Football League founder William McGregor's grave rededicated
The grave of the founder of the Football League and former chairman of Aston Villa has been rededicated.
William McGregor was born in Braco, Perthshire, in 1846 and became chairman of the Birmingham-based club in 1886 before founding the league in 1888.
The Aston Villa Supporters Trust has raised about £1,000 to clean up the gravestone.
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.
The trust also helped commission a statue of McGregor which was erected outside Villa Park in 2009.
Mr Warrilow described him as an "inspirational man" as he was the driving force behind the first organised sports league in the world.
He said: "Before McGregor there was no certainty for spectators - games would be cancelled whereas if there was a league and a proper structure teams couldn't pull out."
Peter Lupson, a football author and historian, brought the issue of the grave to the club's attention while writing Thank God For Football.
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 said it is important to remember the role Mr McGregor played in the modern game, along with other people involved in the early days of the football league.
He said: "He's been forgotten for the same reason that all the great pioneers have - people are so involved in the present day that there's no time to focus on the past.
"I made it my mission to rescue the names of some of these great men from obscurity."
Lord Brian Mawhinney, president of the Football League, and officials from all 12 of founding clubs attended the service at St Mary's church in Handsworth on Tuesday.
The gravestone also had the words "Founder of the football league and chairman of Aston Villa FC" added to it.
Aston Villa's archivist, Laura Brett, said: "It's a hugely important recognition, not just for Villa but for football in general across the world.
"It's important to ensure that's he's not forgotten."
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We can only speculate what the great man would have made of it.
As Lord Brian Mawhinney mused, though, William McGregor would most likely have been "chuffed" that a service was being held in his honour a century after his death.
Exactly 100 years after McGregor's passing, we gathered in St Mary's Church, Handsworth, and later beside his refurbished grave, to pay tribute to the founder of the Football League.
It was very much a game of two halves, both of them dominated by the Villa legend.
As former chairman Doug Ellis pointed out in a television interview, McGregor is the most important figure in football history.
At Villa Park, we treasure his immense contribution to the club in various roles, including chairman, treasurer and vice-president, from 1877 until his death on December 20, 1911.
The wider football world, meanwhile, will forever be grateful to the man who, in 1888, launched a "fixity of fixtures" that evolved into the strongest league in the world.
The congregation - many of them sporting claret and blues scarves - were welcomed by Villa's chief executive Paul Faulkner.
Fittingly, the other 11 original Football League members were also represented, all of them no doubt reflecting on their gratitude to the man who set organised football in motion.
The speeches were passionate, too.
Peter Lupson, who spearheaded the project and is a leading authority on McGregor, eulogised for 20 minutes. Lord Mawhinney was on his feet for 15 minutes - and both spoke with an affection which almost suggested they had known the man known as the Father of the Football League.
Lupson described McGregor as someone who "radiated joy" and whose characteristic was the smile on his face and the twinkle in his eye - a man who never sought publicity or notoriety.
While they were saluting someone who has passed on, though, there was no funereal atmosphere about the proceedings.
As the service drew to a close, the Bishop of Aston, the Rt Rev Andrew Watson, amused us with his comment that the first half was drawing to a close and that the second half would take place outside in the graveyard.
McGregor's grave, situated more than a football pitch length away from the church, stands out proudly in sombre surroundings following its painstaking refurbishment.
The re-dedication was performed by Bishop Andrew before the representatives of the dozen founder member clubs lined up for a team photo behind the gravestone.
As the Rev Canon Brian Hall, rector of St. Mary's, observed it was "an unusual but very special occasion."