Attention: Please take a moment to consider our terms and conditions before posting.

Book review...

A first for Charlton Life?

"My Father and other Working Class Football Heroes" by Gary Imlach, which won the William Hill sports book of the year award in 2005 and I've only just gotten around to reading.

You might know Gary Imlach from his C4 introducing American sport and the Tour de France etc, this book traces the career of Stewart Imlach, his father a footballer in the 1950s, well before the era of mega-stardom and even before the era when pro-footballers earnt more than an average wage, before Bosman contracts and before 21 year old footballers had enough money in the bank to buy Mock Tudor mansions with enough garage space to house their fleet of Aston Martins and Bentleys.

Stewart Imlach died in 2001 and Gary Imlach realised that he knew little about his father's football career, to fill in the gaps he set about talking to his father's contemporaries, reading old newspaper reports and scoring around for details of his career. Gary Imlach had never seen his father play. Stewart Imlach was born in Lossiemouth on the north-east coast of Scotland before moving south to start a 15 year career in the English professional game, playing for Bury, Derby, Nottingham Forest, Luton, Coventry and Crystal Palace. He was the man of the match when Notts Forest beat Luton in the 1959 FA Cup Final and represented Scotland on four occasions, including two games in the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden. Despite representing his country at a World Cup, he was never presented with a cap, something that became a sore point. In those days the Scottish FA awarded caps only for matches against the other home nations.

But as well as charting the career of one man, this book paints an interesting picture of the state of football in the fifties/sixties. Like me, you probably have heard of the era before the "maximum wage", but you might not know its real implications for the players. In those days, the average weekly wage for a footballer was around £8 while factory workers were received £11. For example Wages at Bury were £14 if in the first team, £7 if not, plus £2 extra as a win bonus and £10 during the summer, that is if they were on the league maximum. Contracts lasted only for twelve months only - a serious injury could mean that a player was released with nothing to fall back on and if a club had a bad year, wages could and were reduced. A player who could not agree terms could be paid no wages at all - that is not paid any wages and sacked/free to find another club but paid nothing and still retained.

If a player demanded a transfer, his club could simply refuse or put a price on his head so high that it amounted to a refusal. Even when offered very attractive terms from foreign clubs, players were in no position to accept and players were often transferred to other clubs and then told who their new employers were after negotiations were completed. The clubs also often provided accommodation via Tied Cottages - disagreements over a new contract could mean two weeks notice to quit. Players were chattels, to be traded between clubs with no say in the matter.

I'm sure we've seen the pictures of the enormous crowds at the Valley and many other clubs were the same, yet despite making so much money for the clubs and the directors the players were treated appalingly badly, were just as badly under-paid and then often had to find alternative employment in the summer - in Imlach's case this meant work as a joiner and a painter. As the author writes, "Imagine the chief executive of the FA calling in a plumber - and 45 minutes later parting his net curtains to find David Beckham ringing his doorbell in overalls. But in 1955 something very similar did happen. Alan Hardaker of the Football League opened his door to find the country's finest outside-right had come to fit his new sink - Tom Finney of England, Preston North End and Finney Brothers plumbers and electricians."

In 1958, there were very few games shown on television. The opening match of the World Cup had Percy Thrower's gardening programme at half time - there were no studio pundits. Matt Busby managed both Scotland and Manchester United but he was too unwell to look after the national team in Sweden as it came soon after the Munich air crash in February 1958. No replacement manager was appointed so the players themselves organised training sessions while the team was selected by Scottish club chairmen and directors. Owners and managers systematically cheated the players and pocketed illegal payments. Nothing much has changed...

I recommend this book highly, there's a bit of mawkishness sentimentality in with relations between father and son being traditionally strained but Gary Imlach doesn't over do that. It'll make a good xmas present for a football loving father who might remember this era. Some of the extremely well remunerated players of our era like Ashley Cole who think that being offered "only" £55k a week is taking the piss could do well to read it.


Sign In or Register to comment.

Roland Out Forever!