The Thundercliffe Files: Aaaaaalexander, Alexander, Alexander

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

18 October 2019

Town may have had more reliable forwards than Keith Alexander. But few are remembered so fondly.

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It is unfathomable how a football match in 2019 can be halted because of racist chanting. The world speeds on, but many are left behind with their bigotry and bile. It cannot be a coincidence that October is Black History Month.

Keith Alexander was the first black player I saw play for Town. Signed by Alan Buckley for the price of a second-hand Cortina in 1988, Keith was 31 when he made his Football League debut, having served over 20 non-League clubs in the preceding 13 years. Buckley had come across Alexander playing for Barnet when manager of Kettering and when he inherited that threadbare squad of 1988, swooped to bolster a forward line that spoke only of Richard O’Kelly.

Alexander quickly became a cult hero, his gangly playing style and desire never to give up endearing him to the locals. Think Ogbu but with aerial prowess. Keith scored 14 goals that first season, none more memorable than the header against the then Cup holders Wimbledon. His great friend John Cockerill (they had played together in those non-League years and shared their late taste of League life) swung in one of his beautiful corners and Big Keith soared to send a shoal of inflatable fish berserk.

As Buckley’s philosophy became imprinted on the team and Rees and Birtles were signed to partner each other, Keith became a bit part player. The Cameo Kid. His substitute appearances became essential. In three consecutive games in early 1990, Keith came on as a sub and scored.

All three goals were very different. The first was classic Keith: a mazy, messy dribble, bumping into his own players before scratching a bobbler against Carlisle in the last minute to win the game. The following week Keith was on early against York. Receiving the ball on the right of the area, he took three sublime touches to hoodwink the defender before arrowing the ball into the top corner. Seven days later and Alexander headed home after Cockerill’s header hit the bar, again in the final minute to rescue a point.

After these games, town went on to lose just two out of 17 to secure promotion.

During that run, Keith missed a sitter against Halifax (to Tony Rees’s disgust), scored two pivotal goals on a wet Friday in Southend with unfathomable parts of his frame and then against Hartlepool on the following Tuesday shot over when clear – a goal that would have clinched promotion.

Keith was a key part in the resuscitation of Grimsby Town Football Club in the late 1980s. He breathed life into an old, limp body and at times embodied the new beating heartbeat. For Keith was just that, a beating heart, playing football with grit, determination, some great skill, and a definite smile on his face.

He was one of the first players I watched who had a song about him, to a tune that seemed unique to him. For those that remember it, the sound evokes muddy pitches, game-changing runs and that finger in the air salute.

One more time: Aaaaaalexander, Alexander, Alexander...