The Footballer Who Could Fly is so intimate and so personal that, at times, it can feel like an intrusion.
The game was evidently the only common ground Duncan Hamilton enjoyed with his father and this, a series of rich anecdotes from the 1950s and 1960s, is the legacy of that shared passion.
Really, it’s a throwback to a different kind of era. In the obvious sense, of course, but also because much of what’s within is anecdotal. The tales of Jackie Milburn, Len Shackleton and Jim Baxter – and the many, many others – are all described with that slightly antiquated charm. Their shots are ferocious, their movements ephereal; they’re presented in terms which aren’t really in use anymore and which offer relief from today’s relentless jingoism.
The Footballer Who Could Fly also offers a vantage point on a different community. The interactions Hamilton’s father has with the stars of his day show the differences in the relationship between the fans and the players. More broadly, one of the book’s most enduring passages concerns the communal grief felt after the Munich tragedy. How people felt towards the game was obviously very different to how they do now and Hamilton, splendid writer that he is, does a really fine job of illustrating that point.
It’s a highly rewarding read. Although probably too wistfull and reflective to be wildly popular, it’s a nourishing experience for anyone who loves the game. Not the winning and losing, not the tribalism, but the game itself.
It can be read in sections too. The individual tales are bound by a continuous narrative and each holds a relevance, but the stories are all rich enough to be read alone. The Jim Baxter chapter is wonderfully told, so too is the recollection of his father telling him about Duncan Edwards for the first time.
A charming piece of work which can be read and admired as much for the use of language as the anecdotes.