Alexander returns to seek play-off pay-off for Lincoln

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Six months ago Keith Alexander was lying seriously ill in a Sheffield hospital. Having collapsed at his home soon after returning from a scouting trip, the 45-year-old Lincoln manager was about to undergo emergency surgery to repair two burst blood vessels in his brain.

Six months ago Keith Alexander was lying seriously ill in a Sheffield hospital. Having collapsed at his home soon after returning from a scouting trip, the 45-year-old Lincoln manager was about to undergo emergency surgery to repair two burst blood vessels in his brain.

The surgeon involved had not attempted such a delicate operation before, but nine hours later, Alexander came out of theatre and gradually began to take the first difficult steps on a remarkable road to recovery.

Three months later, he resumed control of the Imps and has now guided them to the Third Division play-offs for the second season in succession - just two years after the club nearly went out of business. Having pipped Yeovil to seventh place last weekend, Lincoln take on Huddersfield in their semi-final, first leg at Sincil Bank today.

As he looks forward to the opportunity of exorcising memories of last May's 5-2 defeat against Bournemouth in Cardiff, Alexander appears to have made a full recovery.

"According to the specialists, my problem wasn't connected with the pressures of being a football manager," he said. "It was just one of those things - I came home, I went to bed and I was ill. All jobs have pressure and having been told that my job had nothing to do with my illness, I was happy to go back.

"The surgeon says it shouldn't happen again and I must get on with my life so that's what I'm doing. I now come home in the afternoon instead of staying at the ground all day and then going to a game in the evening. Having said that, my workload's been less because we've been doing all right."

The change to his working pattern has enabled Alexander to spend more time with his wife, Helen, and their two children - seven-year-old Jack and Jenny, three, at their home seven miles north of Lincoln. "As Keith recovered and returned to work, I was pleased but still worried," said Helen. "He's not quite back to normal - although anybody who met him in the street would have no idea what he's been through - but I've noticed that he says things now which before his illness he would have thought about but never bothered to say. He also gets more tired - especially after games - so he sleeps more."

Alexander readily pays tribute to his assistant, Gary Simpson, and Lincoln's physiotherapist, Keith Oakes, for holding the fort in his absence and to the club's directors for their support in offering him a contract extension while he was ill. Their concern was admirable, heartfelt and timely because during his convalescence, the manager was tapped up by a handful of Second and Third Division clubs.

"It would have been rude not to talk to them but I said I was OK. I think I've done a decent job here and I wanted to carry it on."

Alexander is determined to succeed second time around, having been sacked by Lincoln 10 years ago after becoming the first black manager in England.

In the wake of Ron Atkinson's remarks, the former Grimsby striker is delighted that the current version of The Three Degrees - Alexander, Leroy Rosenior (Torquay) and Keith Curle (Mansfield) - have all done so well this season.

"We're having to start at the hardest level, show that we can do the job and then we'll move up the ladder. In that one sentence, Ron Atkinson said all the things that people of his generation used to say about black players when they came into the game. It was a brave decision to give so many of them a chance but it didn't do his career any harm. He did it because they were better than what he had."

Last season, Alexander recruited non-League wannabes to revive Lincoln's fortunes via a very direct style of football but in his second year, the skill quota has been increased through the arrival of Nationwide League players such as top scorer Gary Fletcher (Leyton Orient), Marcus Richardson (Hartlepool) and Kevin Ellison (Stockport).

"I sold Fletch to Orient when we were together at Northwich and I think he should be in the Premiership because he has everything. He's a better footballer than Darren Huckerby was when I gave him his League debut at Lincoln in 1994."

Injuries to key players like the captain, Paul Morgan, and a trio of jaded strikers slowed down Lincoln's momentum during the play-off run-in but Alexander is confident his side will be refreshed on Saturday. Whoever reaches Cardiff, the Lincoln chairman, Rob Bradley, is thankful that the man who masterminded their campaign is still at the helm:"Keith went from death's door to running the team again just 14 matches later. It's a miracle and nobody must forget that - whatever happens in the play-offs."

Comments