Sporting ancestors

This summer has proved bountiful for fans of all kinds of sports. From the Euros to the cricket test matches, Wimbledon, Royal Ascot, Tour de France, and, of course, the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo from 23 July to 8 August, there is plenty to enjoy. 

If the action on the pitch has piqued your interest, you may wish to investigate the lives of well-known sports players or your own sporting ancestors. We hold more information on footballers than any other sport and we've highlighted some of our football collection below.

You can read more about this in the Genealogists’ Magazine vol 30 No 10 June 2012 as part of a longer item on Sporting Ancestors by Tim Lawrence.

Joe Smith (1889-1971) is number 11 on the list of England’s top-flight goal scorers.

Joe Smith (pictured above) is number 11 on the list of England’s top-flight goal scorers, with 243 league goals. In the 1914/15 season alone, he scored 36 goals in 45 games as a forward for Bolton Wanderers. He was capped for England five times, but sadly was too old for the 1st World Cup of 1930.

Early players should be found listed in the:

- Who's who of the Football League 1888-1915 part 1-12 [surnames A-Q] [PR/SPO] and the

- Who's who of the Football League 1919-39 part 1-9 [Surnames A-L) [PR/SPO], together with the

- 1902-03, 1903-04, 1907-08 and 1909-10 editions of Football who's who [PR/SPO]

- Forgotten caps : England football internationals of two World Wars [PR/SP]

Excellent photographs of some of these can be found in Famous Association footballers 1895 [PR/SPO]

- Players from the post WW2 era should be listed in the following publications:

- Football League players' records 1946-88 [PR/SPO]

- The F. A. Complete Guide to England Players since 1945 [Apply to staff]

- The PFA Premier & Football League players' records 1946-2005 [PR/SPO]

- Who's who in the football league [1952] : extracts from Football Monthly Oct 1952- Jun 1953

- Who's who in soccer [Winter Palace]

Regional works include:

"Shall it be Bradford or Leeds?" : the origins of professional football in the West Riding textile district [YK/PER Thoresby Society, vol. 63],

East London: a hotbed of football 1867-1918 [ES/L 155]

History of the Lancashire Football Association 1878-1928 [LA/G 67]

The centenary book of the Birmingham County Football Association 1875-1975 [WA/L 64]

Hereward Sports United Counties Football League : a century of football 1895-1995 souvenir centenary brochure [Professions/Occupations tracts box].

There are also a large number of club histories in the library. These are arranged in alphabetical order of club as follows:

Arlesey Town Football Club : the 1st 100 years [Bedfordshire tracts box]

Alloa Athletic football club season 1981-82 : official commemorative handbook [available on request]

Barnsley F.C. 1887-1998 : the official history [YK/L 236]

The centenary book of the Birmingham County Football Association 1875-1975 [WA/L64]

Blackburn Rovers : an illustrated history [Apply to staff]

Blackburn Rovers, the complete record [Player career records, Roll of Honour, football league fixtures 1889-2009] [Apply to staff]

Bolton Wanderers F C : the official history 1877-2002 'heroes, heartbreakers & headliners' [LA/L 217]

100 years of Griffin Park : the official history of Brentford's grounds [MX/L 392]

A-Z of bees : a Brentford encyclopedia [MX/L 318]

The Bristol babe : the 1st 100 years of Bristol City FC [GL/L 78]

Bromley Football Club : a centenary history [KE/L 160]

The legends of Burnley [Football Club][LA/L 223]

Bury F. C. 1885-1999 : the official history [LA/L 172]

The history of Cambridge University A F C 1872-2003 [CA/L 42]

The lads in blue : the complete history of Carlisle United F.C. [CU/L 17]

On the borderline : the official history of Chester City F.C. [CH/L 52]

Chesterfield F C : the official history 1867-2000 [DB/L 52]

Lucky whites & spireites : who's who Chesterfield F. C.[DB/L 23]

Colchester United : the official history of the U's [ES/L 96]

Coventry City footballers 1908-93 : the complete who's who [WA/L 85]

Donny : the official history of Doncaster Rovers FC [YK/L 155]

The history of Dundalk F.C.: the first 100 years - Dundalk Football Club [IR/L 236]

Gateshead F C : the Football League years 1930-60 : a complete record of 'the team nobody noticed' [DU/L 37]

The old bird & the cherry pickers : a century of soccer in Hawkhurst [KE/L 110]

The origins & history of the Huddersfield & District Association Football League [available on request]

Tiger tales : a who's who of Hull City AFC 1905-2000 [YK/L 262]

Killie, the official history : 125 years of Kilmarnock FC [SC/L 238]

Who's who of Lincoln City 1892-1994 [LI/L 52]

Lincoln City F C : the official history [LI/L 53]

Old Trafford : theatre of dreams [LA/L 174]

Manchester United almanac [LA/L 173]

Who's who : the Stags 1902-95 from Wesleyans to Mansfield Town [MX/G 2]

'Well again!' : the official history of Motherwell Football Club 1886-2004 [SC/L 328]

Ironsides - a lifetime in the league : who's who of Newport County 1912-89 [WS/L 39]

Northampton Town F.C. : the official centenary history 1897-1997 [NH/L 30]

Notts County, a pictorial history : the highs & lows of the world's oldest professional football club [NT/L 53]

The official history : Notts County 1862-1995 [NT/L 40]

Nunhead Football Club 1888-1949 [SR/L 214]

Latics lads : the official who's who of Oldham Athletic A F C 1907-2002 [LA/L 218]

The legends of Oldham Athletic [LA/L 222]

The history of Oxford University A.F.C. 1872-1998 [UNI/OXF]

Partick Thistle [Football Club] legends [SC/L 340]

Partick Thistle Football Club 1876-2002 : the official history [SC/L 329]

Pearl Assurance Football Club 1912-89 : the records of an insurance club throughout its 77 years on the London amateur soccer scene [PR/SPO]

Pompey people : Portsmouth who's who 1899-2000 [HA/L 119]

Heaven on earth : the official history of Reading FC 1871-2003 [BK/L 55]

Scarborough Football Club : the official history 1879-1998 [YK/L 237]

Scunthorpe United Football Club : the official centenary history 1899-1999 [LI/L 56]

Loftus Road legacy : the history of Shepherd's Bush Football Club [MX/L 393]

Breathe on 'em Salop! Shrewsbury Town Football Club : the official history [SH/L 7]

South Shields F C : the football league years [DU/L 34]

Southend United Football Club : the official history of "the Blues" [ES/L 95]

Stockport County encyclopedia & history update 1994-2000 [CH/L 60]

1898-1973 Sutton United Football Club 75th anniversary souvenir book [Store A: SR/LOC]

Torquay United : the official centenary history 1899-1999 [DE/L 104]

Images of sport : Tottenham Hotspur Football Club 1882-1952 [MX/L 412]

The boys from Leven's winding shore : a history of Vale of Leven football club [available on request]

The history : Walton & Hersham Football Club 1896-1996 [SR/L 213]

"An intention to play" : the history of Ware Football Club 1892-1992 [Hertfordshire Tracts Box]

The Latics : the official history of Wigan Athletic F.C. [LA/L 167]

Wycombe Wanderers 1887-1996 : the official history [BU/L 49]

Notes and comments

Please contact Emma Jolly for more information about this article

Get Involved

Join today and become a member

As member you can make the most of our resources, access our experts and find a welcoming community of people interested in family history and genealogy.

We all have roots. Let’s find them together.

Keep up to date with news and events

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up today to receive regular updates including our monthly newsletter full of hints, tips and special offers. You can also choose to receive information on upcoming events, talks and lectures to help you discover your roots.

Thankyou! Please look out for an email from to validate your email address, after which you'll be added to our Newsletter subscription.