Charlie Aitken holds an unbreakable record at Aston Villa, something that is likely to outlive all of us.
Words by Regan Foy | @FindFoy
If received caps for appearing for a club, Charlie Aitken would be able to fill an entire swimming pool and possibly more with the caps he would have earned at Aston Villa football club.
It almost never happened. Aitken, who was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, only arrived at Aston Villa as he was accompanying his good friend Wilson Briggs to a trial at the club. They were both left-backs by trade, and both of the players were snapped up by the club. Briggs stayed at Aston Villa for two seasons, and made two appearances. Aitken stayed for seventeen, and made 660. Bet Briggs wishes he’d left Charlie at home.
Before we delve any deeper into the stellar career of Charlie Aitken; let’s put things into perspective a little. The most recent player of such longevity left the club in 2009, and that was Gareth Barry, who had spent twelve years at the club and appeared over 300 times. Since his debut five years ago, Jack Grealish has appeared 129 times but has never played in every game during a season. Should Jack Grealish manage a 40 game season for Villa for the next seven years, taking him to the ripe old age of thirty, that would only take him to 409. Beating Barry, but putting him in fourth place behind Aitken, Billy Walker, and Gordon Cowans.
Aitken joined Aston Villa as a 17-year-old, and spent two years doing his ‘apprenticeship’ as it were. He looked back on these times fondly as he got older, remembering the times he would laugh at the first team players because he was so much faster than them.
Two years after joining, Charlie Aitken finally made his senior debut on April 29th, 1961 – the final day of the 1960-1961 season. Sheffield Wednesday had arrived at Villa Park and left after being handed a 4-1 drubbing. That was the final game for Aston Villa legend Johnny Dixon, who bowed out gracefully with a goal, and the first game in the illustrious career of Aitken.
And whilst the future looked bright for Aitken, it turned out to be quite different for Aston Villa. The following season he had made 42 appearances in all competitions as the club lumbered to a 7th placed finish, and like recent times have shown, issues off the pitch can be a stake through the heart on it. Discontent in the boardroom saw the club slide down the table in consecutive seasons, before Aston Villa were relegated in the 1966-67 season.
Things didn’t get any easier, either. The next season they finished 16th, then 18th, before in the 1969-70 season, they finished 21st and were relegated to the Third Division.
But despite the detriment that the club was experiencing, Aitken was still a familiar face in the club’s match-day squad. In the two seasons that Aston Villa spent in the Third Division, Charlie Aitken made 105 appearances, and aided the club in winning the league by five points.
The man was an obviously talented footballer, and wasted in the lower echelons of the footballing league, and within another three years and the subsequent arrival of Ron Saunders at the club, Aston Villa had clawed tooth and nail back into the top flight and won the League Cup on the way.
The season before promotion, Aitken had surpassed Billy Walker to become the all-time appearance record holder. But as they were in their inaugural season back within the Premier League, the fanfare that had seen Charlie Aitken play a large number of games season-in-season-out was beginning to die down.
In the 75-76 season, Aitken made just 21 appearances for Aston Villa – playing his part in keeping the side in the division by just three wins. As the club started upon the journey that led them to their most successful period, it seemed that Ron Saunders just didn’t think Aitken was up to the task anymore.
Charlie Aitken, of course, thought differently, being quoted as saying:
“I think he (Ron Saunders) hated me because I was more popular than him.”
And he may have been right. Aitken, even at the age of thirty-three, was still one of the fittest players at the club. Over seventeen seasons he had played in 660 games, staring 657 of them and coming on three times as a substitute. He also played for the club in three divisions, two domestic cups, the charity shield and Aston Villa’s first ever UEFA cup tie.
His career didn’t culminate at Aston Villa, which is a shame to say the least. And these mass appearances came in such a barren landscape for Aston Villa, between two heavily successful periods.
Aitken ended up joining New York Cosmos in 1976 and played alongside the greats of Pele and Franz Beckenbauer – showing just what a player he was.
Now a 77-year-old, he’s seen his record last forty-three years and it will likely remain for another forty-three after that.
God speed, Charlie Aitken, you’re the man that can never be matched.