Keith Alexander: 1956-2010

2 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   March 3, 2010  |     22

At the time of writing, England are about to kick off against Egypt in their first friendly match of 2010. This is football as a peculiar mix of Hollywood and pantomime, a story that often seems to have very little to do with what goes on during the matches themselves. It’s a world that frequently feels alien. Away from this, however, there is a whole other world of football going on, a world in which people give up their youth, their other aspirations, relationships and families because they believe in the game. Often away from the spotlight and the wilder excesses of the game, the people that inhabit this world are often easily dismissed as “journeymen”, but they are crucial to our narrative of football. We lost one of them last night.

Neither Keith Alexander’s playing career nor his managerial career scaled, as some might put it, the heights. As a player, he spent fourteen years in non-league football before going on to enjoy something of an Indian summer in the Football League with Grimsby Town and Mansfield Town, whilst winning a handful of caps at international level for St Lucia. It was not, however, his playing career that marks out his significance in the game, rather the managerial career that followed it, a managerial career that lasted from 1993 until right up until his death at the tragically early age of fifty-three.

When appointed the managerof Lincoln City in 1993, Alexander became Britain’s first professional black manager. Considering the apparent glass ceiling that seems to apply to managers from ethnic minorities even now, this was no mean feat. After losing his job there a year later, he made a brief return to playing and also managed in the non-league game at Ilkeston Town and Northwich Victoria before returning to Sincil Bank, where he took a club that had been taken to the financial brink, stamped his authority on the team and took them to the play-offs, where they lost to AFC Bournemouth.

Alexander’s first brush with serious illness came in November in 2003, when he was rushed to hospital after suffering a cerebral aneurysm. He recovered from the potentially life-threatening condition to return to his job four months later, and further disappointments were to follow in the play-offs – they qualified for the League Two play-offs in all four of his seasons in charge of the club – before he left the club in the summer of 2006. He was picked up almost immediately by Peterborough United (he had played for Peterborough’s Barry Fry at Barnet during the late 1980s), but left the club a little over six months later, and this was followed by a similarly unfruitful period as the Director of Football at Bury.

It was at Macclesfield Town, where ambitions are modest, that he spent his final two seasons in charge, lifting the club away from the relegation zone in League Two in 2008. They finished just above the relegation places last season and seem likely to do so again this season. Alexander hadn’t always been completely popular at Moss Rose – perpetual struggle against relegation may be the realpolitik of life at Macclesfield Town, but that doesn’t mean that it is popular – but the shock of his premature death has silenced his critics and made many re-evaluate their viewpoint of someone that had been part of the furniture in lower division football for many years.

The tributes today have been fulsome and heartfelt, including England players wearing black armbands for their match this evening, and we should in some ways be grateful that Keith Alexander’s passing is all the more shocking because it is the death of a manager in service. Only Jock Stein, Cyril Knowles of Hartlepool United and, deep in the mists of time, Herbert Chapman of Huddersfield Town and Arsenal spring readily to mind as other managers that have been managing clubs when they have died. Possibly the most succinct tribute of the day came from Garth Crooks, on behalf of the Kick It Out campaign:

In one way or another we all live to serve, but we have lost one of our great trailblazers. He served the game, and our community, with distinction and without fuss. We’ll miss him.

Indeed we have lost one of our great trailblazers but, just as importantly, we have lost somebody that was universally admired within the game and will be remembered as an expert in working in the uniquely financially restrained world of League Two football. And if or when English football finally overcomes the absurd colour-blindness that sees just two black managers employed amongst the ninety-two clubs of the Premier League and the Football League, the next generation of black managers will have plenty of cause to be grateful for Keith Alexander’s contribution to their cause. Meanwhile, the rest of us should probably take a moment to offer a quiet thanks to the journeymen. They’re more important to the fabric of our game than we give them credit for.



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • March 3, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Neil Gentleman-Hobbs

    Thanks For Everything Keith – Simon Yeo.

    Simon Yeo called Vital Towers today gutted that Keith Alexander the guy who gave him his big break signing him from Hyde United had passed away.

    So what`s your background with Keith Simon?

    “To be honest the first time I heard his name I thought it was Crewe Alexander. When the wife gave me a message that someone Alexander had phoned my heart leapt as I had turned down a new deal at non league Hyde United and with me contract up I was looking at going to Southport. The phone then rang and I heard the dulcet tones say hello Simon you alright? Yes Dario I replied. No Simon this is Keith not Crewe he replied and we both laughed as an instant friendship grew. He realised he was getting someone who would give 100% to a gaffer who was making an ex squaddies dream come true.

    Simon would never stop repaying a man who would work with him at three League sides; Simon is of course the last Imp to score over 20 goals in a season for the Imps.

    “Keith was a brilliant bloke to work for and we were never short of laughs. Even though we didn`t have much money at the club he was a caring sharing gaffer except when it came to his Bourbons. Every Friday we would have the big 5-a-side game sponsored by Mars. Well Keith would bring one of those boxes of Mars bars you get at the Newsagents and he would hold them aloft while he and Simmo had their fill and say – Remember only the winners gets the Mars bars.”

    So what`s with the Bourbons Simon?

    “Just before he disappeared on a cold January or February morning, in fact every training session rain or shine to be fair he would always say, I`m going in me office for some bourbons with a nice cup of tea. Talking of cold weather we had a night game up at Cheltenham and there`s Keith in his thermals before the game. I`ll make this short and sweet lads, it`s a beautiful day out there, enjoy yourselves. We froze in every sense of the word and lost four nil.”

    Was he an approachable guy?

    “Yes he had a great sense of humour, well when he was in a good mood. When you said good morning gaffer and how are you and he replied, keeping me head above water as you do that meant he was in a good one. Shouting you Muppets and I`ll pay you up could be good or bad though.

    Team talks?

    “There was a pretty regular one actually, especially when we were doing alright. Right lads you`re a good team, you`re good players. You know who you are and you know what you`re about. I`m off for some bourbon biscuits and a nice cup of tea. Well that`s the tactics out the way then, we used to fall about laughing. To be fair I have only ever seen him lose it three times and that was never at Lincoln. It was twice at Peterborough and once at Macc. It was always the same I don`t care how big you think you are, I don`t care I`ll pay you up.”

    What about the famous yellow socks then?

    You know I think they were the same pair and he took them everywhere with him, clubs, training, games away trips, everywhere. One night when we were staying away at a hotel, not a posh one mind, before a trip to Bournemouth or Torquay I think it was he still had the socks on and needed to wear some smart shoes. So he asks a couple of waiters what size shoes they wear. When he got one with the right size, he talked them in to letting him borrow them and then gave them back afterwards. Never a dull moment at the Imps, we never had the money but we had the laughs and a team spirit second to none thanks to the Gaffer and Simmo. If not he`d pay you up. Cheers Keith I owe you the lot mate!”

  • March 4, 2010 at 12:20 am


    RIP Keith and condolences to his club and family. A true footballing man and a trailblazer, as history will show.

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