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My Father and Other Working-Class Football Heroes, by Gary Imlach

Posted on August 28, 2011 by samh

My Father and Other Working-Class Football Heroes, by Gary Imlach (2005)

This book, a deserved winner of the 2005 William Hill Sports Book of the Year prize, tells of Channel 4 sports presenter Gary Imlach’s quest to find out more about the life of his footballing father Stewart following his death from cancer.

It is a superbly written and incisive tale of the relationship between a father and a son, made all the more poignant because the father is no longer there to speak out. His story is told through newspaper cuttings and grainy photographs, old programmes and dusty pennants – anything that Gary could get his hands on to discover just what kind of man his father was.

The book could just as easily have been about a late rugby player, golfer, or any other type of sportsman, as it is not really the sport that matters. The book is about people, and about a bygone age when footballers were ordinary men, often earning less than those who went to watch them.

But this is not just another excuse for saccharine nostalgia with violins playing in the background – it is an intensely personal and moving homage to the man who represented Scotland in the 1958 World Cup and never received a cap for his efforts, and who worked as a joiner in the off-season to help bring up a young family.

Gary Imlach grew up a privileged insider at Everton when his father moved into coaching – but it was only when he passed away that he realised the photographs and trophies and old boxes of memorabilia stuffed in lofts were all he knew about him. He tells how he began to grow alienated from the game he was born into as he revisits key periods in his father’s career.

Punctuated by illuminating interviews with long-forgotten footballing greats, this book is a fascinating window on a lost era; most importantly, though, it serves as a warning that one never realises what one has until it has gone for ever. A highly recommended tribute to an intriguing character, and one who never stopped battling until the day he died.

Review by Sam Hawcroft

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