Outside left Eric Houghton was born in Billingborough, Lincolnshire began his football career with Billingborough in 1925, and played for Bourne Town in 1925 and Boston Town in 1927, from where signed for Aston Villa as a 17 year-old in August 1927, and was an England Junior international in 1928 before making his Football League debut against Leeds United in January 1930. His ascent was almost immediate. After 14 goals in 23 matches in his breakthrough season, he scored 30 times as Villa finished as League Championship runners up in 1930-31, missing only one match in the campaign, and he was rewarded by an England call-up, scoring on his England debut against Ireland at Bramall Lane in October 1930. Between then and December 1932 Houghton won 7 caps for England, scoring 5 goals, his last international being the 4-3 win over Austria at Stamford Bridge in December 1932. He also made 4 appearances for The Football League.
His 24 goals in the 1931-32 campaign included a hat-trick in a 7-1 demolition of Middlesbrough on Christmas Day 1931. His formidable and powerful shot was regarded as the hardest shot of his era. Houghton converted 31 spot kicks and also scored direct from many more free kicks. In January 1934 he scored an FA Cup hat-trick in a 7-2 thrashing of Sunderland. Despite his 15 goals, Villa were relegated in 1935-36, but Houghton remained at Villa Park, and scored 14 goals in their 1937-38 campaign as Villa won the Second Division Championship.
He played for Villa either side of the Second World War, scoring 170 goals in 392 appearances. During the Second World War he scored at least 30 more goals for Villa in wartime matches. In December 1946 he joined Notts County where he finished his playing career in 1949 having scored 10 goals in 60 appearances for The Magpies. He became manager of Notts County in May 1949 and guided them to the Third Division (South) Championship in 1949-50.
After managing Notts County for four seasons, he returned to Villa Park to become Aston Villa’s manager in September 1953, guiding Villa to a record seventh FA Cup triumph when they beat Manchester United in 1957, before losing his job in November 1958 in a season that saw Aston Villa eventually relegated. He joined Nottingham Forest as chief scout and managed non-league Rugby Town in the early 1960’s, before serving Walsall in various capacities, including as a director. He enjoyed a third return to Villa Park, pioneering the club lottery before taking a seat on the board for seven years from 1972, and in 1983 he was elevated to senior vice-president and was often referred to as Mr Aston Villa in recognition of his long standing service and contribution to the club.
He played seven first class county cricket matches for Warwickshire as a right-handed batsman and a right-arm bowler in 1946 and 1947, and also played minor counties cricket for Lincolnshire.
On Houghton’s death aged 85 in 1996, The Independent wrote in his obituary: “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.”
He was the nephew of Cecil Harris, who played for Aston Villa and Grimsby Town in the 1920’s, and his own great nephew is former England and Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Chris Woods.