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Global research uncovers answers close to home

23 October 2013

Rachel Atkinson

Search for the Founding Fathers of Football has a surprisingly local link for both the researcher and UCLan student

When a University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) academic kicked-off her global search to find the descendants of the founding fathers of the Football Association (FA), little did she know what was surprisingly close to home.

Dr Jane Clayton, a post-doctoral researcher in the University’s International Football Institute, discovered a distant relative of one of the eight men that created the sport 150 years ago was actually a UCLan student.

Her research unearthed that Jessica Ainsworth, a third year law student was the great, great, great, great niece of George Twizell Wawn.

Cultural historian Dr Clayton, who has been working with the FA since early February on this project, said: “It’s unbelievable that we’ve found relatives all over the world, in places like New Zealand and America, and yet there’s one studying right here at UCLan.

“I’ve been able to track down family members for six of the eight men but I never thought I’d find one so close. It’s been great to be able to meet and chat about her relative, especially as her family wasn’t aware of the connection at all. 

“I’ve been able to track down family members for six of the eight men but I never thought I’d find one so close. It’s been great to be able to meet and chat about her relative, especially as her family wasn’t aware of the connection at all.”

A total of 16 relatives of the Founding Fathers of football were located. They attended a special ceremony at Wembley Stadium where a blue plaque was unveiled to pay tribute to the historical significance of their work in creating the famous game.

Jessica, who is predominantly based at Burnley Campus, was at Wembley with her granddad for the special occasion. The 20-year-old, from Rossendale, said: “It was my great auntie Jenny who got the phone call from Jane. She passed the message on to my granddad and he mentioned to Jane that I attended UCLan. It’s surprising to think we could’ve passed each other on the corridor and yet Jane was searching the world for the relatives.”

The Manchester United fan added: “We were really so surprised to find this out as no-one in the family had any idea about George’s history. It’s lovely to for us to know and we’re very proud of him.”

Surprisingly little was known about Ebenezer Cobb Morley, Arthur Pember, Charles William Alcock, Francis Maule Campbell, John Forster Alcock, Herbert Thomas Steward, George Twizell Wawn and James Turner – the men that gathered to form The FA and draft the original 13 laws of association football.

(L-r: UCLan’s Dr Jane Clayton and Jessica Ainsworth with the blue plaque at Wembley Stadium.)

“For the search to have been so successful is incredibly pleasing as, from a historical perspective, we now know a lot more about a number of the men that created the most popular sport in the world 150 years ago.”

Six of the men were discovered to have living relatives but following the research it has been discovered that the family tree of Ebenezer Cobb Morley ended upon his death in 1924 as neither he, nor his siblings, had any children. The search for information on James Turner and further descendants for the other six Founding Fathers continues with The FA and Dr Clayton investigating leads across the UK as well as in Japan, Denmark and Canada.

Dr Clayton added: “For the search to have been so successful is incredibly pleasing as, from a historical perspective, we now know a lot more about a number of the men that created the most popular sport in the world 150 years ago. The research carried out to date has been extensive but the work continues in the hope of discovering more descendants across the world.”

Alex Horne, General Secretary of The FA, said: “In terms of historical significance, the eight Founding Fathers of football should be placed alongside other great pioneers of this nation. The game has become a focal point of the lives of nearly every household in England since it was formed, so to now understand more about the history of these men is incredibly important.

“The FA is delighted that in its 150th year we have been able to identify living descendants and honour their forefathers at what is now the home of English football, Wembley.”