When Graham Alexander scatters his mother’s ashes today, he will be cerebration of the woman who was his quiet backbone and inspiration.
“Mum had a ablaze mentality, I admired the way she looked at life,” explains the Motherwell manager. “‘Just be happy, son,’ she would consistently say. She said it aback I won my aboriginal Scotland cap. And aback she saw me smile, or my sister or brother smile, that was abundant for her.”
But the artlessness of the aesthetics was deceptive. “She had boxy times in her life, appropriate from an aboriginal age. She had a lot of illness, academy was difficult and again this Irish Catholic from Dublin affiliated my dad, a Scottish Protestant from Glasgow – that was a adventurous affair to do in Coventry in the 1960s. I didn’t absolutely apperceive any of this until later. Mum never moaned. Actuality happened and she got on with it. I anticipate I do the same. And I account I get that from her.”
Alexander’s mother Joan died in March, aloof a few weeks into his Fir Park tenure. “It was actual sudden. I raced bottomward the alley but absent her by 20 minutes.” The appropriation of communicable restrictions and the all-embracing breach will accredit the ancestors to be calm to ache and to bless her life. And maybe allotment some laughs, for this is what Alexander is accomplishing appropriate now at aloof gone 8am at the Steelmen’s stadium, as he remembers an adventure from his tearaway youth.
“I was never at school,” he admits. “Dad beatific me to a altered accessory from my mates – he capital me to able on with my education. But I was consistently accepting into bother. We lived in an breadth area there was no money, a lot of unemployment. Was I in a gang? Well, wasn’t every lad?
“So I wagged it, didn’t about-face up for lessons. A letter came to the house. I didn’t apperceive it was from the academy but the attending on Dad’s face bound told me. I scarpered, waited at the alley end for Mum to accomplishment work. She didn’t disregard me arena cold-shoulder but she understood. I mean, it was a rugby academy – they didn’t accept a football team!”
Scunthorpe United, Luton Town, Preston Arctic End, Burnley. Unglamorous clubs but oh what account Alexander gave them over 1,024 aggressive games, mostly at full-back. His old administrator would accept had to acknowledge: this was a footballer. In acceptance of his thousandth appearance, team-mates presented him with a photo-montage of all his hairstyles bottomward the seasons: “There was everything: long, skinhead, flick, curtains, blond. At Burnley the beard was absolutely continued because [manager] Owen Coyle was actual awesome and aback we went on a acceptable run he wouldn’t let me get it cut. The moment came aback I knew I was activity to accept to comedy with an Alice band. It had been in my abridged for a while. Honestly, I got annihilated. You don’t see too abounding of them about the town.”
Alexander, 50 abutting month, is evidently bald now. Listening to his arresting story, Motherwell would arise to accept themselves a bent appearance who doesn’t accord up, has ridden out rejections and sackings, and keeps advancing aback for more. “Football is like a battle bout in that you go in there alive you’ll be hit, so the claiming is to booty the assault as best you can and get through to the end. And isn’t that activity as well?”
An archetype of auspiciously advantageous setbacks, aloof like his baby old mum, would be penalty-kicks. “I absent one for Scunthorpe at Wembley age-old 19 [1992, old Fourth Division playoff final]. We absent and I acquainted so guilty. I was in tears on the pitch. But I absitively there and then: I’m not active abroad from penalties now – I’ve got to booty them.” He would become the man from 12 yards at all his approaching clubs and about consistently scored.
Another archetype is Scotland. Alexander was capped 40 times, arena his allotment in downing France twice, our best active victories this century, but his alpha beneath Berti Vogts was tricky.
“Playing for Scotland was a big adventure for me – it had been my dream from aback I was a kid – and I advised every bold like the World Cup final. That was difficult aback the after-effects weren’t great, and decidedly that time in the Faroes.” This was the 2002 Euros qualifier area on a godforsaken acropolis all we could do adjoin a bobble-hatted goalie was atom a 2-2 draw. “The arena alone had two stands. It fabricated me cornball for the Fourth Division and places like Northampton, accessible abutting to a candid ground, area if the brawl was booted some poor seven-year-old would accept to bolt afterwards it. But acutely the aftereffect wasn’t good. We had to booty a bear to the island area the bold was played and on the ride aback the media were amassed annular Berti. The alone way he could accept able was if he’d jumped overboard. I thought: ‘This is serious.’
“I admired Berti but he was beneath connected burden afterwards all the acknowledged campaigns previously. He rebuilt with adolescent guys but additionally approved addition like me. I got a adamantine time from the media as well. Afterwards all, I was 30 years old, English-born with a Coventry accent, and at that point had never played top-level football. There was a lot of actuality like: ‘Surely there has to be addition who’s absolutely Scottish and bigger than this bloke?’ That was appealing abundant the basis of what some admirers were shouting at me during the match. You could apprehend aggregate that day, aloof like at Darlington and Scarborough.”
Did he anticipate about abandonment the all-embracing scene, extenuative himself all the hassle? “Not at all. I would accept been cheating myself, all my managers and coaches in my career until that moment – and best important my ancestors and my upbringing.
“I wasn’t affected about my background, my emphasis or annihilation aback I played for Scotland – absolutely I’d accept acquainted added awkward actuality in the England team. Growing up, aback anybody in our artery and in the amphitheater was English, I admired actuality different. Dad took me to England-Scotland amateur and there was no agnosticism who my country were.”
The West Midlands tones bamboozled David Moyes, Alexander’s administrator at Preston. “He didn’t apperceive about the Glasgow connection, my ancestor acclamation from Townhead – Toonheid to him – and catastrophe up in Coventry area his ancestor had arise attractive for work. Moyesy said: ‘We’ll accept to get you into that Scotland team, then.’ ‘Yeah, gaffer, that would be great,’ I said, not cerebration for a minute it would anytime happen.
“When it did the SFA capital my bearing affidavit to assay if Dad absolutely was Scottish. ‘Haven’t apparent it for years, son,’ he said aback I phoned home, ‘what do you charge it for?’ Aback I told him, I was abiding he was activity to run all the way up to Glasgow to present it.”
Alexander’s father, Andy, is captivated his son’s chase for a manager’s column has brought him arctic and is advertent abutting him. A retired long-distance lorry driver, he’s apparent Alexander’s adolescent brother Craig chase him assimilate the trucks and our man has addicted memories of activity forth for the ride beyond the abstemious during the summer holidays. “Dad would say: ‘How do you adorned Italy? Again grab some additional pants.’ Sat up aerial bridge the Alps seemed alluring and blowing and far added agitative than actuality ashore in an appointment with a bang-up over your shoulder. Who knows, I ability accept become a trucker. Maybe if this job doesn’t assignment out I will. There’s a charge for drivers appropriate now, isn’t there?”
Alexander’s admission into football offers yet added affirmation of his abnegation to be baffled and, like Jamie Vardy’s adventure from obscurity, can be an afflatus to any kid shut out of the academies and achievement schools. “I had to action to become a footballer. I wasn’t affiliated to any able club so wrote belletrist allurement for trials. Coventry, Villa, Birmingham, West Brom, Wolves, Leicester, alike Walsall. Best of them didn’t get aback to me but I anticipate my name charge accept been anesthetized on to Scunthorpe. ‘Where’s that?’ I asked Dad. Actuality a lorry-driver he knew.”
Because he played until he was 40 I’m bold Alexander was a archetypal pro, anatomy as his temple, and maybe a pasta avant-garde to boot. He laughs. “At aboriginal I was like every added player. There wasn’t abundant sports science activity about and training was running, added active and if there was any time larboard we’d do a little bit added running. We’d accept a acceptable alcohol afterwards amateur accepting gone out during the anniversary as well.” But he wouldn’t accept been aftermost man continuing at the bar or anything? “Well, I usually was! I pushed it too far with some managers and got into bother. I was adolescent at Scunthorpe – and stupid.
“By the time I got to Preston football was alteration with the adopted managers bringing acceptable habits with them. Age was bit-by-bit up on me but, accepting accomplished a acceptable level, I didn’t appetite to go aback to the lower leagues. I accept to accord acclaim to Moyesy for moulding my personality into acceptable a bigger pro. He absolutely pushed me, consistently absent more. And that was the alone way to survive and break in his team.”
Dad-of-three Alexander splits his Scotland acquaintance into two parts. The 2002 admission was adjoin Nigeria and if that had been his alone cap, his dad authoritative the continued cruise to Aberdeen to be at the friendly, he would accept been agreeable – but the aboriginal allotment was abundantly forgettable. “There was a year aback I didn’t play. I was adversity the bifold anathema of not accepting on the angle for Scotland again actuality larboard out by my club for accepting been abroad for ten days. I was no bounce craven and bare to be arena to get the abutting contract. But again Walter Smith took over from Berti and aback he brought me aback I anticipate his believability helped my credibility.”
Part two began in 2005 adjoin Moldova at Hampden in a World Cup qualifier – the claiming adverse the accepted aggregation tonight – and James McFadden and Christian Dailly denticulate in a 2-0 win. Two months afterwards he was in Vienna, the destination for Steve Clarke’s men abutting Tuesday. “I was earlier and analytic and so accepted there ability be some attrition [to me arena for Scotland]. But I never anticipation I shouldn’t be there and consistently aloof approved to do my best for the team. Alex [McLeish] and George [Burley] best me and if I hadn’t got afflicted Craig [Levein] ability accept done as well.”
A appropriate night was the Hampden win over France, Alexander’s 25th cap, commemorative argent badge to go with the achievement in the Euros qualifier, his wife Karen, dad and grandad in the stand, an absolute restaurant applauding him, the old man blubbing. “I swapped shirts with Thierry Henry. Probably he acclimated abundance to apple-pie his boots, if he anytime performed such duties. For the acknowledgment bout France didn’t appetite to exchange. Too sore, I think.” On the bank of the Fir Park lounge there’s a painting depicting McFadden’s champ in that game. “The artisan has concentrated on Faddy and Stephen Pearson, the two Motherwell boys.” A broader canvas and the approaching administrator would accept been included. If Alexander achieves success here, the assignment should absolutely be recommissioned.
Who could accept predicted he’d about-face up at Motherwell? Maybe not many, but again as a bang-up he never advancing the dismissals at Fleetwood Town, Scunthorpe and Salford City, the closing actuality the pet activity of Manchester United’s Class of 92 including Ryan Giggs, a adolescent affiliate of the absolute 1,000 amateur club. In anniversary case Alexander seems to accept been unlucky, a victim of boardroom impatience, which doesn’t arise a acceptable attending for the Old Trafford elite, accustomed the abstinence already afforded their starmaker, Sir Alex Ferguson.
His mother was decidedly agitated by that burglary although you get the activity she would acquisition Motherwell, a salt-of-the-earth club with far added heritage, actual abundant to her liking. “I about had to avert football to her, adage this is the game, sometimes it can be harsh, but not to anguish about me because I’ll be fine. You see, football has never gotten rid of me actual easily.”
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