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Football Family History: Keeping up with the Joneses

I've always found it fascinating when someone I know tells me about a famous ancestor. What makes it more impressive is when the historical family member turns out to be someone in football. My Dad loves family history and has spent many hours compiling an extensive family tree stretching back centuries. Despite finding hundreds of relations, we had believed that none were involved in the beautiful game. Perhaps a great deal of the difficulty in finding any meaningful ancestors is due in part to our surname - Jones. With the most common second name in Wales, being sure that an 'ancestry hint' is definitive is difficult to prove. That was until last week when my father let me know about James Alfred Jones. 

Admittedly, there is some climbing the tree and navigating some narrow branches before reaching James, but he is a relation, nonetheless. To be precise, he is my great x4 Grandfather Hugh Jones' great nephew. You wouldn't find 'Who Do You Think You Are?' champing at the bit to discover such a relation, but upon reading his obituary in the North Wales Weekly News we discovered that he had enjoyed a successful football career around the turn of the twentieth-century. Playing at a multitude of clubs, firstly in North Wales before heading to England, we wanted to find out even more.

The most striking of the clubs listed in the article were Tottenham Hotspur and Watford. James Jones had signed for Spurs from Bangor in 1901. Enjoying an early career in North Wales, the left-half had also played for Conwy and Llandudno. Following the end of his career at Watford, he would return to Wales and Bangor, playing until the age of 42. To find such an article for a family historian is like striking gold. The next step was to discover more of his playing career and what stories we could find from Bangor, Tottenham and Watford.

Finding reports of James Jones in the Welsh press around 1900 are fairly easy. Commonly called 'Jimmy', his career at Bangor is of particular note. At one the nation's best clubs, Jimmy's pace and shot power are frequently praised by the North Wales Chronicle. Reporting on a 9-0 thrashing of Royal Welsh Warehouse, Jones was said to have been 'laughing' at the easiness of the tie. Scoring a hat-trick, which was finished by a shot which he had 'got hold and flashed in a terror', Jimmy was evidently Bangor's main man.

There is no surprise then that Spurs came calling. Discovering details from the transfer are difficult as the archive of the North Wales Chronicle ends in 1900. Fortunately, accessing the National Library of Wales archives can offer some hope. The Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald provided some insight as to whether James was still at Bangor in 1901. He was. Following victory in the Welsh Coast Cup Final, however, Jones was indeed on his way to London. Or so we thought...

In 1901, Tottenham had created football history by becoming the first non-league club to win the FA Cup by defeating Sheffield United in a replay at Crystal Palace. Playing in the Southern League, they were the first outside of the Football League to take home the famous trophy. Signing for a club that could justifiably claim to be the nation's best would have been incredible. Furthermore, joining a side which could also boast Welsh internationals would have no doubt helped Jimmy to settle.

It is here that our searches for Jimmy became difficult. Spurs' captain at the time was also named J. Jones and also a left-half. Jack Jones was indeed a Welsh international and playing alongside fellow countryman Edward 'Ted' Hughes provided a Celtic identity to the side's defence. Further adding to the confusion around player names - by 1902, another J. Jones would join the club. This time J. T. Jones. Nicknamed 'Bristol', this would at least make it easier to decipher who was being discussed. It would appear that the majority of Jimmy's career in North London would be confined to the club's reserves.

Despite the 1957 article claiming Jimmy's transfer occurred in 1901, it is not until 1904 that any meaningful coverage of his Spurs career can be noted. It would appear, therefore, that the transfer actually took place in January 1904. An article in the Tottenham and Edmonton Weekly Herald  confirmed this. Described as 'newly engaged', the article continued to note that 'reports speak highly of his capabilities'. Furthermore, the mystery around his signing for Tottenham is cleared up when it notes that in September 1903, a mix up with a previous transfer had left him unable to play football. After agreeing to sign for both St Helens and a 'Welsh team', Jones could not play for two clubs at the same time. it would be Spurs therefore who saved his career. 

'A true Welshman'

Although appearing to have been unable to play, the Warrington Guardian reported on a 'Jimmy Jones' playing for Crewe Alexandra in December 1903. This wasn't to be our Jimmy but it demonstrates the difficulties of family history with the surname Jones!

His time at Spurs would be short and limited to reserve appearances. However, there is a number of pieces which reference his performances. In April 1904, it was reported that '"Jimmy" Jones performed with a considerable success at half-back' but 'was hurt somewhat late in the game and had to leave the field'. Despite the injury, he would return to the side later that month to score the winner against West Ham in the Western League. This is of particular significance as the match was not a 'reserve' fixture and indeed was a notable victory on Spur's way to the title that season.

The same newspaper would report in 1904 of Jimmy's White Hart Lane exit. Included at the end of an article concerning 'May Meetings', it was noted that he had indeed joined Watford. In September, Watford reserves would face their Spurs counterparts and suffer a heavy 9-1. Jones' move was certainly a step down, but his appearance brought attention from the local newspapers who were quick to highlight 'that the match enabled us (Spurs) to renew acquaintances with...Jimmy Jones'.

Although being chuffed to find Jimmy referenced, just below the article was another more sombre piece,

The J. Jones in question is 'Bristol' Jones. The grave fears entertained by the journalist were unfortunately correct. Jones' untimely death was reported by a host of newspapers throughout the country. The Middlesex Gazette commented on the 'general regret and universal sympathy' before writing that his death from typhoid fever was so sudden that even Spurs' fans were unaware of his illness. The Tottenham and Edmonton Weekly Herald ran a detailed piece outlining the top scorer's career. Described as 'in every respect the very ideal of what is required in a professional football', a fundraising match would be arranged later in the year to provide for his widow and two children. Such discoveries are never nice to find, but it demonstrates the social conditions many people were subjected to in a pre-vaccination Edwardian Britain. In their own article on Bristol's death, the previous peculiarity of having three J. Joneses at Spurs was also noted in the Daily Mirror,

Jimmy would only play for a season at Watford, but in 1905 would be given his first taste of Southern League football as he started again Brighton. A record 5-1 victory for the Hornets, being on the winning side must have felt sweet. Little more can be found of his time at Watford but a Wikiwand database on former Watford players suggests that he would leave later that year following seven appearances for the first-team.

The original article from 1957 would state that Jones returned to North Wales to continue his playing career, eventually finishing at the grand old age of 42. Therefore, it would appear that there is still more to discover about Jimmy's career and his time spent in the Welsh leagues. Researching his past has demonstrated once again that each and every player has a history. As he did with defenders over 100 years ago, he has certainly kept me on my toes! I better be keeping up with the Joneses!

©The Football History Boys, 2020

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