ANYONE who encountered Keith Alexander will confirm that he was a good man and a good manager. The shock of the Macclesfield Town manager’s death at the age of just 53 will take some time to fade. When it does, fond memories will remain.
The tributes, as they say, have been flooding in. And the tributes are genuine, heartfelt and absolutely spot on: Hard working, good humoured, encouraging, fair minded, passionate about football, always happy to stop and chat. Alexander was building a useful side at Macclesfield on a budget that would have scared off many managers. They were an attractive side to watch, too.
Alexander spent his entire career moving between the lower divisions and the non-league scene. He was not, in that sense, one of football’s big names. But just look at the number of people paying tribute to him today. Listen to his assistant Gary Simpson fighting back tears while talking about him. Listen to Barry Fry unable to hide his disbelief. Listen to those who played for him, discussing his warmth and enthusiasm. Not everybody in football is a decent character. But Alexander was.
He had suffered with health problems in the past. There had been the brain aneurysm in November 2003 when he was manager of Lincoln. He returned to work three months later and guided the Imps to the Third Division play-offs for the second of four successive seasons under his management.
He was taken to hospital before a Macclesfield game in March last year after complaining of felling unwell, although he was later given the all-clear. Three weeks ago, he was forced to miss Macc’s game at Accrington due to illness.
But he was on the touchline for Macc’s 1-0 defeat at Notts County last night, and there was no indication that anything was wrong. He even gave Macc midfielder Richard Butcher a lift back home to Lincoln after the game.
This morning, those at the club were left to digest the news of the manager’s death. Chairman Mike Rance said that the decision on whether Saturday’s match at Hereford goes ahead will be left with Alexander’s family. Their decision should, and will, be respected.
I last spoke to Alexander in November. He was happy to give me his time for the local paper I was freelancing for, and we chatted for a good 20 minutes about his transfer plans for January. He knew that he wouldn’t have any serious money to spend, and he knew that Macclesfield operated on a miniscule budget. He could have moaned about it, but he didn’t. He acknowledged the financial restraints he had to work within, and got on with it.
At the same time, he was positive about the direction in which the club were heading. Sure, the league position could have been better, but he had put together a decent side, made up of promising youngsters and a few experienced heads he had worked with at previous clubs.
It was a side that played good football. In October, I saw them take on a Dagenham and Redbridge side who were in the League Two automatic promotion spots at the time. Macc knocked the ball around really nicely, and would have won the match but for a dubious penalty awarded against them deep into stoppage time.
Again, Alexander didn’t dwell on it – nor did he get frustrated about the fact that his young team had failed to take a number of chances to win the game. He may have been passionate about the game, but he was also philosophical about the way it could thwart you.
Rance described Alexander today as “a real gentleman”. I can’t think of any better way to describe him. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. He’ll be missed.