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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Ancestors in the “beautiful game”

They say, if you can’t beat them join ‘em. So, as the whole of Europe is currently fixated on the European Football Championships, I shall take a moment to add my own football ancestry story.

The English Football League was founded in 1888 and comprised of 12 football clubs from the Midlands and the north of England: Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

A family affair

At the time of league’s creation, at least three of my ancestors played for the last club on the list - Wolverhampton Wanderers, or The Wolves, as they’re generally known.

John Griffiths 1861-1951

My great-grandfather (above, resplendent in his football kit) was John ‘Jack’ Griffiths and his brother Hilary ‘Hill’ Griffiths was the captain of the team.

Interviewed in 1944 by local Wolverhampton newspaper, The Express & Star, at the age of 83, Jack mentions that another brother, Jabez, also played for Wolves.

He’s rather scathing about football of the time, complaining, “it isn’t half as good as I when I played. In the old days there was much better understanding and combination amongst the players. We didn’t chop and change around like teams do these days.”

I wonder what he’d make of it today!

Assaulted on the pitch

Jack’s brother Hilary was more the career footballer than Jack and even has an entry (albeit it small) in Wikipedia! Hilary played for Wolves for 10 years, 6 years as captain, until forced to retire due to a cartilage problem.

The end to his career could easily have come much sooner following a nasty incident in 1897 during a match between Wolves and Burnley when he was struck by a stone thrown by a spectator.

Courtesy of newspaper archive on Find My Past

Hilary was stretchered off the pitch and the perpetrator, a collier called Smout, was charged with assault and received a month’s prison sentence. Fortunately, Hilary wasn’t badly injured and was able to play again.

When Hilary died in 1937, his death was announced in The Birmingham Gazette, noting that he’d had a trial to play for England and had been a team reserve for an international game against Scotland.

Courtesy of newspaper archive on Find My Past

So, in memory of my football ancestors, I shall be cheering on England during the match against Germany on Tuesday. We have a chequered history when playing Germany, right through to more recent times. In 2001 we beat them 5-1 in a World Cup Qualifying match but in the 2010 World Cup they turned the tables and beat us 4-1.

I wonder who’ll have the upper hand on Tuesday!


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Carolyn Retallick
Carolyn Retallick
Jun 25, 2021

Anything to do with sport goes right over my head, but your ancestors certainly were notable for many reasons! The name Jabez (which is from the Bible and means sorrow or affliction!) jumped out at me. Very unusual I would have thought. Also it appears that football violence is not a new thing! Your great grandfather looks very handsome in his kit 😊

Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Jun 25, 2021
Replying to

Oooo, Hepzibah! There’s a name to conjure with, as they say. Hubby has more than one Moses on his tree and his great-grandfather was a Shadrack. In fact his 2x great grandparents were so enamoured with the name Shadrack that they did what people sometimes did back then - they recycled it, poor Shadrack Number One having died 3 years before, aged 5. ☹️

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