Happy Birthday Gaffer

Just a few brief words from me today about a man whom much will be said and for whom a great amount is still felt.

Everyone will have some words today for Keith Alexander on what would have been his 60th birthday. Sometimes it still feels strange that he is even gone. I’m talking of course from a Lincoln City perspective, but Keith was more than just Lincoln City. Keith was a trail blazer, the first black English Football manager,  a man who feared nothing or nobody and yet had a kind word for everyone. He was a man who cared passionately about the teams he managed and the game he loved.

I’m writing from a Lincoln City fan’s perspective and Keith was the man to restore pride in our football club. He had two cracks at it, the first spell in 1993 was perhaps beset by internal issues more than Keith’s own relative inexperience. Many who saw his team of 1993/94 saw a Lincoln City trying to play attractive football on the deck. It might not have panned out at that time for him, but he already won friends at Sincil Bank.

The job he did eight years later was nothing short of a miracle. He took a broken and bruised football club, stained by years of neglect and mismanagement. From there he helped build a club, not just a team, a full football club. He signed a lot of players and quite a few turned out to be gems. He took crowds of around 2,500 and virtually doubled them. He gave the players and the fans a belief that we weren’t always destined to be scrabbling around the bottom of the league. He did all of this on a shoestring budget.

Four times he took us to the play-offs, and arguably the second and third time we were desperately unlucky not to progress as the best Imps side since Murphy’s early 80’s team strutted their stuff. Keith became hot property but he remained staunchly Lincoln City. The hero worshipping of a truly remarkable man began well before his passing, and it will go on throughout Imps history.

I’m not going to talk about his departure, but I will mention him having the same impact at other clubs he rocked up at after Lincoln. Macclesfield Town fans in particular appreciated everything he brought to their club.

He was an ‘all or nothing’ man, never one to do things by halves and never one to shirk responsibility, or controversy. He had a habit of ‘telling it like it is’, but not in a rude and arrogant way like some. Keith could get a firm and distinct message across without being offensive, without being aggressive and without upsetting the people he spoke about.

I was lucky enough to be Poacher the Imp throughout Keith’s reign, and although I stayed away from the players and staff as much as possible, he’d always shake my hand or speak as he passed. I met him properly at a Lincoln City dinner in October of 2009. He was Macclesfield manager at the time but he still came and supported a Trust Dinner in aid of his old club. He was friendly and open, and after posing for pictures I got the chance to tell him how much his work had meant to me and my family, and how, one day, I’d love to see him back at the Bank.

Just a few short months later I was on a building site in Redhill when I overheard on the radio he had passed away. I cried my eyes out on the third floor of a half-built Linden Homes house, and had to cut short the work I was doing. Losing Keith hurt me like losing a part of my own family.

So today, wherever you may be I urge you to raise a glass to the best manager this football club has had in my life time, a man who took a broken and damaged club and restored it to a club the fans could believe in and rely on. His work has physically been undone very quickly in the years since, but nobody will ever be able to erase the legacy he left at Lincoln City Football Club.

Happy birthday Big Man, and god bless you.