Plain Strains & Auto-biographies (Act III) – Pap Fiction

He has a lot to answer for does our Roy, and that extends down the football food chain to biographies about lesser lights because what we can’t really forgive in a footballer any more is that he’s just like us. Take Gary Imlach’s My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes and I do mean that. Please take my copy. Such a tiresome book. He didn’t bother to get to know his dad properly when he was younger and so chose to reinvent him after his death. It is an odd piece of writing; part of it is sentimental, dutiful son stuff with a bit of hagiography thrown in. All that really shows is how a son can be both too close to his dad and yet, at the same time, too remote from him. Other parts of the book are simply unconvincing because he never fully justifies the biggest part of the title. John Charles was and still is a working class football hero, Stewart Imlach never was, underappreciated footballer though he might have been.

It is all about perspective. When Gary was old enough to remember his dad, Stewart was coaching at Everton, his playing days long gone. I remember watching THAT Imlach in action in the early seventies as he sprinted on to the field with his medicine bag to administer first aid to an injured player, and I can remember the Evertonians urging him to run faster. ‘Hhum on Stewy Ladz, gerrim bachhhh on his feeess querchhh, or gerrim off and give someone else a shance!’ To them, Stewy was by no means a working class football hero and was only as good as his next sprint’n’sponge.

It won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2005. Ah but wasn’t that the year that only lasted 9 days? Must have been.

Continuing with the theme of perspective, Stewart Imlach was a Scots international and there is no doubt that Scotland has produced some wonderful footballers down the years, all working class, many being true heroes. Billy Bremner, Bill Shankly, Jim Baxter, Denis Law, Hughie Gallacher, Matt Busby, et al. I was looking at the long list of football biographies and autobiographies now available on What struck me was that far more Scots were having books churned out about them than could possibly be merited even given the great pedigree. Some of the immortal names were; Gary MacKay, Brian Irvine, Dave McPherson, Gavin Peacock & Alan Comfort, Ian Ferguson, Jim Craig, Jim Leishman, Jim McLean and John Brown. These might be household names in the Irvine and Comfort households but hardly on the lips of children even in distant England. Then I checked the company address; Football Heaven, Unit 2, Insch Business Park, Insch, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Say no more, give them an Insch…

They did actually have some books about people we have heard of ‘south of the border’ and that brings up another issue; why are there 5 books on Eric Cantona, 8 on George Best and 10 on Alex Ferguson? Can there be that many angles? The more you look at the ‘biogs and autobiogs’ business, the more mysterious the whole thing becomes. Meanwhile, I’m ghosting a semi-fictional autobiography ‘Roy Rush and other heroes still mooching about on Benefits’.


Graeme Garvey