Alfie Biggs, Footballer known as 'The Baron'

Despite his love of nightlife, he would advise the young players to go home even as he eyed his next port of call

He was known as "The Baron" and he once described his footballing domain of Eastville, now sadly obliterated by a sprawling furniture store, as "some kind of paradise". In the Bristol of the 1950s and '60s, Alfie Biggs, local hero and celebrated man about town, was in his element.

He played for the Rovers, styled as the homelier, more down-to-earth of the two clubs struggling for supremacy in the West Country. Without being disrespectful to City, always wealthier and in some intangible way a trifle more up-market, it was a fair assessment.

Tall, blond and dashingly handsome, Biggs was a free-scoring forward – his final Rovers tally was 197 goals in 463 appearances – and he was blessed with almost every attribute required to scale the loftiest peaks of the English game. He was quick, courageous and bullishly powerful, and his aerial work was majestic, but where he differed vividly from so many contemporary front-men was in the sheer variety of his gifts. His touch on the ball with both feet was smooth and assured; his shooting could be savage or subtle, and his distribution was deft, perceptive and usually precise.

But if such was the Biggs cocktail, then why did he spend the whole of his lengthy career outside the top flight? The answer is to be found in his character. Though locally he was a famous socialiser, certainly relishing bar and betting shop, dance floor and snooker hall, he was never seriously attracted to the bright lights of any city but the one in which he was born. Biggs was a Bristolian to his core, and if he lacked the professional ruthlessness and single-mindedness which might have secured stardom on a more glittering stage, Rovers fans rejoiced in their easygoing marksman's contentment.

Indeed, he was an engagingly modest individual with no delusions of grandeur, who earned his high-falutin' nickname partly through the sharpness of his dress sense at the dawn of the rock'n'roll era, but also because he played the game with a buccaneering, stylish flourish which chimed with his club's nickname, the Pirates.

Crucially, too, though he never disguised his appetite for nightlife, it was not his way to lead team-mates astray, and often he advised impressionable youngsters to head home to their beds even as he was eyeing his next entertaining port of call. He was an impeccable trainer, frequently amazing more abstemious team-mates by running them into the ground the morning after an evening of enthusiastic indulgence.

Thus Biggs became revered as one of the most colourful characters in Rovers history, though he might have made his name in the red shirt of Bristol City, rather than the Pirates' blue and white quarters. Hailing from the City heartland of Knowle West, he was courted assiduously by the Robins as a promising teenager, but when he turned up at Ashton Gate to sign a contract he was kept waiting so long that he hopped on a bus and joined Rovers instead. It was a snap decision he was never to regret.

After making his first-team entrance in a friendly against Manchester United in 1953, Biggs carved a niche as a deep-lying inside forward, scoring a few goals but mainly foraging to create opportunities for spearheads such as Barrie Meyer and Geoff Bradford. In 1955-56 he claimed a regular berth with the Second Division side, and during that season, when still 19, he experienced what he described as the pinnacle of his career. Once again Manchester United provided the opposition.

In January 1956 Matt Busby's brilliant Babes were champions-elect, and descended on Bristol to complete the formality of victory in the third round of the FA Cup. But despite fielding all their best players except the injured Duncan Edwards, the young leviathan of English football, they met their match in the Eastville mud. The Rovers team had been assembled by manager Bert Tann for £110 – the price of 11 signing-on fees – and when they humbled United 4-0 it was greeted as the sporting upset of the age. Biggs, who contributed two memorable goals, had announced his credentials as a rookie attacker with limitless potential.

Elimination by Doncaster Rovers followed in the next round, but Biggs continued to shine as Tann's men finished sixth in the division, only four points short of the promotion places. For the remainder of the decade he was hugely influential, excelling with fellow marksmen Bradford and Dai Ward, and the exhilarating wingers George Petherbridge and Peter Hooper.

There was another sixth-place finish in 1958-59 and Rovers were never out of the table's top half, but money remained short and when Preston North End offered £18,000 for "The Baron" in July 1961, Tann could not afford to refuse. The experienced Deepdale manager Jimmy Milne was cock-a-hoop, describing his capture as the best player he had ever bought, and no less an authority than Stan Cullis, the iron hand at the helm of then-mighty Wolverhampton Wanderers, called the deal the transfer coup of the season.

However, although Biggs thrived on the field in far-off Lancashire, scoring a creditable 22 goals in 48 League games for Second Division North End, he pined for Bristol. He missed the familiar smell of the gasholders which loomed, grimly but somehow hospitably, over Eastville; he missed the flowerbeds which adorned either end of the pitch; and he missed his mates.

So he was delighted when Tann paid £12,000 to take him home to captain the newly relegated Pirates in October 1962. Now 26 and in his pomp, Biggs moved to centre-forward, and though he never led his charges to promotion from the third flight he became even more prolific. His most fruitful season was 1963-64, during which he scored 37 goals and linked beautifully with fellow raider Ian Hamilton, and as he entered the veteran stage it seemed a given that he would complete his playing days as a Pirate. But a £10,000 bid from Third Division Walsall in the spring of 1968 produced a surprise move to the Midlands, where he sojourned only briefly before ending his career with an even more fleeting stint for Swansea Town of the Fourth Division.

After retirement in 1969 he returned to Bristol, initially to work as a carsalesman while playing non-League football for Taunton Town. There followed jobs as a postman, a baker, a delivery man and a security officer but, before a late-in-life move to Poole in Dorset, he retained close links to Rovers, being a faithful patron of the Eastville Club, the watering hole which continued to sit rather forlornly in the corner of the car park after the stadium was demolished. In there, as he held court in a swirl of cigarette smoke and recalled his Pirates pomp, Alfie Biggs was "The Baron" again.

Alfred George Biggs, footballer: born Bristol 8 February 1936; played for Bristol Rovers 1952-61 and 1962-68, Preston North End 1961-62, Walsall 1968, Swansea Town 1968-69; married (one son, two daughters); died Poole, Dorset 20 April 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor