Broadly speaking football books fall into two categories: stories about the extraordinary, or stories about the ordinary. Often, the latter are more interesting. Tales of wildly successful players or remarkable events are entertaining for a while, but they’re virtually impossible to identify with. The more prosaic stories are, though.
Books about footballers who didn’t win World Cups or Ballons d’Or or anything really – like Eamon Dunphy’s ‘Only A Game?’, or Garry Nelson’s ‘Left Foot Forward’ – are grounded in something that we all know. The football that most of us watch every week but not many remember.
And so is Gary Imlach’s ‘My Father And Other Working Class Football Heroes’, about his old man Stewart Imlach. Stewart wasn’t exactly a journeyman, since he played at the 1958 World Cup for Scotland, but neither was he a household name. Not many people knew about his career and, as it turned out, that included his son.
When Stewart died in 2001, Gary realised how little he actually knew of his old man’s playing days. So this book is not only a story about the beautiful banalities of football, but also something else many of us can grasp and cling to: how the game chimes with our relationship with our parents.
Imlach tells of a time when footballers were, as the title of the book suggests, working class heroes: wages were usually commensurate or even less than the average man or woman, players lived in terraced housing. These are things we’ve all heard before, but the strength of this book is none of that is excessively romanticised: there’s little suggestion that things were better then, just different.
Inevitably this is a sentimental story: it’s written by a son about his father who played in an era when footballers weren’t rewarded to their true value, let alone like the players of today. Of course it will be sentimental. But it isn’t excessively so, and is thus a beautiful read.