pongo. Nobody knew what time he would turn up for training—ten o'clock, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock, it made no odds. Nobody on the staff could do anything with him although I think I can claim, as the captain in his days, to be the only person able to handle him. He was a funny lad indeed. We started the weeks training on Tuesday mornings and every Tuesday he followed a habit which he could never break. He would go round all the refreshment bars on the ground and finish off the lemonade customers, storing the remains in the bottles! Then he would start a little of his training—but that seldom lasted very long.
There is, however, one thing that trumps all of the above. Pongo enjoyed the greatest-ever Villa debut—possibly the greatest debut anybody has ever had—as he scored a hat-trick against arch-rivals Birmingham City.
Dennis Mortimer 1975-1985
Dennis Mortimer spent ten years at Villa following his transfer from West Midlands neighbours Coventry.
The Liverpool-born midfielder enjoyed a successful career in the claret and blue strip and will forever be remembered for captaining the side in the European Cup final win over Bayern Munich.
Having won the league cup in 1977, Mortimer was pivotal in playing the central midfield role as his side won the league in 1980-81 before lifting Europe’s premier club trophy.
In the year leading up to the climax of Mortimer’s Villa career, "Sir Dennis" completed a historic double—600 appearances in the football league as well as making his 300th appearance for Villa.
Paul McGrath 1989-1996
One of the greatest defenders of his generation, Paul McGrath is one of the easiest choices to make in naming Villa's 20 Greatest Players of All Time.
McGrath's serious lack of pace, due to constant knee problems, was never an issue; the Irishman's ability to read the game made him one of the most feared defenders around, with many Villa fans regarding McGrath as the greatest player in the club's history.
McGrath spent seven years in the Midlands following his £400,000 transfer from Manchester United in 1989. During his time with Villa, he won the 1993 PFA Player of the Year and also added two League Cup winners' medals to his trophy cabinet in 1994 and 1996.
"Paul McGrath, M'Lord" can be heard at stadiums up and down the country with the Villa faithful always in full voice to honour their former hero.
Johnny Dixon 1945-1961
Johnny Dixon spent his entire professional career as a footballer at Aston Villa after writing to the club asking for a trial simply because he liked their name.
The former frontman passed away at the age of 85 in 2009 and, due to a battle with Alzheimer’s, was sadly unable to remember his greatest-ever triumph: Dixon was the last man to lift the FA Cup as Aston Villa captain, back in 1957.
However, a few years before his death, he was able to recall the event, admitting he almost broke down in tears before the full-time whistle at the thought of lifting the trophy.
It was fantastic when I went up to collect the Cup. The Queen handed me the Cup and I turned away from her to hold it up. To do something like that just once in a lifetime is tremendous and I will always be grateful for that.
Gabriel Agbonlahor 1994-present
Gabby started his career with Villa as a schoolboy and has stated that Villa Park is where he'd like to hang up his boots. And, for that reason alone, he's got to be on this list.
The Birmingham-born forward is a fan favourite and not simply for his prowess in the opposition penalty area. He is Villa through and through and recently surpassed Dwight Yorke—who notched 60 league goals—as Villa's all-time highest Premier League goalscorer. Some feat.
Blessed with bags of pace but with questions over his consistency and goal-scoring ability, Gabby will give his all in claret and blue, keen to prove the doubters wrong.
With a number of high-profile goals to his name that will live long in the memory of Villa fans—such as the famous winner against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2010—none will be more memorable than Gabby's winner against Villa's fiercest rivals Birmingham City back in 2008.
As long as he's playing regularly for the club he loves and has a manager who believes in his ability, it's hard to believe Gabby will ever leave.
Dwight Yorke 1989-1998
"The Smiling Assassin" was first discovered by Villa manager Graham Taylor during a pre-season tour in Trinidad and Tobago. With Yorke impressing in a game against his side, Taylor offered the 17-year-old a trial with the Midlands club. A successful trial led to a contract and the Trinidadian went on to make 232 appearances for Villa in a nine-year spell.
Yorke started his Villa career on the right wing but eventually moved to play in the striker's role—something on which he thrived—establishing himself as one of the Premier League's top forwards.
Villa fans rarely forgive any player who transfers to Manchester United—just take Ashley Young as an example—but Yorke, who signed for the Red Devils for £12.6 million in 1998, is one of the few exceptions.
Peter McParland 1952-1962
Peter James McParland accomplished a number of great things during his time at Villa but the main reason he is widely considered as one of the all-time greats is because of his goals in the 1957 FA Cup final. McParland single-handedly won it for Villa.
Villa had failed to win a trophy in the preceding 37 years but his two second-half goals secured the cup.
McParland will also be remembered for another incident in the same game. After just six minutes, he clashed with Manchester United goalkeeper Ray Wood, leaving the Red Devils custodian unconscious with a broken cheekbone.
Wood had to leave the field and, as this was in the days before subs were allowed, he was replaced in goal by Jackie Blanchflower. The goalkeeper came back on as an ineffective outfield player before going back in goal for the final seven minutes.
Tony Morley 1979-1983
Tony Morley is one of the most exciting players ever to feature in claret and blue. The Ormskirk-born winger brought flamboyance, skill and excitement to the Villa team of the 80s—a team built on hard work and endeavour.
Morley was a key component in the team that won the 1980-81 league title and played as significant a role as Peter Withe in Villa's winning goal against Bayern Munich in the European Cup final.
Morley's sensational dribble down the left wing was followed by a pinpoint cross that set up the goal and sealed victory for Villa.
Morley featured for Villa 180 times before joining rivals West Brom. The nippy winger scored 34 goals in that time, none better than his spectacular effort against Everton during the 1980-81 campaign that won goal of the season.
Brian Little 1969-1980 & 1994-1998 (manager)
There are very few people in the club's history as highly thought of as Brian Little. Not only did the Newcastle-born striker excel on the pitch for Villa, he also went on to become one of the club's most popular managers of recent years.
Little joined the Villa ranks as a 16-year-old teenager, excelling as an apprentice before making his professional debut at the age of 17.
Before injuries ended the striker's career prematurely, Little won two League Cup medals and helped Villa gain promotion to the top flight in 1974-75, finishing as the league's top scorer.
Little returned to Villa in 1994 as manager, replacing Ron Atkinson, following successful spells at the helm of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Darlington and Leicester.
His first job was to keep Villa in England's top tier of football, which he did after taking over with them at the bottom of the Premier League table. In 1996, Little won the League Cup for a third time, this time from the touchline, as Villa beat Leeds United 3-0 at Wembley.
Juan Pablo Angel
Juan Pablo Angel 2001-2007
If Juan Pablo Angel had continued his Villa career in the same vein in which he started it, he would have been shipped out sharpish and would have never appeared on this list. Fortunately, for Villa—and for Angel, too—that wasn't the case.
The Colombian signed for a club record fee at the time, costing Villa £9.5 million from Argentinian side River Plate, and took a while to get going.
Villa's No. 9 struggled with injuries throughout his first season and found it hard adapting to English life. His wife Paula and son Geronimo were also very ill during his first few months in the country, as the BBC reported, and that didn't help with his on-field struggles.
Angel scored his first club goal on the final day of the 2000-01 season, contributing to Coventry's relegation. He soon took to the Premier League, using his pace, strength and wonderful aerial ability to become Villa's leading scorer in the 2003-04 season with 16 league goals—23 in all competitions.
Angel's standout moment came in the League Cup quarter-finals in 2003 as he scored a magnificent solo effort against Chelsea.
"There's only Juan Pablo Angel..."
Nigel Spink 1979-1996
You know you've made it into the upper echelons of a club when your name is in their most famous song. Nigel Spink has made that list, along with Paul Birch and Alan McInally. This is a family site so I won't repeat the lyrics but if you want to find the song, then I'm sure you'll do just that...
There are, of course, other reasons as to why Nigel Spink is considered as one of Villa's greatest-ever players.
The goalkeeper made 460 appearances for the club during his 17-year spell and not surprisingly holds the club record for most appearances made by a goalkeeper.
Spink was the first-ever goalkeeper to play in the Premier League for Aston Villa way back in 1992. But it was 10 years before that when the keeper made his name.
With just over five minutes on the clock in the European Cup final, first-choice goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer injured his shoulder and was forced off.
Enter Nigel Spink, the 23-year-old goalie with just a solitary appearance to his name before that night. The Chelmsford-born custodian went on to play the game of his life with a number of fine saves to deny hot favourites Bayern Munich, keeping a clean sheet as Villa lifted the trophy.
Allan Evans 1977-1989
Allan Evans is regarded as one of Villa's all-time greatest defenders. To be recognised by a club and its supporters as one of "the greats" is always an honour but what makes Evans' inclusion in the Villa defenders' hall of fame so special is that he was originally signed as a striker.
The Scot signed from Dunfermline in 1977 as a centre-forward but was soon converted to centre-half where he enjoyed a long and successful career for Villa, making 475 appearances.
Evans played a key role in Villa's 1980-81 league winning season, contributing to a splendid defensive record that saw the side concede just 40 goals in 42 games.
Consistent at the back and a fine header of the ball, Evans claimed a number of trophies in his time at the club, including the European Cup.
Mark Bosnich 1991-1999
The Australian goalkeeper was never one to stray too far away from controversy during his time with Villa and then later when playing for Chelsea.
For all his faults, he was a wonderfully-talented goalkeeper and most certainly the guy you'd like to have in between the sticks when it came to facing a penalty.
The Aussie won two League Cups with Villa—in 1994 and 1996—and was, without a doubt, responsible for his side reaching the final of one of those.
Villa looked like exiting the competition at the semi-final stage against Tranmere in 1994 but "Bozzie" made three saves in the shootout as Villa came from behind to go through.
Martin Laursen 2004-2009
Danish defender Martin Laursen signed for Villa from AC Milan in 2004 in what was considered a shock move. Villa paid £3 million for the Dane who had suffered with knee problems throughout his career to that point.
By the end of the 2006/07 campaign, Laursen had made fewer than 30 appearances as his knees continued to give him trouble.
But it was during the 2007/08 season that Villa fans witnessed first hand just how good he really was. The defender was a rock in the heart of the Villa defence and was a threat from set-pieces in the opposition penalty area due to his unrivalled aerial ability.
Laursen earned the supporters' Player of the Year award at the end of the season and was subsequently named captain for the following campaign.
Before his premature retirement in 2009 due to injury, the Dane scored for Villa during a UEFA Cup match against Dutch champions Ajax in what was one of the most thrilling games at Villa Park of recent years.
Ian Taylor 1994-2003
"Tayls" is another ex-Villa player still adored by the fans today. A Villa supporter himself, Taylor stood in the Holte End as a boy and the former midfielder, now a club ambassador, still regularly attends matches.
Quite spectacularly, Taylor was in the stands during Villa's 1994 League Cup campaign as he cheered his team on to glory before helping the side to win it as a player just two years later.
A fantastic servant to the club, Taylor would often stand with the fans watching his beloved Villa when he was forced to sit out through injury.
"Tayls" played with an excitement and a passion that every supporter would do should they be lucky enough to get to pull on the claret and blue. This passion was never more evident than during his debut when Taylor popped up with a headed goal against Chelsea in 1994.
A player's player and a fan's fan, Taylor frequently interacts with players—new and old—as well as supporters on Twitter.
Billy Walker 1914-1933
Just like Pongo Waring, Billy Walker's place in Aston Villa history is safe.
Another pre-Second World War player, Walker spent 19 years with the club. With 244 goals to his name, the striker still remains Villa's all-time leading goalscorer despite almost half a decade passing since his death in 1964.
The forward captained both Villa and England in the 1920s and even had a stint in goal for both sides. With 12 League and FA Cup hat-tricks to his name, Billy Walker is a man that will never be forgotten by his adoring fans.