A British General about to kick off at a football match between British and Italian Armies teams during World War 1 (Photo: Ernest Brooks, Imperial War Museums / IWM Q 26566).
A British General about to kick off at a football match between British and Italian Armies teams during World War 1 (Photo: Ernest Brooks, Imperial War Museums / IWM Q 26566).

Football Lives: Making history, not only on the field

When football enthusiasts meet, a conversation can take place by only mentioning the names of football players. These are the big names, the legends, which have captured the imagination of global audiences. Depending on one’s age, names which come to mind are Cruyff, Maradona, Messi, Pele, Ronaldo and so on.

While these individuals may be heroes of the game, through their ball-related acrobatics, we want to take further interest in their lives. Not to celebrate them as heroes, but to see how their life stories help us shed light on history and values.

Not a Hall of Fame

History can be explored through the lives of individuals. This collection gives you the opportunity to discover just how the life stories of people in football (players, coaches, referees and administrators) are intertwined with social, cultural, economic and political histories. These histories may be small and local, or they may have impacted the world.

This collection is not a hall of fame, and – just like the study of the past – it is not final. We note the significance of these life stories based on what history, and indeed present, they shed light on. Some football lives are heroic and have paved the way for inclusion, democracy and human rights. Others have done just the opposite. In order for us to learn about the past through the lens of individuals, we include thinking points for each life story.

European lenses on migration, diversity, politics and identity

Our Football Lives collection can be browsed through various tags. The stories roughly fall into four main themes. They are anchored in football, it’s (European) history and the conversation we can have around it today.

First on this list of topics is migration. Migration in football takes many forms. Ranging from internal migration within a given country or region to the difficult escape one has made from hardships, persecution or forced deportation.

The second topic is diversity. Diversity includes many issues relating to equality and acceptance of diversity, think about, race, gender, sexual orientation and disability.

Furthermore, we also want to talk about football and politics. Within the context of life stories the topic politics includes the actions taken by governments, persecution and propaganda but also include the responsibilities of the people who run football organizations.

The last main topic is identity. Identity has many facets relating to people’s relationship with the nations as a whole, race, religion, and community.

Waging conversation and travel through time

This collection is not final. The life stories curated all offer initial thinking points. Anyone can build on, find out more and “wage” conversation around these stories. They are not “untold”, and this is not original journalistic and/or academic research, but rather a carefully curated starter set to be used in education. The immediate understanding for young people today that all these stories are about football will help develop historical thinking – or in catchier terms: time travel. These points are important because they open the aforementioned discussion, being a fantastic footballer is sometimes not enough.

Mixed values and attitudes

Our project is about using football’s history to advance social inclusion. With themes such as migration, diversity and identity, we cherish the life stories of pioneers. These are individuals without whom the struggle for equality and against discrimination might not have advanced. At the same time, we include stories which represent other values and attitudes as well. As said, this is not a hall of fame. It is a mixed bag of people whose lives helps us explore the past and drive conversations in the present.

With thanks to our very special team member

This collection is the brainchild of Football Makes History developer Chris Rowe. Born in Rainhill (home of the 1829 Railway Trials) on the worst night of the Blitz, September 1941, Chris never fails to state that he grew up in the “People’s Republic of Liverpool”, and was enrolled in the same school year as the Beatles. Chris is a very experienced history teacher and knowledgeable historian. He has been Chief Examiner in the UK, and consultant with the Council of Europe and Euroclio since 2003. As a member of the Editorial Content team for Historiana, he joined Football Makes History in 2016. Throughout our projects meetings, he kept an ear out to catch and collect interesting life stories which educators are able to use to raise intriguing questions with young people. Questions revolving moral dilemmas, empathy, multiple perspectives and change over time in values and development.

Explore and Follow

As of today, section Football Lives is launched. New entries will be added on a near-daily basis until late September, and most likely after this as well!

Explore them, share them, and use them in your educational activities. It goes without saying that as a group of history teachers, historians and youth workers, we know that history is a discussion without an end. Any improvements you would like to suggest or life stories you would like to add, are more than welcome. Feel free to contact us!


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A British General about to kick off at a football match between British and Italian Armies teams during World War 1 (Photo: Ernest Brooks, Imperial War Museums / IWM Q 26566).
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