Keith Alexander: Footballer who became a role model for black managers - Obituaries - News - The Independent

Keith Alexander: Footballer who became a role model for black managers

If there was a certain symmetry about the football career of Keith Alexander, in that his first club as a player, Notts County, was also the scene of his last match as a manager, there was nothing neat or clear-cut about his attempts to establish himself in the sport during an era in which racial stereotyping was widespread.

Alexander was not the first black man to become "permanent" manager of a Football League club, a distinction which fell to Tony Collins, who took charge of Rochdale between 1960 and '67. However, he was the second, and was one of only two, with Paul Ince at Milton Keynes Dons, managing in full-time football at the time of his death.

In the context of the modern game, his appointment by Lincoln City in 1993 was a landmark to rank alongside the appearance in the England team of his fellow son of Nottingham, Viv Anderson, in 1979. He was also the longest-serving black manager. Despite major health problems six years ago, he had worked in a variety of managerial roles for 17 years until his death, aged 53, in Lincoln hospital shortly after Macclesfield Town's 1-0 defeat in the city of his birth.

Alexander, who was a qualified referee, was a quietly dignified advocate of equality and spoke at forums organised by the anti-racist Kick It Out campaign. As the Sky Sports summariser Chris Kamara noted, he did not "bang the drum", preferring to be judged as a manager who happened to be black rather than a black manager.

Compared with his time as a player, which took in spells at no fewer than 20 clubs, Alexander's managerial CV proved a model of brevity. A 6ft 4in centre-forward, he did not make his first League appearance until the age of 31, with Grimsby Town, and was in his mid-thirties when he played the first of three international games for St Lucia, the island from which his parents emigrated to Britain in 1954.

Growing up in the East Midlands, Alexander had encountered what he believed to be racial hatred when a shop owned by his parents was destroyed in an arson attack. He found a measure of acceptance through his ability as a footballer, being offered trials with Notts County as a teenager. When they did not come to fruition, he embarked on a 15-year apprenticeship for his breakthrough into senior football, playing for Wisbech, Worksop, Clifton, Ilkeston, Kimberley, Alfreton, Stamford (two spells), Boston United, Kings Lynn (two spells), Spalding and Grantham.

At Wembley in 1980 he scored one of Stamford's goals when they defeated Guisborough to win the FA Vase. Stepping up to the level below the Football League with Kettering Town, he continued to score regularly, although he later recalled chillingly that he was "nearly lynched" after scoring the winning goal away to the south London club Fisher Athletic.

Barry Fry, then striving to lead Barnet into the League under the chairmanship of the infamous ticket broker Stan Flashman, signed Alexander in 1986. Over the next two seasons he was part of a side narrowly beaten to the single promotion spot, though his next move, to Grimsby in 1988, both fulfilled his ambition to play in the League and brought him under the tutelage of Alan Buckley, who he cited as his biggest influence. He kept moving on search of a regular game: next to Stockport County, then Lincoln and Mansfield, before a 15-game stint with the Belfast team Cliftonville, where the veteran became a cult figure after scoring twice in the largely Catholic club's victory over staunchly Protestant Linfield at Windsor Park.

While the historical difficulties faced by black players seeking to enter management did not deter him, nor, after he had impressed Lincoln's hierarchy by coaching the youth team, did landing the job blind him to reality. After taking over at the club, which he said had "a liberal chairman who did not look at people's colour", he proffered the opinion that "if you're black it's still twice as hard to get on in any walk of life".

Alexander started in management as he would finish, operating on a shoestring. His office at Sincil Bank contained a couch and blankets in a corner. After one season he was replaced by Sam Ellis, and when he did resurface, it was with Ilkeston and Northwich Victoria.

When his mentor, Buckley, took the helm at Lincoln, he gave Alexander the dual roles of director of football and assistant manager. To prevent the fourth-grade club entering liquidation in 2002, Buckley was released and Alexander restored to the post he had relinquished eight years earlier. This time he was successful, reaching the promotion play-offs on four consecutive occasions.

The feat was all the more remarkable given that in 2003, five months after their first play-off final defeat, he suffered a double cerebral aneurysm. After emergency surgery and six months' recuperation, he returned to his post. In 2006, after Lincoln were again beaten in the play-off final by neighbouring Grimsby, came a parting "by mutual consent".

Fry was by then the chairman at Peterborough United and promptly installed him at London Road, proclaiming the "miracles" he had performed on a "limited budget" at Lincoln. Among his signings, George Boyd (from Stevenage) and Aaron McLean (from Grays) would be instrumental in The Posh gaining successive promotions in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Alexander would not share in the triumphs, having been dismissed after only seven months and replaced by Darren Ferguson with the team lying eighth in League Two.

After a spell as Bury's director of football, he became Macclesfield's manager in February 2008. In his first full season his new charges restricted Everton, the eventual FA Cup finalists, to a 1-0 win at the Moss Rose. Alexander's resourcefulness and perseverance again came to the fore; their average attendance of 1,900 was the League's second lowest. Yet when he died following a brain haemorrhage, shortly after he had suffered from severe hiccups for three weeks, Macclesfield stood eight points clear of relegation.

Keith Alexander, footballer and manager: born Nottingham 14 November 1956; played League football for Grimsby Town, Stockport County, Lincoln City, Mansfield Town; won three caps for St Lucia, 1990; managed Lincoln City 1993-94, Ilkeston Town 1995-2000, Northwich Victoria 2000-01, Lincoln City 2002-06, Peterborough United 2006-07; Macclesfield Town 2008-10; married (three sons, one daughter); died Lincoln 3 March 2010.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week