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Sir Doug Ellis: A man who split opinion but forever had Aston Villa in his heart

Aston Villa | Published:

Sir Doug Ellis split opinion at Aston Villa.

Sir Doug Ellis split opinion at Villa, but always had the club in his heart.

He was seen as both hero and villain by fans but there was no doubt he had an unwavering love for the club.

The former chairman has died aged 94 having spent 35 years at Villa Park over two eventful spells.

Born on January 3, 1924, Ellis was brought up in Cheshire by his widowed mother after his father Herbert died and was a millionaire by 40, cashing in on the boom of the package holiday industry.

He attended secondary school in Chester, spending two years at Tranmere as a schoolboy. But it was the travel industry where Ellis was to make his name - and fortune.

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He joined Frames Tours in Preston in March 1946 to learn the travel business before opening an office in Hockley, Birmingham, and got a job with the Canadian government, interviewing prospective emigrants to Canada and issuing the airline tickets.

In 1952 he started his first tour operating service, with his mother helping serve passengers on flights to Palma, and made his travel businesses a success. He made his first million in the early 1960s by selling off the Glasgow and Manchester arms of his UK-wide Sunflight travel business.

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It was around the same time he married Heidi Kroeger in 1963 and they have two sons, Oliver and Simon. It was his second marriage after his wedding to nurse Audrey Slater in 1946 having met in Sri Lanka, and they had a son, Peter.

Ellis became Villa chairman in December 1968.

He helped rebuild with Villa in the old Second Division, despite relegation to Division Three early in his reign, but 11 years later he was ousted from the board, having stepped down as chairman in 1975 - yet predicted he would return.

That came true in 1982 when he regained a majority shareholding, having missed Villa's glory years as First Division champions in 1981 and European Cup winners a year later.

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He was blamed for the decline of the club as they were relegated in 1987, five years after being champions of Europe, but they returned to the top flight a year later.

He earned the nickname 'Deadly Doug' by sacking managers during his spells as chairman with Tommy Cummings, Tommy Docherty and Vic Crowe losing their jobs in his first term.

When Ellis returned he sacked European Cup winning manager Tony Barton before seven managers came and went - including Graham Taylor twice.

Only Ron Atkinson (1994) and Brian Little (1996) brought silverware to the club when they won the League Cup.

In 1994 he even watched a game with Nelson Mandela, just days after Mandela had begun a five-year term as South Africa's president, as they watched Villa play at the United Bank International Soccer Festival.

He told the Birmingham Mail: "Ron Atkinson was the manager and I've never seen him run so fast to be at the end of the line of players ready to shake hands with Mandela. During the game, I turned to Nelson and said: 'Thank you for naming the Ellis Park Stadium after me'.

"He turned to me and burst out laughing."

Supporters eventually became frustrated with Ellis' perceived lack of investment and ambition and towards the end of his time at Villa Park, he suffered some serious health problems and had a triple heart bypass in 2005, aged 81.

He remained at the club until he sold up to Randy Lerner for £62.5million in 2006 but was given the title of president emeritus and continued to attend games.

A former member of the Football Association's international, finance and Charity Shield committee, as well as FIFA's media and television committee, Ellis was also the founder chairman of the technical control board at the FA and Football League. He was awarded the OBE in 2005 and a knighthood in the 2012 New Year Honours List.

Ellis briefly served on the board of Wolves before his return to Villa in 1982.

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