Historians come in two models. The first group rummage around tracking down old or long lost documents, artefacts and the like, ultimately drawing conclusions from what they have found.
The second group cut out the research bit and simply take existing commentaries and written work, and draw their own conclusions, without bothering with the getting dusty bit. Thus they tend to avoid ploughing through the old archives.
Now I must admit that when I do take on any sort of research work (which is rare), I tend to be in the second camp, sitting at home or in my office, looking up what others have said, and then ultimately drawing my own conclusions – generally pointing out where everyone else has gone wrong, and where I alone am right.
But I do have great admiration for other people who really do spend time looking through old material seeking out information that has now been lost.
Last week I was privileged to see this happen in practice. One of our customers decided to open up a box of ancient football programmes and start reading them.
Now football programmes are things that people can collect rather like stamps or sets of china cups, or old cars. Each to their own, and I must admit that none of these things particularly appeal to me. But it has always seemed a harmless type of hobby.
As it happened I got talking to the fellow who was doing the research, and looked at the programme collection he had retrieved from our store room. The programmes were of Arsenal FC and were 100 years old, relating, so he told me, to the first season Arsenal spent at their new ground of Highbury in north London.
It seems he wasn’t looking for anything in particular – just reading through the programmes one after the other. (Apparently they are now extremely rare and valuable and he was wearing the obligatory white gloves to handle the precious objects).
I had moved back to my everyday duties when I heard a shout. I walked across to him and found that he was shaking – not (I am glad to say) with fear or worry, but with delight.
For it seems that in a particular football programme he had found something of momentous importance.
Or perhaps I should say it was of momentous importance to him because I must admit I didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about.
It seems that Arsenal FC, like almost all football clubs formed in the early days of organised sport in England, had adopted a Latin motto. Unfortunately although the meaning of the motto is clear (Victory Through Harmony) the origins of the decision to make this Arsenal’s motto had been lost in the mists of time.
But now it seems all was revealed, for there in the programme for 20 September 1913 was an article by one of the club’s directors to the effect that as the move to the new ground had been such a success and as the club was now doing so well both on the pitch and financially in terms of attendances, the Directors had spent some time wondering at the origin of the success.
Their conclusion was that these developments were due entirely to the “concord” within the club.
They then went on to mention the Latin motto “Victoria Concordia Crescit” for the first time. A little later the motto was taken up by the club and used as its official motto – and indeed it is still in use 100 years later.
It is interesting to contemplate the fact that this football programme had sat in our storage facility for many, many years, and indeed had undoubtedly been purchased on that day 100 years ago from a programme seller outside the ground.
The discovery of the origins of the clubs motto won’t mean anything to most people but to a group of football enthusiasts it certain is a major event.
Just one more reason to have old documents stored in a good storage facility.