Obituary: Eric Houghton

When Eric Houghton kicked a football, it was sensible not to stand in its path. Between the wars, as an Aston Villa and England left-winger, he established a reputation as one of the most destructively powerful marksmen the game had seen. Off the pitch, though, the author of those famously violent strikes was a mild and courteous fellow, and throughout his subsequent career as a manager, the highlight of which was leading his beloved Villa to FA Cup glory in 1957, he ruled by a quiet strength of character which earned him widespread respect.

Houghton had seemed destined for a life in soccer since his teenage days as a prodigiously prolific centre-forward who revelled in turning out for his school on a Saturday morning, then playing for his village side in the afternoon. After excelling in local non-League circles, notably with Boston Town, he was recommended to Aston Villa by an uncle who had once played for the club, signing amateur forms in 1927 and giving up a bakery job to turn professional a year later.

Having been converted into a flankman - Villa were magnificently served in the centre by the revered "Pongo" Waring - Houghton gained rapid promotion to the senior side, uncharacteristically missing a penalty on his debut in January 1930 but impressing generally with his dashing style, his slick manipulation of the ball and, above all, his shooting prowess.

Clearly the eager rookie offered immense promise, but no one expected the Houghton star to ascend quite so instantly as it did during the season of 1930-31, in which he scored 30 times as Villa finished as First Division runners-up, and he was rewarded by an England call-up. He netted in that game, too, a 5-1 victory over All Ireland, and could count himself unlucky that his prime coincided with that of Arsenal's Cliff Bastin, whose brilliance ended Houghton's international involvement only two years later.

At club level, however, the Villa man continued to flourish, and he played a major part in the club's Second Division championship triumph of 1938. All the while the Houghton "howitzer" grew in renown and he became a dead- ball specialist, many of the 170 senior goals he netted before leaving Villa Park in 1946 having come from penalties and free-kicks.

Houghton's new club was lowly Notts County, for whom he played until 1949 when he took over as manager and, with England centre-forward Tommy Lawton at his disposal, led them to the Third Division (South) title in his first campaign at the helm. Three terms of unspectacular consolidation followed before he took the job closest to his heart, that of bossing Aston Villa. Quietly but firmly, he set about revitalising a once-great club now fallen on mediocre times. He gave youngsters a chance and he spent heavily on well-known recruits, but could not achieve his ambition of mounting a realistic championship challenge.

There was uplifting consolation in 1957, though, when the Villans upset the odds to beat newly-crowned League champions Manchester United in the FA Cup Final, albeit in controversial circumstances after United's goalkeeper was seriously injured. However, hopes that the Wembley victory would inspire a general recovery were dashed and, with his side struggling near the foot of the table, a sad Houghton was sacked in November 1958.

Thereafter the popular Eastcountryman joined Nottingham Forest as chief scout and bossed non-League Rugby Town in the early 1960s, before serving Walsall in various capacities, including director. Next he enjoyed a second return to Villa Park, pioneering the club lottery before taking a seat on the board for seven years from 1972, and in 1983 was elevated to senior vice-president.

Houghton - who in his youth had been a sporting all-rounder proficient enough at cricket to play for Lincolnshire at Minor Counties level and Warwickshire Seconds - retained his fervour for football to the end, watching Villa regularly at senior, reserve and youth level until ill health curtailed his activity during the current season. He never tired of reminiscing with supporters, never refused to sign an autograph, was never less than a perfect gentlemen. When Eric Houghton died, Aston Villa lost one of their most loyal servants and an ambassador of immeasurable worth.

William Eric Houghton, football player, manager and administrator: born Billingborough, Lincolnshire 29 June 1910; died Birmingham 1 May 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor