Collage with Arsenal legends.
Collage with Arsenal legends.

Research football in your family

Football in the family history

Building connections to understand our past is becoming an increasingly achievable avenue due to the current digital age. It’s a vital process for encouraging our historical awareness of previous generations. Football offers a great medium; the passion for the beautiful game opens a very operational link from past to present. Football history is not just about football. One can learn about society, migration, industry, language, and culture. It should be an increasing source of research into local, regional, and international as well as family history.

Football Makes History recently published an article about Ted Drake, as a result of the rigorous research done by his great-grandson, Liam Harding. Liam represents a prime example of a young person connecting with their family history through the love of football. We invite you to follow the Q&A we facilitated with Liam to reflect on his research process and love for History and football.

How important is football for you on a daily basis? 

Football is an important aspect of my daily life which is one of the reasons why I’m currently towards the end of my three-year Sports Journalism degree at uni. At the same time though I can healthily switch off from football to give my mind a rest, it doesn’t completely dictate my life but entertains a heavy influence over it. Last year when the football season was over a friend of mine said “Liam what will you do, now that the season’s finished?” When he said those words it wasn’t just a question it was a statement proving just how much football defies me and my happiness at times- it’s more than a form of escapism which I’m forever passionate about and gives me great purpose in life just like my Great Granddad but off the field. Football has played a massive part in my life as I have spent many hours writing as a football programme contributor for numerous clubs such as Hendon for the past five years where Ted Drake started his managing career after the Second World War. I also orchestrate historic content currently for Just Arsenal a fan-led website. I was also an announcer for my local football club Basingstoke Town. In fact, once I had finished I would come back home and carry on my football duties writing up the Southern Premier review for the Hendon programme. 

When did you first find out about your Great Grandad? 

In terms of going back in my conscious memory bank, I can remember finding out about my Great Grandfather when I was six years old. My mum told me that he had played for Arsenal and scored seven goals in one game of football and managed Chelsea, she also showed me the one copy of his testimonial programme that we have. As a kid, though I just flicked through it, I looked at the pictures without properly acknowledging all the text on this flimsy piece of paper. I thought it was pretty cool and unique that I was related to a great footballer however it wasn’t until five years later when I started to take an interest in football that I realised just how impressive he was and how historically significant his records are to this day. From that day onwards I unhesitatingly supported Arsenal without looking back too many times, to this day it is the main reason I support the club which is in my DNA and my family’s. If I don’t support the club then I’m denying my family and ultimately its long-lasting heritage.

How have you then further researched his life?

When I was 13 and started to show an interest in the history of football I instantly started to hunt for as much information as possible on the web about my great-granddad to understand his life and football achievements which I was unable to ask him about. My dad at times jokes and says I’m “a spitting image of him” and what would his wife Ruby my Great Grandma whom I met a couple of times when I was younger think? I collected as much information about my great-granddad as possible and created a long PowerPoint about his career at Winchester, Southampton, Arsenal, Chelsea and his life in general to look back on. I also requested ITV for footage about him talking on the “Big Match” which they sent over of him talking about playing against “Everton at their greatest” as he said during the early 30s when he assisted goalkeeper Frank Moss with his goal after he came off of his line due to dislocating his shoulder at Goodison Park on one occasion. Last year I subscribed to the British Newspaper archive to read and locate as much as I could about his early days in Southampton as a gas reader, about his family and career which I hadn’t found out. I also wrote articles about him for the Arsenal and Reading programme as he helped Arsenal as a player for a decade as a footballer and then Reading as a manager in the late 1940s and early 1950s. My Granddad who was born ten years to the day ironically saw Ted create the record to this day for the most goals scored in a top-flight game of English football against Aston Villa on 14th December 1935, holds programme collection books which Ted was handed at Chelsea at the end of the season when manager. I had a look at these to read his pre-game notes in the programmes to understand his stance and characteristics as a manager in comparison to when he was a player. All in all the research allows for me to understand the man and the legend that died nearly a decade before I was born.

Do you think there are specific lessons you take on from his life for yourself?

My Great Grandfather was able to make a profession out of doing something he loved playing football. He teaches me that I should remain committed to working towards my passion for Sports Journalism and trying to make a career out of it despite any woes I encompass because at the end of the day, I like Ted Drake and many others will consciously only live once. I might as well spend it working and doing what I love in life to avoid too many regrets on my deathbed so that I can live a fulfilled life hopefully. I tell myself that if my great-granddad could make a name for himself out of humble beginnings not far away from the docks of Southampton where the Titanic set sail so can I. Ted Drake is a role model for me to never give up on myself or my passions and that I have the potential to make it in my life in whatever I end up doing. His bravado, enthusiasm and honest nature I would say have naturally been passed down to me (well in my opinion).

How do you think other young people could benefit from researching the life of their elders (football or not)

At the end of the day what our family has worked for and achieved represents who we are regardless of time and history. By learning what our elders did helps us learn about ourselves and why we may be more naturally inclined to develop certain interests, passions, personalities, morals, values and our outlook on life because it’s ingrained in us to a certain extent. It also helps one understand their heritage and the impact their family has had on the world around them and how they can carry on contributing to it at times to fulfil their purpose. It can be great at times because when you have a down day you can look back at whatever your family might’ve achieved and realise you can carry on with life with great character and determination, which is in everyone’s blood with or without realising.

Thinking Points

Educators working with young people could apply oral history approaches, to help young people to research their family history and see how football relates to it. Young people who have no interest in football might find special interest in historical relations.

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