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The first black football manager- a tragedy.

Updated on January 15, 2013

The first black football manager - a tragedy.

Peter Herbert of the black society of lawyers alludes to the fact that so few managers are from minority backgrounds shows that football in this country is inherently racist. His arguement would be more valid if it wasn't for the fact that until recently very few men from a minority background had passed their FIFA pro badge. Although the number of black managers was ludicroulsly small the fact was that there was only a small base of minority managers to choose from.

Although you only need the FIFA pro licence in the Premiership at the moment football is no different from any other walk of life, if you have a choice between a highly qualified candidate and one with lesser qualifications which one are you going to choose? The number of minortiy men that have passed their badge has increased significantly in recent years however and hopefully in the next few years we will see more managers from minority backgrounds, without needing to revert to the Rooney rule to increase numbers to a more realistic and acceptable level.

Keith Alexander won't go down in the annals of history as one of the managerial greats but he was a pioneer whose place in the managerial echelons will always be recognised. Alexander had a pretty unspectacular playing career in the lower leagues but nevertheless had the great honour of representing his parent's country St Lucia.
However it is not his career as a player he will be remembered for, but rather as the first full-time black professional manager in the Football league.

Steve Bruce tells a lovely story about when he and Steve McLaren attended a management training course and the managers were asked how they would try to win an important one-off game if down to ten men. McLaren got up and said his piece "With diagrams and all the
rest of it. Very professional. I delivered my verdict on what I would do and then it was Keith's turn. He turned to the instructor and said, "Actually, I know the answer to this because it's happened to me in a play-off final." We all sat there and tuned in as Keith held the floor. He said, "You can forget all your 4-3-2 formations and your 4-4-1, the way to do it is to go 3-3-3."
The instructor seemed impressed before adding: "That's great, how did the match finish?" 'Keith looked him square in the eye and said: "We lost 5-1!"

At the end of the 1992–1993 Keith Alexander became the first permanent black manager in the Football League when he took over the reins at Lincoln (Ed Stein had earlier been in temporary charge at Barnet) Alexander lasted only a season in charge and then went to
semi-pro, Ilkeston Town between 1995–2000. Under Alexander’s stewardship the club achieved their highest ever league placing, as well as FA Cup runs that saw them twice beat league opposition. He subsequently took charge of Northwich Victoria during the 2000-01 season
with Northwich in the relegation zone and five point points from safety. Alexander orchestrated the great escape and kept the club in the top tier of non-league football.

His reward was a return to league football with Lincoln as Assistant Manager to Alan Buckley, but With Lincoln entering administration at the end of the 2001–02 season, Alexander was placed in charge as Lincoln went into administration and 6 senior players were released
with three other senior players later leaving the club by mutual consent as their contracts had made them too expensive to keep. Alexander completed a series of signings from outside of the Football League and performed a minor miracle by reaching the play-off places, where they were defeated by Bournemouth in the play-off final. Alexander had taken a club that had finished two places off the bottom of the League and was in administration, to a play-off final on a shoe-string budget and you have to wonder why the job offers from the bigger clubs failed to materialise?

The summer of 2003 was a real low point for Alexander, the club were struggling in the league and in November 2003 Alexander suffered a cerebral aneurysm. He returned to work in February 2004 and despite their poor start to the season Lincoln still managed to make the play-off places, but were beaten by Huddersfield Town in the semi-finals. Rumours persisted that the morale of the squad was low after the club's failure to pay player bonuses and once again an offer from a bigger club failed to materialise.

Lincoln again finished in the play-off places the following year and this time were beaten by Southend United in the final after extra time. Alexander signed a new three year contract in May 2005 and Lincoln lost once again in the play-offs this time Grimsby Town, giving
Alexander the unenviable record of being the only manager to lose in four consecutive play-offs.

He was announced the new manager of Peterborough in May 2006 saying he needed a new challenge. Despite being in a respectable 8th place in the league, his Peterborough contract was mutually terminated following 6 straight league defeats in January 2007. Further disappointment followed as Director of football at Bury, but he immediately signed up with Macclesfield and after taking them away from the relegation zone Alexander was awarded a new two-year contract.

Alexander was reported to be feeling unwell as he returned from a game at Notts County on 2 March 2010 and was taken to Lincoln Hospital after he had collapsed, and tragically died shortly after at the all too tender age of only 53.

The England national team and the England under-21s wore black armbands in their respective matches against Egypt and Greece under-21s on the day of Alexander's death as a tribute and black armbands were worn by clubs up and down the country the following weekend as a mark of respect. In October 2010, Keith Alexander was honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the Black List celebratory evening at Wembley, highlighting the influence of African Caribbean figures in British football.

However, the best award to Keith Alexander would have been a chairman of one of the clubs in the Championship, or old 2nd division having the faith to appoint him for his outstanding work in his first year at Lincoln. After his initial health scare, it's understandable why chairman would be wary, but surely here is a manager who should have been given a chance to manage at a higher level.

Chairmen like a manger who was a club hero as a player, or a big name player, it's free advertising and puts bums on seats, that was one of the reasons that held Keith Alexander back. But, the inevitable question has to be asked, was it because of the colour of his skin? The Old boys club syndrome was prevalent in top level football during the 90's and it would be naive to suggest that there weren't chairmen who wouldn't have employed him, no matter how successful he had been because of the colour of his skin. True, his health issues would have made insurance a probem and although it may seem an insignificant point at lower league levels every penny counts. However, the fact remains that Alexander pulled off a small miracle in his first year at Lincoln and it does seem strange that a better job offer never materialised. On the other side of the coin, he was never out of work for long, despite his health problems.

It is a tragedy when any family man dies at an early age and Alexander must have been disappointed when people like Ian Wright, who was in a far more privileged position than himself to have used his celebrity as a player to promote black men as managers, couldn't even be bothered to go for his badge, believing, in his own words he was "Outspoken and black and would never be allowed to make it to the top". Many people believe that Brian Clough was the best England manager never had, not because he was black of course, but because he was outspoken. People who shout off their mouths, without thinking first or being able to back up what they say do not tend to make good managers and I wonder how Wright feels now eight years later when he sees Hope Powell in charge of the England ladies team and Noel Blake is managing the England Under 19 team.

Unlike Wright Keith Alexander never said the colour of my skin is a barrier; he went for it and made a bloody good fist of it and although he arguably never got the rewards his managerial talents deserved, he was a trailblazer. Whereas up until 2008 the number of black men who had passed their FIFA pro badge was in single figures, in the past two years 25% of the successful applicants have come from minority backgrounds and that is in a large part due to Keith Alexander's legacy.

Keith Alexander frieze



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