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Author Topic: The demon drink  (Read 455 times)

Online dave.woodhall

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The demon drink
« on: April 29, 2020, 11:41:53 PM »
From no. 250 - April 2020.

Short of a visit to a Spiritualist, it’s not known what William McGregor would have thought about Jack Grealish, but if ‘sources’ are to be believed there’s one aspect of our wanton genius’s life that our former director would have disapproved of. During the summer of 1906 Mr McGregor was invited to visit Tamworth by a friend, only to find himself chairing a Temperance Meeting. Undaunted as ever, he said that this was a thing he had never done before, but as a temperance man all his life and an erudite speaker to boot he clearly rose to the occasion. He also commented publicly on the effects of combining drink and football – both on players and spectators. 

“A man could not train properly to play football if he took alcohol”. He had often seen a good player going from one club to another and the unspoken reason very often was that he was addicted to drink and a disruptive element on the rest of the team. McGregor’s observation that he had known men who had been good footballers die in the prime of life has echoes today. He did not claim that a teetotaller was a better man, but it was better to be on the safe side. 

‘Mac’ contrasted the scene at grounds in Scotland and England. Alcohol was not sold at either but ‘up t’north’ fans were in the habit of carrying hip flasks to fortify themselves –and a half-time nip is not unknown today. He was proud of the fact that nearly a quarter of a million fans had attended Villa Park in the previous season with not one being apprehended for drunkenness. It had not always been the case in the Perry Barr days because of the many hostelries in the vicinity of the ground. Worse, several of them were being run by former Villa players and some fans could not resist the hopes of meeting a hero and the chance of a bit of stardust rubbing off on them.     

McGregor said he had spoken to the touring New Zealand rugby team who claimed that all the time they had been in England they did not taste intoxicating drinks but instead drank tea. And as McGregor observed; “they were the best athletes around”.

When it came to alcohol Villa, not just McGregor were true to our Methodist origins, as Charlie Athersmith was to find out even though he was a legend at the time. In advance of his retirement from the game and contrary to club rules Athersmith acquired a pub. Villa bent over backwards to accommodate him but he refused to give it up. Eventually, as he lived in Deritend it was suggested he might like to play for a club nearer home. By comparison to his time with us, his seasons with Small Heath are a mere footnote to his career. He was reckoned to be suffering from the after-effects of what had seemed an innocuous blow to the stomach during a game many years earlier and died twelve months before William McGregor, aged only 37.

Athersmith must have known what he had let himself in for, because twelve months earlier we had practically obliged Albion to take Frank Wheldon off our hands. They were virtually bankrupt at the time and although they are said to have paid us a Ł100 transfer fee (the same as we had paid for him) nothing is certain. We had originally poached Wheldon from Small Heath, to good effect, not least his ever-present season playing alongside Athersmith in the double team and his gaining a few England caps. Wheldon was also a top-notch cricketer with Worcestershire. But taking on a liquor licence while still playing for Villa was ill-advised.  However, hotels were in the family and remained so. Reports suggest his fame was no handicap when it came to attracting guests when he eventually settled down in Worcester.
If Athersmith was a local legend, then our James Crabtree was a national icon, one of the great players of the nineteenth century. The coroner’s report into his demise in 1908 aged only 36 must surely have had a salutary effect on McGregor. - or anyone reading it today.

As to the advertisement for Good Honest Beer, that came much later and, after all, when we first moved to Villa Park we were merely leaseholders. The Lower Grounds were still owned by Flowers Brewery.

John Russell

Offline Louzie0

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Re: The demon drink
« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2020, 09:06:26 PM »
Really enjoyed reading this.
Reminds me of my TT grandfather, who worked as a commissionaire at VP in the 40s and 50s.


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