100+ life stories (FMH Photo collage). Credits: Ebru Köksal; John Blankenstein (Photo: Bart Molendijk / Dutch National Archives); Otto “Tull” Harder (Photo: Dutch National Archive); Petra Landers (Photo: Heinz Reinders / Wikimedia Commons).
100+ life stories (FMH Photo collage). Credits: Ebru Köksal; John Blankenstein (Photo: Bart Molendijk / Dutch National Archives); Otto “Tull” Harder (Photo: Dutch National Archive); Petra Landers (Photo: Heinz Reinders / Wikimedia Commons).

Learning history in 100 football life stories

With 100+ story, a European history emerges

Football Lives is our collection of 100+ life stories encompassing the place of football in 150 years of European history. These lives relate to more than thirty countries across Europe, with links to the Americas, Africa, Asia and the South Pacific.

They include all kinds of people with different backgrounds, from different homelands and identities, and with different connections to football. There are famous players and famous coaches, but also football people you may never have heard of. There are referees, journalists, administrators – even a humble football fan. Twenty-two of these life stories are of women.

Opportunities for Educators

The collection is not a Hall of Fame. The purpose is not to revel in admiration of great individuals but to see, through football, issues that matter in relation to history and equal rights. In particular we ensure each life story can raise “Thinking Points” on diversity, identity, migration and politics. These “Thinking Points” can open doors for educators.

Young people’s interest in football life stories can stimulate them to find out more and to consider history from new perspectives. Educators, however, are very stressed for time and often lack resources and/or opportunities to implement new resources. This is why, on the occasion of gathering the first 100+ life stories, we would like to suggest some possible strategies for using the collection in educational settings.

Methods of working with Football Lives

Life stories can be directly relevant to young people, as they tell a story of a person. In order to make sure educators can use our collection, the entries are structured each time in the same way, including to-the-point summaries of the individual’s lives and careers, culminating in thinking points. Each entry is referenced with opportunities to find out more. Geir Ove Halvorsen, a history teacher in Oslo, already used the story of Ernest Wilimowski. He reported that:

The students were amazed about how the bigger historical events changed Wilimowski’s life. They read the life story and had to draft three questions. The questions they raised were really good! Next, I am planning to let my students produce podcasts using the life stories of Otto “Tull” Harder and Asbjørn Halvorsen.

Geir Ove Halvorsen

The options for using these life stories in educational settings are many, which is why creator of the series Chris Rowe offers some more ideas. Learners could work individually or in pairs to research the life stories as an activity to make an output, which could be:

  1. A presentation in which two or more life stories are compared and contrasted;
  2. A discussion setting to debate and exchange views on a “thinking point”;
  3. Various creative writing assignments, for example taking the perspective of the individual in question, or a commemorative plaque text;
  4. A curated exhibition in which a set number of life stories are selected and exhibited to tell a wider story.

Other approaches might include role play, such as staging a television interview with a football personality, or working together on the screenplay for a film. For such dedicated work, we recommend careful thought for the educator about how the “Thinking Points” might be made more relevant to the experience and interests of young people. We also recommend intensive use of the “Find Out More” section of each life story as a way of assembling thought-provoking material for active learning, role play and debate.

Students might find it stimulating and empowering to choose a life story for themselves. Our collection offers a wide variety to choose from, which can be explored through the website’s search function or using the tags. We have looked again at our collection and think there are themes which can be taken up in learning history using specific life stories.

Discrimination and equality

Female Football Role Models

Young people could look at five life stores of women who faced discrimination in various ways and sought to advance the rights of women through sport as players, coaches and administrators. What was their ambition? How did they go about achieving their dreams? How did the context change according to time and place?

Asserting Racial Equality

Five players who experienced and confronted racial discrimination. How did they suffer from it and, to some extent, how were they able to overcome it and pave the way for others?

Coming Out for Acceptance of Difference

Four stories of people who had to deal with discrimination and homophobia. How did they deal with it; and how much progress has there been towards equality?

Football and the Holocaust

Changing Roles between the First and Second World War

Three men who won the Iron Cross fighting for Germany in the First World War. Later, one died in Auschwitz, one emigrated across the oceans to safety, one became commandant of a concentration camp. The fourth fought for Austria-Hungary, became a pacifist and was murdered in 1942. How do the lives of these people reflect on personal experiences and decisions between the First and Second World Wars? How should these men be remembered now?

No Safe Place?

Four stories of people whose lives were in danger because of anti-Semitism and persecution. Two died at Auschwitz; two narrowly survived. How do their lives provide us with insights on persecution, survival and migration?

Migration and Identity

Assimilating to New Cultures

Four people whose football life was shaped by migration to another country and a different culture: from England to Spain, from the Caribbean to Holland, from the South Pacific to France, from the war in Afghanistan to Denmark.

Outsiders Seeking a Homeland

Four stories of people whose national identity was challenged by the shifting borders of history, and who struggled to belong in a new homeland.

There are more ways to mix and match life stories in our collection! Which connections do you find?

A Call to Action: Help us to Make it Better

We have tried to cover a wide range of countries across Europe, and a wide range of interesting themes and perspectives. But we know there will be gaps. Please tell us where our collection can be improved.

Are there corrections or additions we need to make? Are there crucial stories which are missing? What other learning activities might be developed to help educators engage young people?

Which stories matter?

We have not only collected these 100+ stories, but also sought to promote them through our social media and with support of partners in the field. After this initial development period, we note that three life stories have received a particularly high amount of attention on our “podium”. These are Ebru Köksal, John Blankenstein and Petra Landers. It confirms to us that we are on the right track. Football is not about Messi and Ronaldo. It is about people who play particular roles that help us see reality in a thought-provoking way, then and now. Who will be on the podium after one whole school year? Let’s wait and see!

Over 100 life stories have been collected. Together they present a story of the people of Europe in the last 150 years. Time to connect the dots.

Let’s review

100+ life stories (FMH Photo collage). Credits: Ebru Köksal; John Blankenstein (Photo: Bart Molendijk / Dutch National Archives); Otto “Tull” Harder (Photo: Dutch National Archive); Petra Landers (Photo: Heinz Reinders / Wikimedia Commons).
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