Not everyone can live a life that leaves an indelible mark, not all of us are made for trailblazing.
Those who are, are touched with something special, a little bit more than the ordinary. Some wear it as a badge of honour while others choose a lower profile but are exceptional all the same. Keith Alexander falls into the latter category. A humble man but one whose achievements will outlive and inspire long after he has gone. The record books will show that he never managed in the Premier League and that he never lifted a cup, but sometimes silverware tells only a fraction of the story.
On Tuesday night he watched his Macclesfield team lose at Notts County before dropping player Richard Butcher off as they journeyed home to Lincoln. While he’d been unwell weeks earlier, nothing could have prepared anyone associated with the Silkmen, or the world of football, when news broke on Wednesday morning of his untimely passing at the nothing age of 53. His death has robbed his family of a husband and a father, his club of a manager and black football management of its founder member. For Alexander, the first black manager in the Football League, joins the trinity that includes Viv Anderson, the first black England international, and Paul Ince – the first black captain – as men who the national game owes a great debt.
He came to the professional game late, as a 28-year-old defender with Grimsby and later Stockport, and won three international caps for St Lucia. At the age 34 of he made history as he was given the reins of Lincoln City, before enjoying spells outside the Football League with Northwich Victoria and Ilkeston Town. His return to League football came courtesy of a second spell at Lincoln where he first saved the club from relegation into the Football Conference, and then led the Imps to four consecutive play-off appearances without quite being able to cross the promotion line.
Serious illness side-tracked him for a while but once again he returned to take up posts with Peterborough and most recently Macclesfield. While he made an impression on the pitch with the teams that he managed, it was his role as often one of usually no more than two or three black managers throughout the 92 professional clubs in the land that attracted most comment. Keith Alexander opened doors in the most difficult of circumstances but to date only a trickle has followed despite many of the younger generation displaying stellar playing CVs.While Ruud Gullit got to lift the FA Cup with Chelsea and Paul Ince and Chris Hughton got to manage Blackburn and Newcastle, respectively, Alexander didn’t make it to the top table.He didn’t complain though, and took quiet pride in the fact that 25 per cent of coaching course places are now filled by black faces.
How fitting it would be for one of football’s nice men to leave a legacy that will further take the game he loved into the 21st century.