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.

Life and Style
LifeReddit asked a simple question with infinite answers this week
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Life and Style
beauty
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice