Fathers, Sons and Football, by Colin Shindler

Family charts football's journey from sport to soap
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The Independent Culture

In the course of football's progression from working-class opera to classless soap-opera, there have been three ages of the footballer: the chattel, the pop star and the cash-crazed diva.

Before the 1960s, footballers were folk heroes to the fans but commodities to their clubs, who could hold registrations until players were too old to draw breath, let alone kick a ball. Then, with the end of the maximum wage and the retain-and-transfer system, football was acknowledged as another branch of showbiz. Now it's the age of the journeyman Croesus, when the wages of even an adequate top-level performer will enable him to retire to the golf course when the time comes.

There is a member of the Summerbee family for each of the three ages. Colin Shindler, in recounting not only their careers but their histories, has given us a readable account of a traumatic journey through the realignment of the classes, seen through the medium of a football-family saga.

Most footballers would probably tell you that the principal attraction of their profession is being paid to do something they love. Which is the only factor common to the careers of George, Mike and Nicky Summerbee.

George, born in Winchester in 1914, signed for Preston in the 1930s and played four first-team games in 11 years. He married Dulcie, from Lancashire, who later thought nothing of travelling up to Manchester City to bawl out the manager who dropped her son. For Shindler, George was cruelly treated, though you suspect he was simply never good enough to shine. He died in 1955, "a deeply unhappy, disappointed man, his very life broken by the sport he had loved so passionately". Mike was different. A brilliant winger who could place crosses to head and feet with all the accuracy of David Beckham, he was also a hard man with a fondness for the pre-emptive strike. It was said that opposing full-backs had sleepless nights before facing him. He married Tina, a businessman's daughter and air stewardess, started a business selling shirts, and assumed the lifestyle of the kipper-tied aristocracy. At Manchester City he was one of the linchpins of a side that for the first time since the 1930s could eclipse their hated rivals. For a certain club from the same city looms large here. Shindler's first book was the memoir Manchester United Ruined My Life, and the succession of mud-slinging one-liners volleyed in their direction suggests that if he intended that book as therapy, it didn't work. It must have galled him that Ian McShane, the hero of Lovejoy (which he wrote and produced), is a United fanatic.

Shindler, who also wrote the film Buster and lectures in history at Cambridge, handles a sweeping story with ease, though for a book that purports to reach for a wider significance there are too many in-jokes and obscure football allusions. And ­ a common complaint for sports books with aspirations to universality ­ no index.

Nicky, proving that nepotism is no problem in football, struggled to find his first club, but fetched up at his father's alma mater, Swindon ­ and eventually Manchester City, too. He went on to Sunderland, where his star shone for a while, and last month returned to the Premiership with Bolton.

Probably more talented than his grandfather, but less so than his father, Nicky is a truly modern footballer, with the requisite appearance in the News of the World ­ although the headline "Soccer Stars in Sex and Drugs Orgy Shame" amounted to a female reporter failing to enlist his services.

Now Nicky's son Samuel has been showing signs of talent. His great-grandmother Dulcie, now in her nineties, is not best pleased. "I hope to God he doesn't become a footballer," she says.

In the Sixties, Mike had been able to drink Manchester dry with his pal Bestie with hardly a murmur from the press. When Nicky moved to Sunderland, the manager there, Peter Reid, told him: "I hear you like a drink. You keep putting that ball on Niall Quinn's head and I'm buying." Who said that English football's booze culture had buckled under pressure from the pasta tendency?