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18 October 2015

In football, sons follow fathers, but have better hair and less hunger to win

It’s quite eerie observing Kasper Schmeichel in goal for Leicester, playing in exactly the same position and looking the spitting image of his father, Peter, the former Man United keeper.

By Hunter Davies

I was watching Derby County, quite surprised to see Tom Ince playing for them, and began thinking about him and his career. For a young player of 23, he seems to have had quite a few clubs, so you always wonder why. He made the England under-21 team quite early doors, has managed 18 caps, but doesn’t look as if he will ever make the all-conquering, top of the pops, totally fab, full England team. Hmm.

Mainly, though, I was thinking about him and his dad, Paul Ince. Paul’s career was top class – star at Man United, 53 caps for England, England’s first black captain – but he was also a bit of a brute, bad-tempered, liked to be known as the Guv’nor. He fell out with Fergie (which is always a good sign), who dismissed him as “Big-Time Charlie”.

Young Tom is slender, not bullish-framed like his dad, plays on the wing while his dad was midfield; but he does have his dad’s slightly moany countenance, as if in the dressing room he’s not a load of laughs.

This is all pure surmise – what fans do, who watch players over a long time, deciding we know their character when of course we know bugger all. In football, if you watch long enough, you also see sons following fathers, flickering on the stage like ghosts, before fading and disappearing.

It is remarkable how many sons have followed on. And very often, unlike Tom and Paul Ince, they look much the same and play in similar positions.

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It’s quite eerie observing Kasper Schmeichel in goal for Leicester, playing in exactly the same position and looking the spitting image of his father, Peter, the former Man United keeper. Young Peter has had a slowish rise, lots of clubs early in his career, but now, at 28, he’s in the Prem, and in his pomp, playing for Leicester.

When you watch him, he doesn’t seem as dominant and decisive as his dad, neither as aggressive and bad-tempered nor as hungry, which is often the case with the second generation, yet he has battled through to the top. Starting off, it surely was a plus having a famous father, but it can also be a handicap, forever being compared. In football, as managers are always boringly telling us, you are only as good as your last game: reputations count for little, and relationships nothing at all.

Jamie Redknapp did better than his father, Harry – managing 17 England caps while his dad got none – but they are both fluent and smart. His cousin Frank Lampard, with 106 England caps and, tarran tarran, an OBE, also did better than his father, Frank, who managed only two caps. Frank Sr was a lumpen, dour-looking full-back, a very different footballer from his son. Young Jamie and young Frank had the benefit of a private education, so obviously they’re handsomer and have better hair, which is only what you expect, if you pay all that money.

The Hateleys – father and son, Tony and Mark – were both centre-forwards, looked and played much the same, but the younger one did better, with lots of England caps, unlike his dad. There is a third generation, Tom Hateley, son of Mark, but he is a defender, ex-Tranmere and Motherwell, last heard of in Poland.

Why does football often run in families? Ball skills do seem to be inherited, sporting genes get passed on. But children do follow parents in other walks of life. I wonder which is the job in which it happens most? Somebody must have done the research.

The acting dynasties such as the Redgraves and Foxes have been well documented. In literature we have young Martin, son of Kingsley. In the law and in medicine, I sense, it is even more common, but that is probably environment and conditioning as much as genes. Doctoring, I would say from my observations, spawns most family members. My own GP is the son of the woman who used to be my GP.

My own dear children? as you have asked. Well, we have one barrister, which was a surprise, as we know nothing about the law. One was in TV for ten years as a producer and is now a mum designing cushions. We do have a writer daughter, Caitlin, so that’s one out of three following the family tradition. Which proves . . . actually I don’t know what it proves.

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This article appears in the 14 Oct 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Corbyn supremacy