Michael Foot 1913-2010, Keith Alexander 1956-2010

Sorry to break the recent blog silence on a sad note, but two people I admire died yesterday, postponing my inevitable BBC-related burble.

Now, Michael Foot is obviously the more well-known of the two, so there’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said.

The first political party I ever supported (or at least rooted for) was the Labour Party under Michael Foot. I knew very little about politics at 12/13, but I had a vague sense that the Tories were all about aggressive self-interest and exclusivity, while Labour appealed to my “we’re all in it together” sense of fair play. Funny how right I was, eh? What I didn’t realise at the time was how Foot was about 20 years too late… the old-style man of letters in a political world that was starting to see the first signs of the PR generation.

It’s not a link I ever expected to make, but Keith Alexander showed the same integrity and depth of knowledge in his own field, and was similarly steadfast in his avoidance of PR gloss and bullshit. If you’re not into football, this isn’t going to mean much to you, but… without Keith, it’s entirely possible that Lincoln City FC, the team I’ve supported since I was nine years old, would no longer exist.

After the downfall of ITV Digital, lower-division football was in a bad way. Despite the fine efforts of the “Save The Imps” campaign, Lincoln City was in severe financial difficulties, going into administration in 2002. Big-name manager Alan Buckley left after a short and disappointing spell, leaving his assistant Keith Alexander in charge, and there was suddenly a cold, dark feeling that this was something Very Serious Indeed. And then there we were at the Millennium Stadium the following May, playing Bournemouth in the play-off final… how did that happen?

If I was of a pessimistic bent, I’d probably say that perhaps the club’s board should have asked some rather more pointed questions of Keith before he managed to rack up four consecutive failed play-off attempts. Plenty of perfectly sincere Lincoln fans have said the same, but I prefer to see it like this… working with an almost non-existent transfer budget, forced to sell the best players and rebuild the squad every summer, the very fact that he took Lincoln City to four consecutive top-seven finishes says a lot about Keith Alexander.

There’s a nice piece by Paul Elliott in today’s Guardian, covering his knowledge of the game, his tireless battle against racism from football and his uncanny ability to pluck talented players from non-league obscurities. Keith was one of football’s renaissance men, but the best thing he gave me was those four rollercoaster years at Lincoln. Thanks, big fella!

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