Exhibition at the club.
Exhibition at the club.

Historians at Football Clubs 2: Derby County

Historians making football memorabilia work for engagement

There are many different professionals involved in researching and engaging communities with football history and heritage. Many work as educators, either in schools or in non-formal settings. Some of them are historians working at a professional football club. This made us curious. What does the work of a historian employed by a professional football club look like?

In the first rendition, we spoke with Sevilla FC historian Fernando Gallego. Now we continue this search for historians at football clubs, with Mr Andy Ellis, of Derby County FC.

How did you become a club historian?

Since the age of 7, I had been a programme collector and had built up a sizable collection of items by attending games in person, by mail or by other people going to games that I wasn’t able to attend. The club ran a competition in the programme in 2000 based on the Opta statistics throughout the season and I was lucky enough to win that and was interviewed by the club’s media team. During that meeting I suggested writing articles for them based on old programmes, memorabilia and trophies the club had which they were more than happy to let me do. That in turn led to me putting those articles together in a book called ‘Relics of The Rams’ and I became the go-to person for enquiries on the past history of the club, players and memorabilia. The sale of the Baseball Ground meant that I was asked to help sort and clear the various rooms in the stadium and make decisions on items that should be retained and those we could let go. It was our previous American owners that made an official appointment, unpaid and voluntary as the club set out to celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2009.

Since then, we have set up a charitable trust to catalogue items belonging to the club as well as personal collections and donations.

Should clubs do more with their heritage, what and why?

Yes, like most museums, only a small fraction of the items available can be displayed and typically, clubs want to show off the cups and other large items or those of significance or value. This inevitably means the more interesting items, such as club documents, old signage, shirts, programmes, photos are locked away in external storage units awaiting a suitable event. It does tend to be these other items that hold the more interesting details of the past history.

We operate independently from the club, but have close ties that mean for club promotional events such as season ticket holders’ events, Women’s matches at the stadium and whenever requested or invited by the club.

We have also worked alongside the club’s Community Trust team who provide group sessions for a variety of groups. Some we have worked with are the Sporting Memories group (for dementia related people), Golden Rams (over 80s) and school-based curriculum items.

History in schools remains largely untapped whether at primary, secondary or even guest lectures at suitable university courses, but each group needs a different style of story telling and memorabilia.

Working with youngsters

Our most recent school engagement was to fit in with the school curriculum at primary (under 11) level revolving around the Victorians. The subject was Football in the Victorian Age and we ran this throughout the afternoon to a number of classes. This involved a number of slides, discussion around the slides and replica items that included FA Cup medal, boots, ball, match reports, team colours and programmes and a comparison of lifestyles of players ten and now and how media reporting has evolved.

We have also given lectures to the Under-16/18 squads at the football club who may not be local to the area and have little or no knowledge of the football club at all. The powerpoint gave a whistlestop history of the club, the players, managers and famous moments.

We have a link to a community-owned group of local libraries across the city. The idea is to put items of memorabilia, pictures and shirts into community rooms for a period of time and then move them to another library elsewhere in the city. This is mixed with opportunities for library users to bring in items for donation, loan or valuation and occasional afternoon talks to bring people who do not necessarily frequent the library into the building. 

Most clubs do not have a museum to focus on, nor do many employ full time club historians, relying upon the good will and voluntary efforts of skilled individuals or groups of people to fulfil that role which are limited by their own full-time jobs.

How do club historians seek to make an impact?

There is a danger that clubs only want to focus on the successful years, but part of the role must be to look at the least successful years, the failed managers, controversial moments, take emotion and personal bias out and present the facts.

Education is a big part of the process and takes various forms. This may take the form of specific talks on a particular subject or to commemorate various events, displays at various city venues to support other group’s events (eg local theatre productions), writing books where events, matches and collecting aspects can be researched and created.

See above for our links to community teams, local libraries (where we have one semi-permanent display of framed photographs and shirts). We also supply reliable facts and information to local and national media outlets – photos, background research etc as well as the club’s own media team either the in-house TV, website or magazine. There is a steady stream of genealogy requests from people wanting to verify if their relative was ever a part of the football club and wanting a picture.

Find out more

Visit the Derby County Historian website to find out more and make sure you follow Andy Ellis on Twitter.

Derby County historian Andy Ellis shares how football and history and heritage come together in his work.

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