These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the Southern Premier - just seven leagues below the Premier League. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton. After nearly 14 nomadic years we finally have a brand spanking new home in Slough.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

My Father And Other Working Class Football Heroes

Published in the Ryman Premier League programme v Worthing 25th March 2006

I must admit I’d never heard of Stewart Imlach, a pacey winger who was man of the match for Nottingham Forest in the 1959 FA Cup Final. All this and more is revealed in a book by his son, Gary Imlach, who realised he didn't know much about his dad after he had died. 14 years as a professional footballer, Stewart came from Lossiemouth, a Scottish fishing village, played 423 league and cup games and earned himself a couple of Scottish call-ups. His list of clubs is long, but in those days there was no agents, and you had no choice what club you went to, but was sold like cattle from one club to another.

But the book is more than just one mans search for his fathers history. It reveals a football world that has changed beyond all recognition in the past 50 years. Stewart Imlach and his fellow footballers were serfs. One QC at the time called the Football League terms of employement “the worst contract I’ve ever seen.” In 1955, the average footballer's wages were £8; factory workers might have expected to earn £11. Many players lived in club houses. They travelled on public transport with the fans, they had jobs like the fans. In one chapter Stewart describes his dads photo published in the local paper “My father is at his workbench in overalls and a cloth cap, self-consciously sawing a piece of two-by-four for the camera. Since his job meant that he could train only on Tuesday and Thursday nights, he’d been at work when the preseason photo call took place, and the paper had evidently had to send out a photographer to get whatever picture he could for the story. It looks a little strange on the sports page, but it locates him as a footballer of his time as well as any endorsement shot of David Beckham’s. Football was a game of the working class, for the working class, by the working class. One thing it wasn’t was a golden passport out of the working class.”

“Imagine this: the Chief Executive of the FA calling a plumber – and forty five minutes later David Beckham ringing his doorbell in overalls. It could never happen, except on television, a stunt for Children in Need or some yet-to-be-invented reality game show. But in 1955 it did happen, without generating a single paragraph in the papers.”

Eventually something had to give, and in 1961 the threat of a players strike by the Players Union led by Jimmy Hill, and the football maximum wage was breached.

As for the author, he doesn’t really do football anymore. “At what stage does sport become such big business that the original point is lost? At what dilution of cash to content can you no longer taste the sport in sport? How do you passionately support a PLC? How do you maintain tin the undying devotion that makes you a fan when the club is doing its damnedest to turn you into a customer? One answer is that you simply blank it all out and focus on the team, on what happens out on the pitch. But what if the team is a rotating cast of millionaires with no more connection to your world than Tom Cruise, half of them here for no better reason that that the lira supply dried up in Serie A. What are you rooting for then?”

‘My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes’ serves as testimonial to Stewart Imlach, but it’s more than that. It’s a great football book that’s well worth reading but also serves as a reminder for us to talk to our parents and grandparents and find out about their lives before it’s too late, because not everyone will have the chance to study scrapbooks and news clippings of their dads footballing prowess.

* ‘My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes’ by Gary Imlach was published by Yellow Jersey Press in 2005.

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