It’s all about origins – whether through work, friendships, or eventual relationships – the question about your family background always comes up. Most often, you mention your parents and where they are from. Or you might talk about your grandparents, especially if they came from another country, or discuss where you’ve lived and why. However, when you grow up in a sporting family who came from very little, you tend to look at life and the future in a different light. No matter what sport or how big or small it maybe, there are always fascinating stories to be told and to be passed along to the next generations; that’s exactly where my research and passion for soccer began.
For the longest time, since the 1990s, after the US started consistently qualifying for FIFA World Cups, I became an every-four-year seeker of photos or references to my grandfather, James Brown, who played with the USMNT at the 1930 World Cup & NY Giants or Brooklyn Wanderers, and then headed over in 1932 to play for Manchester United FC, Brentford FC, Tottenham Hotspur and Guildford City FC. Six long years ago, I took up the task of exploring, researching, and documenting the paternal Brown side of the Scottish family from Troon, Scotland because I was fascinated by the rich mixture of stories about the soccer and rugby careers of family members who crossed the Atlantic from Troon, Scotland to America; within Great Britain, and from Scotland down to South Africa, retracing the Lambie branch of the family. Along with my personal research in newspaper and image repositories like Getty Images, Alamy, Colorsport, Newspapers.com, Ancestry.com, etc.
I teamed up with a passionate researcher regarding the 1930 World Cup through Twitter, Dean Lockyer as “World Cup 1930 Project” @WC1930blogger. We have uncovered, and keep on doing so, every interesting aspect of the inaugural World Cup and do our best to validate or debunk certain stories that have found themselves in articles over decades and cemented in the minds of the reads because no one ever challenged to truth of the story. Working with Dean is a joy, and he is so methodical, and a deep researcher like me. With his help, I’ve been able to contact 13 or 20 family members of players/staff from the 1930 USA World Cup team.
It’s a great network of people and we share stories, documents, photos and show memorabilia. Those stories, photos and memories will be the premise for 2 more books about the US team in coffee table book format because of the exclusive family albums of a few families, and then a more in-depth look at players and staff, to build on the great thesis by Zach Bigalke, “Anything but Ringers”. Zach and I will be writing the book together to come out before the 2026 World Cup. I’m still searching for more families of players from the other teams at the 1930 World Cup. You never know what photos or memories they might have about meeting or staying with the US team.
This journey early on helped me to grow from a family tree documenter into a public soccer historian as I’ve combined my long-standing love for soccer and ever-growing love for rugby and family. Along the way, I’ve become the current vice president of the Society for American Soccer History (S.A.S.H). I now view myself as a soccer detective and relish the opportunity to work with other historical societies throughout the world to help them learn more about players or teams or family members of players who might have played in the US during specific periods. We have worked with historical societies from Belfast Celtic Society; The Hampden Collection, Glasgow, Scotland; MEMOFUT – a Brazilian football historical society.
This book was initially intended for my son, so that he would have a comprehensive look at his US/UK side of the family, since we live in the Paris region, and he hadn’t had the chance to visit the US or UK at that point in 2016. I always mentioned the stories to him – but it’s not the same as reading, seeing photos, and physically walking down the tunnels or stepping on the same terrace as some of these relatives.
There are intriguing and courageous transatlantic migratory decisions that changed the destiny of whole families and future generations. Essentially, those on both the Brown and Lambie sides made bold, brave choices to pick up and make a new life for their family in different parts of the world where nothing was certain. They followed their instincts. As long as there was hope, and as long as they were not afraid to put their nose to the grindstone, anything was possible. Sacrifices were made, but you grow up with the idea that if you believe so passionately about something then you go for it. You never know how it’ll turn out, but you still give it your best. I grew up with that train of thought, watching my parents make decisions to move to different parts of the world because of various career or entrepreneurial choices. It exposed me to a wonderful view of the world and different cultures and traditions that I might never have experienced if I had just stayed put in one particular region of the US. I’m excited about the idea of imparting that knowledge and tradition to my son.
The focus starts in Troon, Scotland, with a teenage James Brown forging a new path to the United States. The narrative then expands to immediate Troon Brown family brothers and their offspring, and finally to the extended Lambie family down in South Africa. I always knew how talented this side of the family was, but I was only able to envision a ‘skeletal framework’ of our relatives based on these stories passed down the line. After the majority of the research had been found digitally while I was in the south of France in Antibes around 2015 and 2016, I also began to gather personal comments and situations about each of these men in my family, penned by writers from back in their time as well as historians from various soccer clubs, former team-mates, and family.
At the same time, I contacted my father, George Brown, on a nearly daily basis, recounting how I had found such-and-such article or photo or made a contact with a club. He would invariably start telling me more about the items that I mentioned to him, and those were the diamonds in the rough that I would make note of and methodically document to essentially polish over and over. Ten pages suddenly became 20, 50, sometimes 80 pages of notes and summaries of the articles I found, sprinkled with great memories from dad and other members of the family.
The research odyssey even led me to a point where one cousin informed me that I had another cousin, Andrew Lambie (on the US side of the Lambies), who had lived in Paris for over 30 years; though I had been in France for 20 years, I had never previously known about or met him, so what a joy! We were both retracing the Lambie family tree at the same time and were able to complement and help one another complete certain areas. It was then time to head out and visit, to absorb the atmosphere where these relatives played, trained, or spent some of the most creative moments of their careers.
I traced my grandfather James Brown and his steps through life: passing by the factory in Plainfield, New Jersey, where he first worked as a teenager and where he first laced up his boots for the local soccer team when arriving in the United States in 1927; walking down the only tunnel at Old Trafford that he walked through in the early 1930s as a soccer player at Manchester United; wandering transformed streets and apartment lots in Guildford City and imagining the electricity of the non-league team’s dominance and desire to keep winning and potentially move up to the Third Division while war loomed in the late 1930s; or huddling around the only brick that still exists from the old stadium on White Hart Lane in the Tottenham Hotspur dressing room where he suited up.
The hope is that you enjoy this fascinating adventure as much as I have while sifting through newspaper archives and boxes of family photos, contacting club historians and memorabilia collectors, museum archives and talking with many members of the family. Along the way, I assembled as many of the pieces of the puzzle as possible. The time spent has allowed me to know more about the Brown and Lambie clans and to reconnect with family members – or, in some cases, to connect for the first time with family members that I didn’t know before.
Mud, Blood and Studs: James Brown and His Family’s Legacy in Soccer and Rugby Across Three Continents
By Pitch Publishing
Mud, Blood and Studs is a special story of sporting excellence passed from generation to generation. An alcoholic father abandons his family in Troon, Scotland, and sails for America. But against the odds his four boys thrive, and each carves his own legacy in football or rugby. In time, their sons would follow in their footsteps.
About the Author
James Brown is a soccer historian and vice president of The Society for American Soccer History. He focuses on nurturing solid relationships with other football societies worldwide, so the exchange of historical information is easier and more accessible. His family’s near-hundred-year rugby and football history spurred a six-year global research project. He is also The Beautiful Game’s football detective.
The book is available for pre-ordering and will be shipped as of August 29, 2022 here