Sports are sociable activities that bring people together so it is no surprise that they have featured very strongly in the history of Deaf people in the U.K., as we have noted in previous posts. However there have not been many who have also competed at the highest level. One problem is playing to the whistle.
the perception that an inability to speak or hear clearly automatically causes difficulties for all involved, may well have conspired to deny many talented deaf footballers the opportunities a few others have had. (Atherton, 1999)
A player who did play professional football was James or William MacLean (sometimes given as Mclean) of Cardiff City. There is a very small mention of him in Atherton et.al. (2000),[*] where the information came from his daughter. He played with Cardiff from 1923-6.
This newspaper article, from a photo in the library collection, is typical of its age (1920s) in its tone. They do not know Mclean’s first name and seem amazed that he could learn to speak.
[* Atherton et al give his name as William on one page (58) and James on another (59) and have his surname spelled McLean. I imagine that perhaps he was James William or William James but that his family used a different christian name from that his colleagues used.]
For more on professional Deaf footballers –
Atherton, M, Russell, D. & Turner G.H., Deaf Footballers in the Professional Game, Chapter 6 in Deaf United. Forest Books, 2000
Atherton, M. Kicking down the barriers: Deaf players in professional football. Deaf History Journal, 1999 Vol. 3 (1):21-27