On Monday, 9th July, Fellows’ auction of Coins & Medals continues the sporting vein of the last sale with the inclusion of another set of antique Aston Villa FC medals. Hailing from arguably some of the club’s most successful years, and with an unusual provenance to boot, these earned mementos are expected to generate some healthy interest from fans.
This is the second collection of antique Aston Villa medals to go to auction in recent months, as a similar set (awarded to full back Albert Evans) sold at Fellows in February for £5,000. The awardee of this next collection, however, was Alex Leake: a half back who spent 5 years at Villa Park from 1902 to 1907 (his tenure overlapped with Evans’) and made numerous appearances for England.
Described as "hard to beat in a tackle, and good at spoiling an opponent's pass,’ Leake was a stalwart of Midlands football as his career also included periods at Small Heath (better known now as fierce AVFC rivals, Birmingham City FC), Old Hill Wanderers and Wednesbury. In 1905, having captained Villa in their last league game of the season, Leake accused Manchester City star, Billy Meredith, of attempted match fixing, which lead to one of the biggest football scandals of the period and caused Manchester City’s increasing prominence to come to an abrupt end.
The medals’ current owner – Alex Leake’s great grandson – tells a tale of how these collectable items were very nearly lost forever but were rediscovered in remarkable circumstance. During the architectural development of a local Birmingham bank in the early 1960’s, the staff mistakenly left a package containing over 200 of Leake’s medals in the vault, which, upon the demolition of the building, were bulldozed into the soil.
This banking blunder was discovered by an ice cream man who was alerted to the medals’ presence one hot summer’s day when some local children attempted to purchase ice cream in exchange for some shiny gold and silver: Leake’s medals! Sadly, this episode caused the majority of the collection to be lost, but the remaining medals were returned to the Leake family – along with a compensatory cheque from the bank – and have remained with the family ever since.
Stephen Whittaker, Managing Director at Fellows said: “Considering these medals were largely submitted due to the successful sale of the last collection of Villa pieces, their emergence begs the question: how many other pieces of fascinating sporting memorabilia are hidden away, waiting to be unearthed, and what stories accompany them?”