Meet the family

The man behind the Rock Family Trees is back. This time he's charting 40 years of Manchester United. By James Rampton
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Oh no," I hear you say, "not another Manchester United merchandising opportunity. I've already got the Ryan Giggs duvet-cover and the memoirs of the Stretford End turnstile operator. What do I need a Manchester United Family Tree for?" The answer is: because it is a fascinating, phenomenally painstaking piece of work, detailed enough to satisfy the most stats-obsessed fan.

The two Family Tree posters, covering the periods 1955-75 and 1975-95, contain 8,000 words apiece - enough to fill a slim volume. The Trees give a season-by-season breakdown of comings and goings, and the team's form, in a spaghetti-junction interspersed with wodges of scrupulously neat text. They are the sporting cousin of Pete Frame's Rock Family Trees which have charted the sometimes Byzantine interconnections between rock bands over the past 25 years.

The information for the United Family Tree was largely supplied by Jim White, (feature-writer on this paper and author of Are You Watching, Liverpool?) and checked by the Newsnight reporter and Jeffrey Archer biographer, Michael Crick ("the world's greatest expert on United", according to Frame).

Frame then spent three months on top of an eight-by-four plywood drawing- board. In his words, he was "perched like a gnome on a cushion, surrounded by scraps of paper, reference-books, dictionaries, pens, rulers and bottles of liquid paper. Only I know where everything is. When I die, someone's going to have a hell of a job sorting everything out."

Now 53, Frame first got the idea for Family Trees when at the end of the Sixties he dropped out of his respectable job as a buildings surveyor for the Prudential and founded his own underground rock magazine called ZigZag. "In 1972 I'd done a long interview with Al Cooper, who had started Blood, Sweat and Tears," he recalls, speaking from his 16th-century thatched cottage near Aylesbury. "I was trying to explain in an article how he had moved from one band to another, when at that moment it dawned on me that if I drew it out in a family tree it would be so much clearer." A cult was born, and over the next quarter-century hundreds of Frame's works of art appeared in Sounds, NME, Melody Maker and Rolling Stone. They culminated last year in a BBC2 series - Rock Family Trees.

It may be painstaking, but the Family Tree is not an anoraky thing, says Frame. "Usually the people who say that are those who haven't read it. I know train-spotters and, believe me, I'm not in their ball- game. It's got a lot of information, but if you actually read it, it's written with a lightness. It's amusing and full of anecdotes."

It is true that in among the morass of facts, many gems shine out. Take the Family Tree's comments on United's signing of Bryan Robson in 1981: "For the next 12 years he never put a foot wrong for United; the only mistake he made was the curly perm he sported the day he signed."

Frame's next projects are Family Trees of the England team since 1966 and his beloved Luton Town FC - "the soot in the atmosphere always created a fog at Luton, but they were my very first heroes".

Frame has thought about turning himself into a (thatched) cottage industry. "I'd love to have a team of monks working to my instruction while I sit and have a joint," he says. "But it doesn't work like that, because my style is so idiosyncratic. If I had a team replicating my work, it'd become too train-spotterish. I interviewed Leonard Cohen once and he told me he's taken some territory in his field and he tries to maintain it. I feel the same."

The Manchester United Family Trees are available from BDP, 50 Margaret St, London W1N 8LS. Each poster (1955-75 or 1975-95) costs pounds 10 plus pounds 1.50 p&p. Credit card orders on 0171-636 1665.

Comments