Not many professional footballers nowadays make their top-flight debut at the age of 31.
In fact most players, apart from notable exceptions like Christiano Ronaldo, are planning their route into retirement at that age.
But stepping down was the last thing on defender Tony Book’s mind in 1966 when he joined Manchester City beyond his 30th birthday.
He played every match bar one in his first season at Maine Road and was rightly chosen as the club’s inaugural Player of the Year.
Book was appointed captain next season and led City to the league championship, taking part in every single game under manager Joe Mercer and his assistant Malcolm Allison.
The title race came down to the last match, with the Blues eventually notching up 58 points, two ahead of local rivals Manchester United. Liverpool were third with 55 points.
It was the crowning achievement of a long journey for Book – a journey which began with Peasedown Miners in Somerset.
Book was an inside forward in those days, only switching to full back when he played for the army during his national service in 1952.
After leaving the army, Book returned to his main job as a bricklayer in Bath and turned out for Frome Town. He signed for Bath City in the Southern League in 1956.
In all, Book spent nearly eight years at Bath, eventually becoming captain. In 1962, Book’s world changed when Malcolm Allison was appointed Bath manager. The two were destined to be together for a long time.
The duo crossed the Atlantic to join Toronto City in the 1962-3 season, but Allison quickly returned to coaching in England with Plymouth Argyle. Book stayed in Toronto for three months and was voted the best full-back in Canada.
Allison quickly signed Book for Plymouth for £1,500 in 1964 – telling him to knock two years off his age to appear more acceptable to the board. The club thought he was 28 when he was approaching 30!
After 81 league appearances for Plymouth, Book followed coach Allison to City where manager Joe Mercer took some persuading to sign a 30-plus player for £17,000. But persuaded he was, and Book’s brilliant career with the Blues had begun.
A tactic he picked up in amateur football quickly paid off for City in the famous ‘ballet on ice’ match against Tottenham Hotspur on a freezing December 9th 1967.
He told his team-mates to take the top layer of leather off their studs, exposing the small nails that held them together. This gave them extra grip. Referees didn’t inspect boots back then, so the dodge was never spotted.
City duly obliged – and beat Spurs 4-1, delivering a masterclass in front of 35,972 fans that is widely believed to be one of the finest matches played at Maine Road.
Half the nation saw it too as it was the first game televised for BBC’s Match of the Day.
In April 1969, days after being named Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association, Book captained City to a 1-0 victory over Leicester City in the FA Cup Final.
The next season got even better for Book as City won both the League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup, beating Polish club Gornik Zabrze 2-1 in Vienna.
Off the pitch, Book opened a furniture business surrounded by City colleagues and a distinguished guest from rivals United – no less than Bobby Charlton.
Book retired from playing in 1974 after making 242 football league appearances for the Blues, scoring four goals.
He was named assistant manager to Ron Saunders who followed Johnny Hart as permanent manager at Maine Road, but took over in his own right when Saunders was sacked six months later.
Book’s first big win as boss was the 1-0 victory over Manchester United in April which featured the back-heel scored by former Reds’ icon Denis Law. The Scotland international thought his goal had relegated his old club and refused to celebrate.
Book became the first man to win the League Cup both as a player and manager when City beat Newcastle United 2-1 in the 1976 Wembley final. The match will forever be remembered for Dennis Tueart’s acrobatic overhead goal.
Allison and Book’s paths crossed again forty years ago in 1979 when the former replaced the latter as City manager.