You may know Gary Imlach. He’s the man who for years has presented UK coverage of the Tour de France, first on Channel 4, and then more recently on ITV (with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin providing race commentary). Before that, he was a face on the Channel 4 coverage of American Football alongside sometime radio DJ Nicky Horne.
But unbeknownst to me – well until last year, at least, when this book first came out – he’s the son of a Scottish footballer named Stewart Imlach. When I gave a copy of this book to my dad a while back, he said, “Oh, Stewart Imlach? I saw him play.” That’s more than Gary ever got to do.
What his son has done is write a book that in one part is an historical record of one single professional footballer’s life, but also acts as something of a social history of the game during the fifties and sixties. Imlach started his career in Scotland, before fighting adversory and moving down to England to begin his professional career.
His son traces his career through interviews with friends and colleagues, since his father has died, and he realises that he didn’t really ask all the right questions when he was alive.
We learn about years at such clubs as Bury, Nottingham Forest and Luton. And we also learn what it might have been like to appear for your country in Sweden for the 1958 World Cup (The Scottish FA neither awarded caps nor let you keep a shirt), or to appear in the 1959 FA Cup Final.
But mostly, we learn about the tough life a footballer had with a punishing wage cap that kept players in their place unless they could make a big money move to somewhere like Italy. We learnt that a club could sell you to any club they cared to at a moment’s notice, and that you’d only have a contract lasting a single year.
Compare and contrast as they say.
Has anyone sent a copy of this book to Ashley Cole?
Thoroughly recommended and very deserving of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year.