Review by Toby Belshaw
Vital QPR member Toboboly reviews the book ‘ My Father & Other Working Class Football Heroes’ by Gary Imlach.
The basic premise of this book is that Imlach’s dad was an international footballer who spent his life in the game but when he passed away Imlach found that he knew relatively little of his dads life in football, this book charts his rise from playing in a small fishing village in Scotland through to an FA Cup final and World Cup Finals and the difficulty trying to maintain a career in the game after his playing days were over.
As a younger fan I know relatively little on how football was organised and run pre-Premiership days. This book is great at explaining how in the Fifties players literally were indentured servants and almost ‘slaves’ as Blatter recently called them. At the mercy and whim of the clubs who paid them less than they could get as a plumber or joiner. And who could not only stop them from joining other clubs but could also not pay them and not transfer them, holding players and their families to ransom or transferring them to the opposite part of the country without any warning.
The writing style is warm and Imlach doesn’t shy away from mentioning personal moments or the fact that he may be biased towards his father’s side. Tales of the ineptness of the Scottish FA at both the 1958 World Cup finals and at being too tight to give players caps apart from the Home internationals makes the reader feel as angry as Imlach as to the injustices many players went through just to play a game they loved. A large part of the book focuses on Stuart Imlach’s man of the match performance in the 1959 FA Cup win of Nottingham Forest. One of the best stories regarding a player who broke his leg during the game but refused to be operated on until he had seen Forest win and his captain pick up two winners medals!
A year after the FA Cup win and the Forest team were dismantled and so began the end of Stuart Imlach’s playing career. He moved around the lower leagues for a while before a knee injury stopped him playing and he went into coaching and training with some success. However once again the medieval way football was run meant that he never quite enjoyed the success he could have probably achieved yet Imlach Snr. never fell out of love with the game.
Overall the book gives a fascinating and very personal view of what it took to be a footballer during the Fifties and early Sixties before the money and celebrity came to the game. There are lots of details of the transfer systems which could have bogged the book down but Imlach has researched well and there are always examples which make it both interesting and easy to understand. There are also some very good photo’s of Fifties players and Imlach uses many newspaper cuttings so you get a real feel for the time period. Definately one worth reading again.
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