Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Keith Alexander RIP

In my much loved edition of The Economist newspaper, the final article is always an obituary.

Whether hero or villain, famous or merely infamous, the superbly written pieces complete what is rarely less than an insightful and thought-provoking weekly read.

However it's typically not the achievements of the subject that resonate with me, but the touching anecdotes which offer a private insight into the real person behind the public facade.

Sadly it's unlikely that Keith Alexander will warrant an obituary in tomorrow's broadsheets, let alone the more choosy Economist but in their absence I will retell the following brief reminiscence.

Growing up in Barnet in the 1980s, I was a regular and keen attendee at their famously sloped Underhill Stadium.

Under the mad but inspired leadership of Barry Fry, the team was always a joy to watch given his cavalier approach to the game. In 1991 he eventually led them to the Football League for the first time.

Alexander had joined the Bees as a 30-year old journeyman striker in 1986, with all of his previous experience being gained at a variety of non-League teams in Norfolk and Lincolnshire.

Utlilised by Fry largely as a physically imposing 'enforcer' often from the bench, the beanpole striker soon became a cult hero not least amongst the impressionable group of teenagers camped on the old South terrace.

Rather than ensure he was properly warmed up in preparation for being called into action, he preferred to lean on the pitchside railing and chat to us instead.

Indeed, we were so enamoured by the easy-going nature of the striker, that I decided to write to Alexander via the club, and request some signed photos.

Late one evening the following week, I was at home with my parents when the doorbell rang.

Slightly suspicious that there was a well-built stranger stood on the front step, my Mum applied the doorchain and part opened the door.

"I'm Keith Alexander. Is your son home? I've a package for him," he said, my Mum blissfully unaware who he was.

Rather embarrassingly dressed in my pyjamas, I raced to the door convinced this must be some type of wind-up at my expense.

"Thanks for your letter. Here's what you asked for," he smiled, handing me an envelope. "I got the whole team to sign them."

And then he was gone, but the memory has stayed with me forever.

It's a story I've told many times, evidenced by the fact that five different people emailed me today asking me if I had heard the sad news about his death.

Indeed to this very day 23 years later, I can still picture the exact moment he handed me the photos. It was a small gesture, but it meant the world to me at the time.

It's fitting but ironic that the England team are wearing black armbands tonight in his honour, because the glamour on show was a world away from the footballing life that salt-of-the-earth types like Alexander experienced.

Hard working and passionate, he was proof personified that you could carve out a respectable career in the game without being blessed with great natural talent.

The Macclesfield chairman described him as a "..splendid man." I know he's right. RIP, Keith.


At 8:26 AM, Blogger Ketts said...

Wondeful tribute to an unsung hero NYA, thanks for sharing that memory.

At 11:52 AM, Blogger StoneMuse said...

What a wonderful memory of the man

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 12:57 PM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

Fantastic story.

It is this kind of thing that immortalises footballers and wins over young boys to be fans of the game for their whole life.

What a great story!

At 1:19 PM, Blogger Marco. said...

A lovely memory to have NYA.
The young Hollins feller on Breakfast TV was obviously a fan of 'a real gentleman' too.
He was struggling to express his feelings but he made it clear that we gave lost one of the good ones.

At 3:35 PM, Anonymous Matt said...

Just like to say what a wonderful story that was. Thanks for sharing the memory. I must have read dozens like that over the last 24 hours. It says alot about the bloke.

MTFC fan

At 3:47 PM, Blogger ChicagoAddick said...

Great tribute NYA to a great man. RIP Keith.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger charlton north-downs said...

Great post NYA -fantastic story and brings things into perpective

At 10:06 AM, Blogger Kappacino Kid said...

Lovely tribute and story, had never heard of keith until now, but it sounds like we have lost a good 'en. Am very choked reading the tributes to him.

At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Matt B said...

Hi New York Addick

We're producing a memorial issue of our MTFC fanzine in memory of Keith with all proceeds going to the Sacred Sports Foundation which Keith helped to set up. This is a truly fantastic story and was just what we we're looking for. Would you have any objections to ourselves including this story in the fanzine (i promise to send you a copy)

Bought a tear to my eye reading that. If you could email me at and let me know if that's OK then it would be most appreciated as would any other help you could offer.




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