The National Football Museum

Next month heralds the long-awaited launch of the English National Football Museum in Manchester. Opening on 6th July 2012, the Museum describes itself as a “world-class cultural attraction” in the perfect location, with football already bringing thousands of visitors to the city each year and being “very much part of Manchester’s DNA”.

There will be plenty for current football fans to admire, from the shirt that referee Howard Webb wore in the 2010 World Cup final, to recent photographs in Stuart Roy Clarke’s Homes of Football exhibition. But it is the varied historical collections and extensive archive that give this Museum its significance. Amongst these are the collections of the UEFA Library, the Football Association, the Football League, the Littlewood Pools and the FIFA Collection. The last is apparently the finest single collection of football memorabilia, assembled by the late journalist and football fan, Harry Langton (1929-2000). There are also trophies, medals, caps and other memorabilia from two of the founders of the Football League, Bolton Wanderers and Preston North End.

Perhaps the most interesting items for social and family historians are those of the People’s Collection. Comprised of over 6000 objects and ephemera donated by members of the public, the collection features magazines, trophies, player contracts, programmes, song sheets, cigarette cards, scarves, autograph books and tickets. The Museum welcomes enquiries from family historians and has a dedicated web page for genealogy research: I was particularly excited to note that the Museum is digitising some of the FA and Football League records in their collections and look forward to hearing more on this over the next year.

I have a personal interest in football history as my great grandfather’s cousin, Joe Smith (1889-1971), was one of the best professional footballers of his generation. He is second only to the legendary Nat Lofthouse as Bolton’s top goalscorer, and his 38 goals in season 1920/21 remain a club record. I first heard about him as a child when my grandmother claimed that she drank out of the FA Cup after one Joe’s FA Cup wins in the 1920s (Bolton won in both 1923 and 1926). Grandma always swore that this was true, but I’d love to have proof. Perhaps it’s hiding somewhere in the Museum’s archive . . .

emmie-gertrude-billingham-1920s.jpg Grandma in the 1920s

Joe Smith signed for Bolton in 1908 when he was just 18, having begun his career as an amateur at his local team of Newcastle St Lukes. He was capped for England five times. After retiring as a player, he managed Blackpool FC, guiding them to a tight 4-3 win over his old club, Bolton, in the celebrated FA Cup final of 1953. This final is also known as the Matthews Final, in tribute to the outstanding performance of  Stanley Matthews.

Joe Smith  Joe Smith

Today, in this age of astronomical wages and accusations of clubs buying titles, my favourite Joe Smith anecdote centres on his early years. Joe’s father, Joseph (1856-1914) and his sister (my great great grandmother), Sarah, grew up in the industrial Black Country. Joseph went on to work in the hot and dangerous iron industry as a puddler, whilst his wife, Rosina, raised their three sons in a four-roomed house in Newcastle under Lyme. When my sons pester me to buy them aero dynamic balls or the latest kit, I remind them that their ancestor became a footballing legend by practising in the local streets, kicking rag balls made by his mother:

I used to volley balls into the net from a few feet off the floor. I was deadly with them. And do you know how I developed that? When I was a junior, my mother used to make rag balls for my brother [Phillip Smith, also a professional footballer] and I. We couldn’t afford a real ball.
We used to play against a wall, and kick from the street, about twenty yards out. Quite a few people used to watch us every time we went there. My mother could make a decent ‘ball’ with stockings, and fill it up with rags. We’d chuck it out of the hand, and you’d have to volley it before it dropped to the floor. We didn’t dribble with it. It was just for chucking out, just for shooting. That’s how I developed my goal-scoring.

  (as told the Blackpool FC’s chronicler, Robin Daniels).

With thanks to my (and Joe Smith’s) cousins, Adrian Sherlock and Lynn Smith.

The official website of the National Football Museum is and you can take part in the countdown to the opening at

Other useful websites for researching football ancestors are:

Scottish Football Museum

Homes of Football:

Scottish National Team Archive

Scottish Football Historical Archive

Post War English & Scottish Footballers Careers

Find historical football reports at at   


Robin Day, Blackpool Football, The Official Club History (1972)

Brian Belton, The Lads of 23- 1923 FA Cup Final, (2006)
Stanley Mortensen, Football is my Game (1949)
Stanley Matthews, The Way It Was (2000)

Ann Langton (ed.), Saved: A Rare Anthology of Football from Homer to Gazza (2006)


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