Leading officials from football’s founding clubs marked the 100th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest figures in the game at a special ceremony at a Birmingham church.
The grave of Football League founder and former chairman of Aston Villa, William McGregor, was re-dedicated on Tuesday following a service of commemoration at St Mary’s Church, Hamstead Road, Handsworth.
In celebration of the centenary of the football statesman’s death, Villa commissioned the restoration of McGregor’s headstone in the inner-city churchyard.
The Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust also raised £1,000 to clean up the headstone. His gravestone has also had the words “Founder of the Football League and chairman of Aston Villa FC,” added to its inscription.
Top officials from the 12 founding Football League clubs, president Sir Brian Mawhinney, and former Villa chairman Doug Ellis were among the congregation.
The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Coun Anita Ward, also attended the service which was conducted by a team of leading clergy.
They included Rev Dr Kirsty Thorpe, leader of the United Reformed Church in the UK in recognition of Mr McGregor’s membership of the Congregational Church, which is now part of the URC.
She was joined by Rev Leo Osborn, leader of the Methodist church in the UK to mark the club’s Methodist origins, and the Right Rev Andrew Watson, Bishop of Aston.
Also taking part was Rev Prof Stuart Picken, minister of Ardoch Parish Church in Braco, Scotland, where McGregor was baptised.
The former Villa chairman was born in Braco, Perthshire, in 1846. He took charge at Villa Park in 1886 before founding the Football League in 1888.
Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust chairman, Peter Warrilow, described McGregor as “a towering figure in world football.” He said: “William McGregor was far more than a director and chairman, he was the promoter of the first football league in the world.”
Peter Lupson, a football author and historian, brought the issue of the grave to the club’s attention while writing Thank God For Football, a bestseller which chronicled the emergence of England’s top football clubs from churches.
He said: “McGregor’s one of the three most important men in the history of football.
“As father of the Football League he’s effectively the father of all football leagues – the one he founded was the prototype.
"He ranks alongside Ebenezer Cob Morley who gave the world the name soccer as we know it and also Charles Alcock who created the FA Cup and launched international football – he’s up there with those people.”
Mr Lupson, who was co-author with fellow historian John Lerwill, of the recently published biography The Inspirational William McGregor, gave the principal address.
The 12 founding members of the Football League were: Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.