In the Beginning
The club was founded in 1953 by Shamie Martin and a number of his pals and contemporaries from the ‘Top of the Town’ area of Waterford. The early meetings of the club took place early in 1953 and along with Shamie, nine other young men became the founding fathers of the Villa: Frank O Byrne, Frank Farrell, Eddie Wall, Nicky Power, Sid Rellis, Michael Kiely, Billy Howlett, Eddie Wymberry and Eddie Smith. The main catchment area for the club would be the boys of Griffith Place, Sexton Street, Leamy Streetdown to the Morrison’s Road area of the town.
It was a difficult task for a group of young men to organise a new club with no money and no gear or equipment. But persist they certainly did and before long the club was up and running. The first appearance of a team under the Villa banner was in a 5 a side tournament in July 1953 and in September of that year two teams were entered in the under 14 & under 15 schoolboy leagues. The first ever league game of the club took place in September 1953 against Bolton, resulting in a 3-1 victory. The first side to represent the club is recorded as being Liam Burke, Hubert Sauvage, Frank O’Byrne, Monchie Kiely, Tom O’Connor, Teddy O’Byrne, Nicky Power, Noel Hodges, Sid Rellis, Dick Quinn and Eddie Wymberry.
Amusing anecdotes abound from this innocent era, including solving the dilemma of getting a team of 15 year olds with no means of transport to an away fixture in Kilmacthomas. The quick thinking young lads soon overcame this barrier, with the entire team hitching a lift to Kilmac in the back of Sonny Kirwan’s lorry – what a sight that must have been!
Both sides performed creditably in their first season without winning anything (the Under 15s made the area final of the Evans Cup where they lost out to Hibs). The club didn’t have to wait long for its first taste of success, which came a year later when the under 14 side won their league. This would lead to a bigger influx of players and by the late fifties Villa had added an under 16 and Youth side and began to dominate underage football in the town. In the 56/57 season all three underage schoolboy sides won their respective divisions, with the Under 16 side also winning the Hartery Cup. The Under 15’s reached the last four of the Evans Cup (the country’s most prestigious schoolboy tournament) where they lost out to 3-2 to Tramore Celtic of Cork in Flower Lodge after extra time, with Joe Murray and Noel Burke scoring for Villa.
By the 1957/58 season, after four years in existence Villa and with the first schoolboys now maturing into adulthood the club finally entered its first Junior League team. The schoolboy side of the club continued to flourish, producing an abundance of quality players from the streets surrounding Griffith Place. Evidence of this is the achievement of winning the U16 Hartery Cup for four successive years between 1956 & 1959, the last of the four timer coming when Villa defeated St Josephs 4-1 in Kilcohan Park, with goals coming from Al Casey 2, J. Ryan and Ben Stokes.
One of the club’s finest hours arrived in 1959, as a gallant Villa side became the first Waterford side to land the Munster Minor Cup. Two goals from Frankie Mountain were enough to see off Glasheen of Cork and spark scenes of wild celebration on their return to Waterford. According to the Munster Express report of the game and its aftermath – “Griffith Place blazed with bonfires to welcome home the victorious Villa side”. The team that captured this great honour for the club and city was: E. Roche, M. Condon, J. Nolan, E. Madigan, J. O’Brien, M. Robinson, M. O’Brien, W. Howlett, T. Forristal, B. Stokes and F. Mountain. This great side developed under the tuition of coach Sammy Robinson.
The Swinging Sixties
The new decade began well for Villa with another extended run in the prestigious Under 15 Evans Cup, again losing out at the semi final stage, this time to Dublin outfit Bolton Athletic. The club became embroiled in a local controversy through no fault of its own in July 1960, when it reached the Infirmary Cup final against Woodstown. The final ended in a 0-0 stalemate, but the replay proved to be altogether more eventful. Villa led 1-0 early in the second half, with Woodstown already reduced to 10 men following a sending off. When referee T. O’Regan sent off a second Woodstown player, the game seemed all but over. However, the Woodstown player refused to leave the pitch leaving the ref with no choice but to abandon the game. In their wisdom, the Junior League decided a full replay of the game was to take place, rather than awarding the game to Villa. This led to dispute and counter dispute with the net result of the final never having an outcome.
By 1962 Villa had progressed so much in such a short space of time that the club gained entry into the Munster Senior League.A host of players during this glorious era would progress to League of Ireland level. Such was the talent at Villa that people like Gene Roche, John Nolan, Billy Howlett, Ben Stokes, Sid Rellis, Al Casey, Pat Flynn, Frankie Mountain and Johnny Toms would play at the highest national level. The Villa reached the Munster Junior Cup Final in 1963, when a Buddy Purcell hat-trick was enough to see off the challenge of Geraldines of Limerick in the semi-final atOzier Park. Unfortunately due to an internal dispute within the Munster FA, the final of this competition didn’t take place until 1964, where the club lost out narrowly to Blackrock of Cork in Flower Lodge. This talented side also reached the quarter finals of the FAI Junior Cup in 1964 where they were edged out by Pike Rovers of Limerick. The astonishing rise of a club barely ten years old was eclipsing all their city and county counterparts around them and was truly a golden era for the club.
Another significant achievement at that time was the presence of several Villa players – Gene Roche, Buddy Purcell, Teddy Madigan, and Frankie Mountain – in the first Waterford panel to win the Inter-league Oscar Traynor Cup in 1964. The rest of the 60’s continued along in a relatively successful vein for the club, with people like Sammy Robinson, John Sheehan, Michael Kiely, Nicky Power and Johnny Toms to the fore on the playing and administrative side of the club.
Into the 70’s
The 1970’s began auspiciously for the Villa with the capture of the Ardagh Cup for the leading sides in Waterford in 1970. The final was against Bohs and Villa turned in a super display to easily win 4-0, the goals coming from Teddy Robinson, Oxo Connors, and Noel O’Neill 2. This side also won the Fuller Cup in the same year, while a good under 16 side including the likes of Jim Flanagan, Pat Lee and Nicky Denn won the cup.
Throughout the seventies Villa were a comfortable top flight side. Indeed in the 1975/76 season the club got off to a scintillating start losing just once in their first eleven games but were gradually taken over by Johnville and Bohemians.
A notable success from this era was the Fitzgerald Youth Cup triumph of 1977, when a fancied Bolton side was defeated 3-1 in the Ozier Park final. The Youth squad for this triumph was Tommy Griffin, Derek McBride, Peter Jacob, Tony Whelan, John Hennessy, Frank Power, Michael Heffernan, Tony Kennedy, Matt Keating, Jim Sutton, Karl Phelan, Eugene Connors (Captain), Pat Murphy, and Jackie Hurley.
The 1970’s also saw the start of what has become a Villa tradition of an annual overseas social weekend away. The initial group of pioneers!! that hit London town included a youthful Ben Harte, Sham Cooper, Muckel Ryan, David English and Austin Curtin.
In the late 1970’s the club’s nomadic existence finally ceased as the club began developingwhat was a total wasteland next to Ozier Park into what is now afirst class playing facility at Connors Park. Considerable credit must be given to the committee of the time, who undertook the often back breaking task of transforming the land pictured below.
The site that is now Connors Park. Photo taken in late 1970’s.
Struggling Through the 80’s
The 1980’s were far from being a successful period in terms of winning silverware for the Villa, although luckily the sense of spirit and fun of the club was maintained throughout this era. Tragedy occurred early in the decade with the death of the then club secretary Eugene Connors, after whom the clubs new pitch was renamed.
There were a few high points around this time, notably a triumph in the Fitzgerald Youth Cup in 1982. A number of club stalwarts such as Derek White, Patsy Roche, Pat Cunningham, Martin Quinn, George Fennelly and Shay Burke emerged from this team.
The unthinkable happened in 1985 when Villa were relegated after more than twenty fiveyears of top flight football. Park Rangers would pip them to safety by a point but with 2 wins from 20 games the writing was probably on the wall for some time.
There were probably too few people trying to do too much at this time and the contributions of the likes of Frank O’Byrne, Philip Myler, Nicky Power, Tom Burke, Kevin Roche, Ben Harte, Gerry O’Brien, Martin Quinn, Dessie Moran were invaluable in keeping the club going through perhaps the most difficult phase of its existence.
Villa Premier Team 1984
Back :Terry Carroll, George Fennelly, David English, Kieran Mulhall, Matt Keating, Stephen Ryan, Sid Cooke, Front: Gerry O’Brien, Shay Burke, Liam Whitty, Brendan Doyle, Martin Quinn, Noel Kennedy
Rebuilding Through the 90’s
The 1990’s was the period that saw the regeneration of the Villa FC both on and off the pitch. A significant milestone was the formation of 4th division team in 1991/92, which brought back together many of the older members of the club. A memorable 38 game first season saw the veterans on the brink of winning the league with two games to go. Giddy at the prospect of success and no doubt lubricated by a few pints, an impromptu medal award ceremony took place at Davy Mac’s pub amid scenes of great joy. The team then proceeded to lose their last two games to end up in a playoff for the league, which they also lost! An unfortunate case of counting your chickens before they are hatched I’m afraid. This team was not only the cornerstone of a very enjoyable club social scene, but also made very significant contributions to the financing and overall running of the club.
Villa 4th Division Team 1992
Back: Ben Harte, Davy English, Tony Whelan, Matt Keating, Dermot Halpin, Brendan Doyle, Liam Curham, Muckel Ryan, John Kindlon, Paddy Curtin. Front: Liam Walsh, Tommy Griffin, Bobby Sheridan, Sham Cooper, Jeddy Kelly, Dessie Moran, Billy McGuire, Pat Cunningham.
The old adage about good things arriving in pairs was never more accurate than in the 1993/94 season of Villa FC, when the club put an end to a barren run in the Junior League to win not one, but two league titles. A superb 1B title was clinched with the loss of just one game in 20. The Hoops had a full seven points to spare over second placed Dungarvan. Not to be outdone Villa’s slightly more mature 4th division side captured the title, seeing off St Josephs and Kilmacthomas, despite actually losing 4 of their games. When asked if his side played with a ‘Flat Back 4’ gaffer Ben Harte responded “Never mind a flat back 4, we have a fat back 4!”. Further success ensued in 1997 when the club won the 2A championship – George Fennelly netting 2 and Jim Payne in a final day 3-0 win v Park Rangers and make managers Patsy Roche & Derek White get the cash out to buy their players a well earned drink. Their record was almost impeccable: losing just 1 of 20 games. They would lose on penalties in Infirmary Cup to Abbeyside when trying to achieve the double.
The schoolboy end of the club also improved significantly during this era, the key factors being the introduction of an academy and increased numbers and quality of coaches. Particular credit must go to the likes of Freddie Robinson, Ray Moran, Owen Tubbritt, Liam Connors, Ace Butler, Frank O’Byrne, Bobby Sheridan, Paul Morrissey and Nicky Denn for raising the standards in the club in this regard. The fruits of this labour really began to show really began to show around the turn of the millennium and the current huge success of the club can be traced back to this time.
The facilities of the club also underwent a radical improvement commencing in the late 1990’s, with Neil Kelly and George McDonald being the driving forces behind the developments.
The “Villa 2000” fundraising scheme saw the club generate the capital to develop an all-weather playing surface, erect security fencing, seed a new grass training area by the turn of the century.
The Noughties a Decade of Growth and Success
The last decade has undoubtedly been the most successful in the club’s history, as it has gone from strength to strength on and off the park. The facilities at Connors Park continued to be developed to a really high standard, with a fantastic new Clubhouse, a sizeable Astroturf pitch and floodlighting on the main pitch being the principal developments. To date close to one million euro has been spent on the facilities at Connors Park. Lots of clubs now look enviously at their set-up, but the hard work, tenacity and bloody-mindedness of the club committee and members have driven this, andare the foundations on which the club were and are still built on.
The success of the schoolboy end of the club in the last 15 years has been enormous and it is fair to say that Villa are now once again ones of the dominant forces in Waterford Schoolboy football. Regular ‘A’ leagues are being won, players are receiving representative honours at Waterford, Munster and Irish International levels and receiving the attention of cross channel clubs, with the likes of Kenny McEvoy (Tottenham Hotspur), Lee O’Connor (Manchester United), Jayson Molumby (Brighton) and TimiSobowale (Manchester City) having made the move across channel in recent years.
2006/07 a hugely successful season for Villa
Danone Cup Irish Under 11 Champions 2009
Another historic achievement was the winning of the National Danone Under 11 Cup in 2009. The lads defeated many of Ireland’s leading clubs along the way to a final meeting with Salthill Devon. A tense final was decided by a brilliant Aaron O’Connor freekick, giving Villa their first National trophy and qualifying the club to represent Ireland at the Danone World Cup. This was originally scheduled to take place in Brazil in 2009, but the swine flu pandemic forced the postponement of the tournament, so the team travelled to South Africa in October 2010 to represent Ireland at the Danone World Cup instead. A fantastic honour indeed.
Returning to the Top Table
One of the biggest nights in the club’s recent history arrived in late May 2005. By completing arousing 3-1 win over Tramore Rangers; Villa bridged what seemed like an eternal 20 year gap and returned to the Premier League for the first time since 1985.
After a season tighter than two coats of paint the Promised Land was finally reached when a packed and nerve wracked Ozier Park watched a visiting Tramore Rangers beaten 3-1. Villa only needed a draw from the game, but when referee Jimmy McGrath deemed Villa’s pitch unplayable, thus switching next door to Ozier the nerves started jangling. An early Ian Tilson goal calmed things a little, but a Rangers equaliser with 17 minutes left heightened the anxiety in the ground. The game was still tied at 1 all with 3 minutes remaining when Richie Burke went on a mazy dribble, beating what seemed like half of Tramore, before rounding the keeper and calmly slotting home for a goal that will go down in Villa folklore. Amid scenes of unbridled joy a further goal from Ian Tilson in injury time sealed the deal andgave Villa the title in a season where the dogged duo of Piltown and Bolton had pushed them right to the wire.
A fortnight later Tilson was the catalyst again as Villa completed an historic double at this level by winning the First Division Cup as well. The striker’s hat-trick thwarted Bolton and gave the Hoops a magnificent league and cup double. The squad that led Villa back to the Premier league was; Alan Doheny, Lee Douglas, Damien Roche, Ian Nagle, Kieran Fitzgerald, Colm Cleary, Nicky Corcoran, Eddie Widger, Eric O’Connor, Ian Tilson, Conor McDonald, Ian Cantwell, Richie Burke, Danny Sheridan, Jimmy McGrath, John Waddell, Alan Ryan, Pascal Keane and Liam Kavanagh.The successful season continued when Ray & Des Moran’s Youth side took the Youth A league title as well. In a completely undefeated season goals from Niall Irwin and Alan Ryan gave them the title in their final game of the season against Tramore.
Villa 1st Division Double Winners 2005
2007 saw Villa come agonisingly close to getting to their first FAI Junior Cup final since being founded 54 years previously.A long arduous campaign that started with local victories over Ferrybank and Grannagh saw Villa get to the region. Their first encounter with a side outside Waterford would be against Sligo outfit Glenview Stars where an Ian Cantwell hat-trick helped Villa to a 6-0 win.The lads were Dublin bound after that to take on Lissadell United in a close encounter where Kevin O Brien & Glen O Neill goals saw off the opposition. The last 16 round saw Newcastle West overcome in another very tight contest.
The last eight paired Villa with Cork side Grattan United. The old adage “it never rains but it pours” was meant for days like this. Howling wind and driving rain plummeted down for most of the game and the Leesider’s took the lead with a penalty.Nevertheless Villa persevered and equalised with a Rory Walsh header. United went ahead again but Kevin O Brien’s wind assisted corner deceived everyone to find the back on the net with just five minutes remaining.Extra time brought more tension. Eoin Ginnety had his goalbound effort cleared on the line, while Liam Kavanagh beaten in Villa’s goal but the crossbar coming to his rescue. In the 116th minute Glen O Neill scored a brilliantly taken winner after great work from Keith Worley, sending Villa into the last four.
FAIJunior Cup Semi Final 2007 Villa V St John Bosco
Standing between Villa and an historic place in the final – John Bosco’s of Dublin. The venue: Bluebell United ground in Dublin, Sunday March 31st.The team were not only trying to make history for the club but also see a Waterford side in the final of the famed cup for the fourth year running. Everything seemed to be going to plan when a brilliant Kevin O Brien 30 yarder goal screamer just past the hour put the Connors Park men within touching distance of the final. It got better three minutes later when St John’s had a man sent off but an equaliser in the last fifteen minutes brought the game into extra time . Villa did have chances to win the game in extra time but the bitterest of pill’s was left to swallow as St John Bosco’s won on penalties to break Villa hearts.
However a huge prize was claimed in 2008.The Ardagh Cup, a prize only one Villa captain had lifted over his head in the club’s history, finally got the chance to spend a year in the Connors Park trophy cabinet in 2008 when the Premiers beat Waterford Crystal 3-1 in the final. It was a poignant moment as the final had been overshadowed by the death of Frankie O’Byrne. The game was put back a week because of Frankie’s death and in Ozier Park that night it certainly felt as though Villa had a 12th man looking down on them as they turned in a fantastic display to overcome a strongly fancied Waterford Crystal side, who had just won the Premier League title. Villa never looked overawed and took the lead courtesy of Declan Woodgate’s 11th minute chip over Hearne in the Glass goal. Ten minutes later Philip Tobin was beaten in Villa’s goal by a Delahuntyequaliser but it only spurred the Hoops on even more and a minute before half time Conor McDonald’s low drive put Villa ahead at the break.
The second half was the proverbial end to end stuff, but with a minute left the romantics got their happy ending when Danny Walsh, who had replaced the injured Woodgate in the first half, sealed the victory and with it only Villa’s second ever Ardagh Cup triumph.
You just knew Frankie was smiling from above.
Villa FC Ardagh Cup Winners 2008
Back: Paddy Davies, Fergus McDonald, Danny Walsh, Declan Woodgate, Neil Hennebry, Philip Tobin, Ian O’Sullivan, Declan Furlong, Iain Hatton
Front: Jimmy Barry, Danny Sheridan, Des Mullett, Tadhg Kirby, Ian Cantwell, Paul Omoteso, Conor McDonald.
The last decade has seen the club go from strength to strength on the field. Regular schoolboy successes have become the norm and our players have continued to gain recognition at local and international representative level. Two particular highlights stand out in this period. The 2010/11 season saw Villa embark on a brilliant run in the FAI Under 17 Cup, going all the way to the final. A memorable semi-final in Ozier Park saw the mighty Cork City beaten 3-2, with the winner coming from a cheeky Kevin Flynn back heel. Unfortunately Belvedere of Dublin proved a bridge to far in the final, but this was a magnificent achievement nonetheless. Three days in May 2012 will also go down in club folklore, as Villa won the U17, U19, and 1st Division cup in this 72 hour period to spark wild celebrations!
The Great Frank O’Byrne
Any look at the history of Villa FC must recognise the enormous contribution of Frankie to the club and Waterford soccer in general. A club man through and through, his with Villa Football club was truly phenomenal. Frankie had a 55-year career with the club, a pioneer who had no contemporaries because he was truly a one-off. He was there at the start of the club and was there through thick and thin for the club until his untimely death in 2008. Thousands of Villa footballers are grateful to have known Frank and benefited from his knowledge, wicked sense of humour and most of all his good nature and humanity.
Villa is now the biggest club in the South East region, with a total of 27 teams ranging from Under 11s all the way up to the Premier team. The club academy still goes from strength to strength with over 120 young kids attending weekly sessions at Newtown School Astro. The club remains very family oriented and committed to providing football to players of all ages and abilities. The future certainly looks bright for this great old club.
DID YOU KNOW? –
That when Villa was founded there was no adult membership connected to their first year in existence, with all the lads aged between 13 and 17. The club raised their initial funds from contributions from the pocket money of these kids.
That well known local broadcaster the late Eddie Wymberry holds the distinction of scoring the first ever league goal for Villa in September 1953.
That David ‘Daw’ English has the remarkable record of having scored goals for Villa in 5 decades the 1960’s, 1970’s , 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s.