The late ex footballer Stuart Imlach registered with me, but only just.
I discussed him with a friend who was a relative of his, I vaguely remembered the name and when I saw his picture I remembered seeing him play on early televised matches. I saw the picture in a fascinating book written by his son the sports journalist Gary Imlach the book is called “MY FATHER AND OTHER WORKING CLASS FOOTBALL HEROES” not the snappiest of titles but, don’t let that put you off if you get the chance to get hold of a copy. This is one of the best books about sport I’ve ever read, certainly the best about football, it succeeds where others fail because it is not written by the ex player but by a very talented sports journalist who lived his young life as a very close observer of what it meant to be a footballer in the fifties and early sixties, at the time just before the football world went mad, Stuart Imlach was one of the players who unfortunately just missed out on the madness.
That madness was of course money, following Johnny Haines becoming the first £100 a week footballer there was no going back and footballers were shortly being paid like film stars. Guys like Imlach were paid similar to what they could make as a skilled tradesman a joiner (which he was) or a bricklayer, like many others he worked at his trade to supplement his income from football, this went on at a time when football became incredibly popular so, the money was there, the players just didn’t see any of it, he relates the incredible story of a club chairman opening his door to a tradesman who had come to fix the plumbing and found himself talking to the great Tom Finney, regarded as one of the outstanding players in the world at the time.
The book takes you from his youth in the fishing village of Lossiemouth to the heights of the world cup in Sweden where he represented Scotland. The story is tinged with sadness because of the treatment that these players received, they had no say over whether they were transferred and sometimes literally woke up to find this had been done while they slept, they lived in club houses which were used to keep them in step “behave or you are out of a home” and this happening against a backdrop of massive crowds, someone did well out of it.
This story captures what it was like for these players who were no better than slaves with the proviso that they were doing something they loved and would have played at the local playing fields had they not been professionals. The central character who was “man of the match” for Notts. Forrest when they won the FA cup in 1959 against Luton Town comes across as an honest, decent and tough working class guy who was also a very talented player, he also comes across as a man with strong principals and having read about him I wish I could have met him.
Today’s players should read this book and realize how fortunate they are, Stuart Imlach, after bouncing up and down divisions and spells in management and coaching eventually went back to working 9 to 5 in an ordinary job, without him and players like him the game would not be as rich as it is today.
Today these players even the ordinary ones would have made enough to secure their financial future and this guy was not one of the ordinary ones. A fascinating book well worth the effort to find a copy for any football follower.