Published on September 23rd, 2013 | by John OMeara0
Tripping Over History
St. Mary’s graveyard provides a great 400m (approx.) circuit for a runner: a soft spongy surface from the trodden-in woodchip, undulations and turns that keep things interesting, and the seasonal variations of the many overhanging trees. As I reached the furthest corner for the first time, and was about to veer right up the hill, I nearly fell over at the striking sight of what seemed a brand new gravestone amongst so many old and broken ones. I stopped and looked and found it was dedicated to William McGregor ‘founder of the Football League’ and his wife. A little research soon opened up for me this further example of how people and events from our local streets resonate with a worldwide significance, and how often St. Mary’s Churchyard provides a link to that history.
The grave was re-dedicated in March this year , and the Evening Mail did a really informative article at the time which you can read by clicking this link: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/125-years-day-aston-villa-1703790
McGregor was one of a number of Scottish immigrants who helped transform both Aston Villa and the whole approach to football in this country – an approach which then spread across the world. Another was George Ramsey, who came from Glasgow, and was credited with introducing ‘the passing game’ here, and went on to manage the club as it won 6 League Championships and 6 FA Cups. It was Ramsey who moved the club’s ground to Wellington Road, which was their base from 1876 to 1897 (a site now covered by Willmore Road, Hirons Garden Centre and Livingstone Road allotments). Ramsey is also buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard.
Just a few hundred yards from the Wellington Road site is the Calthorpe Arms, which one of the country’s premier athletic clubs, Birchfield Harriers, used as a base when they were founded in 1876. Aston Villa used to play testimonial matches to raise funds for Birchfield when they ran out of money, and the Hon. Secretary of Birchfield W.W. Alexander, after whom Alexander Stadium is named, let the Villa Committee use a room in his house (on Witton Road near Six Ways) for meetings.