Footballing ancestors

This guide was last updated in 2009

Whether an ancestor played football at an amateur level or became one of the game's early national heroes, Jenny Thomas guides you through the best ways of tackling your search.

If, like David Tennant (whose grandfather played for Derry City), you have an ancestor who distinguished himself as an amateur or professional footballer, it may be possible to trace their career through contemporary newspapers, club records and published histories. Football not only offered the possibility of a better standard of living than factory work or mining for a lucky few, it also afforded the opportunity to become local and even national heroes.

As early as 1892, one commentator, Charles Edwards, was writing of the best players that they were in their neighbourhoods “the objects of popular adoration... They are better known than the local members of Parliament.” By the end of the 19th century, football had developed from a sport played by private amateur clubs to an increasingly professional business dominated by professional clubs. In 1891 the Football League had 448 registered players, most of whom were part-time or full-time professionals.

The life of the professional footballer, however, was one of constant insecurity. There was the continual threat of injury, fear that his annual contract would not be renewed, and the knowledge that someone more able would come along to take his place. David Tennant’s grandfather, Archie McLeod, sustained serious injuries during a match and had to return to work at the Glasgow shipyards.

Here are some suggestions for those who wish to find out more about the careers of their footballing ancestor.

Photo © Getty images

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