Old Trafford charted root and branch

BOOK OF THE WEEK; Manchester United Family Trees 1955-75 and 1975-95 by Pete Frame and Jim White (Sportspages in London and Manchester, pounds 10 each Credit card line 0171-636 1665)
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In 1971 genealogy was the new rock 'n' roll as Pete Frame branched out into the Rock 'n' Roll Family Tree business, going on to set down definitive ancestries of rock's movers and shakers - just about every band that ever shook or moved. The roots spread into television with last year's BBC2 series, and now the enterprise has blossomed on the football pitch with The United Years, two posters covering 1955-75 and 1975-95, put together by Frame in collaboration with Jim White, the Independent writer and Manchester United fanatic.

Looking at the posters there is a fine sense of history laid out like a rolling landscape - contours of shifting generations, peaks and troughs of success, failure and tragedy. There is the absorption of watching teams evolve - sometimes in rude jolts. The adage that winning teams use relatively few players tends to be borne out, and in the less successful years the season-by-season accounts are shoe-horned towards the edges.

The awfulness of Munich leaps out in a starkly graphic way, the rank of first-team players for 1957-58 stretching across the poster, 31 of them. On the second poster you can pore over the purge waged by Tommy Docherty, when 28 players departed in his first three seasons. The design suddenly becomes cross-hatched with the brisk downward arrows that Frame uses to signify a player leaving the club. They look like the referee's finger of old, dismissing them to the cold bath of life after Old Trafford.

The obvious thing to do is to plot your own ley-lines of ball-magicians. But history is not just made by great men, and there is an equal pleasure in charting the unsung, every man who ever carried a spear in the cause - the likes of Tommy Heron, Frank Haydock, Wilf Tranter, poor Ronnie Briggs, the 17-year-old Irish lad who let in 13 goals in his first two games. And later, Steve Paterson (who went to the Far East), Tom Sloan (who went to Chester) and the first import, Nikola Jovanic (who went back where he came from, making sure to take his club car with him).

In Frame's dense hand - attractive as they are, the posters are not for myopics who have lost their glasses - is an idiosyncratic assemblage of Old Trafford lore, ringing with the chipper tones of the genuine football man. The broad sweep of history is there to appreciate, but there is as much fascination in the vignettes. Such as the Irish international who played more times for country than club while he was at Old Trafford. Or the club's first black player, who played one game in 1963, or the first United player to be waxed by Tussaud's (it wasn't Best, Charlton or Law. Or Ted MacDougall). With plans to put the United posters in book form, and an England Family Tree poster planned, the fertile ground of football genealogy is on the verge of becoming a growth area.

Chris Maume