With Blackpool perched at the top of the Championship, mostly due to Tom Ince’s stunning displays and his father’s astute management, I considered: how effective is the father-son relationship in professional football? Once commonplace in Sunday League teams, almost the defining feature of a local amateur side, the paternal bond has emerged in the realms of top flight, professional football. While Paul Ince’s tangerines have made a sweet start to their Championship campaign; I will be taking a look at some of the more sour relationships over the years.
Harry and Jamie Redknapp
Jamie Redknapp began breaking into the first team at Bournemouth while his father was at his managerial peak in the southern town. While Harry was linked with the vacant West Ham United manager’s post in the 1989 close season, Jamie embarked on his professional footballing journey. Despite increasing anticipation of Jamie’s talents, he made a mere 13 appearances for the club in two years under his father, who was enduring an equally torrid time.
After two years in Second Division mediocrity, Bournemouth were relegated. A slump from the 3rd March until the end of the season saw them free fall from 13th place in the league to relegation in less than four months. Injuries, a depleted the squad and a catastrophic loss of form resulted in a bleak climax to the season: they only won one game for the rest of that season. Eventually Harry Redknapp resigned from his role as Bournemouth manager, at the end of the 1991–92 season, as his underperforming side, coupled with a traffic incident, was too much to cope with. Meanwhile Jamie moved to Merseyside outfit Liverpool, the club that facilitated his best performances.
Despite an evident inability to collaborate in the footballing environment, Jamie insists he and his Dad “get on very well”. Daddy’s boy.
Steve and Alex Bruce
On 8 June 2012, Steve Bruce was appointed as manager at Championship side Hull City on a three-year contract. Despite an unconvincing history, the Hull hierarchy invested their faith and money in him. Similarly, Hull signed Alex Bruce weeks later, despite his unimpressive career record. Both father and son enjoyed a successful beginning to their Hull City career, with promotion to the Premier League clinched in dramatic fashion last season. Alex was a regular as part of a three-man defence, and occasionally used in a defensive midfield role, under his father.
However many doubt his genuine ability, as they did while Alex played for Birmingham City during Steve’s reign in 2006. Alex and Steve agreed that, however accurate, accusations of nepotism were detrimental to Alex’s fledgling career, so Alex departed the midlands club in an attempt to forge a career outside of his father’s looming shadow.
He found his level at Ipswich Town, becoming very popular to the Town fans due to his whole hearted display and determined attitude. Yet, although Bruce’s career in East Anglia was largely successful, he was again loaned out, this time to Leicester, before moving to Leeds, where he failed to achieve a consistent position in the first team.
With doubts over both Steve and Alex’s talent in their respective roles, and an underwhelming initial collaboration, their success at the Tigers will decide their fortunes and define their reputations.
Frank Lampard Senior and Junior
Lampard Junior’s emergence in London, for West Ham, was a family affair, with his Uncle and Father assuming the roles of manager and assistant, respectively. Lampard suffered a broken leg in his first years at the Hammers, after a reluctantly accepted loan to Swansea: he described Swansea’s training facilities as “a bit grotty” before stating his shock at “the lack of facilities”.
Lampard was an ever-present for West Ham in the 1998–99 season, helping his team to fifth place in the Premier League season and qualifying for the Intertoto Cup. The following season he reached the top three of the club’s goal scoring charts, nevertheless, Lamps could not shake the claims of favouritism, both on the terraces and in the changing room. He was explicit in his hatred of his time at West Ham, not due to the football, but due to the unwanted abuse he received, regardless of his ability, due to his relations to the management. After the sacking of his father and Uncle Harry Redknapp, Lampard left West Ham United for Chelsea for £11 million.
Lampard’s career since his Hammers spell was very successful: Lampard recently surpassed the most goals scored by a player for Chelsea and achieved over 400 appearances for the Blues.
Generally, the father-son relationship is unsuitable for top flight clubs, with fractures appearing for a host of reasons, most often claims of nepotism. The inclusion of a relative in a team sheet is a risk for any manager: criticism is inevitable, regardless of ability, amplified by the intensity of the situation. Cracks even show at Sunday League level, when a disenchanted, high maintenance striker slumps on a bench muttering incoherent sentences about favouritism.
This has not been the case for Tom Ince, he has played 79 times since 2011, and almost every game with his Dad in charge. However, the careers of sons have improved in every case discussed since a move away from their fathers, a fact that does not bode well for Paul, or the Blackpool faithful. Interestingly, however, Ince has declined to the Premier League, with offers flooding in during the latter stages of the transfer window this summer.
Although Blackpool currently sit on top of the pile in the Championship, it is a matter of time before Tom’s influence or form wanes, yet he maintains a first team place because his father insists it is only a blip, stimulating growing unrest from the stands at this undeniable favouritism, while they vehemently suggest that the younger, keener academy prodigy deserves an opportunity.