Members of the Aston Villa Wesleyan church formed Villa in 1874 and the team were one of the twelve founder members of the football league in 1888. By this stage they had already won their first trophy with an FA Cup victory in 1887 and they dominated the early league winning the championship 5 times in its first 12 seasons. 1897 was Villa's highpoint as they became double winners.
Most of Aston Villa's history has been spent in the top division but top level success was only found in the Cup competitions until 1981 when they caused a major shock by taking their first league championship for more than 70 years. This was followed up by a European Cup win the following season. Graham Taylor took Villa close to another title in 1990 and they again finished second in 1993's inaugural Premier League, though they have struggled to match that performance since.
There have been a number of League Cup finals and successes, but Villa have never come close to finishing up near the top of the league under the likes of Ron Atkinson, Brian Little or John Gregory. Taylor's return in 2002 proved to be a mistake as he only just managed to save the club from relegation, and he stepped aside at the end of the season.
David O'Leary followed him, but couldn't turn the tide and was sacked in the summer of 2006. He was replaced by Martin O'Neill, and that summer also saw the arrival of US businessman Randy Lerner, who bought the club from Doug Ellis.