Around Rovers

March 17, 2010

Finest Ambassadors

Last week football lost two of its finest ambassadors, advocates and friends. Keith Alexander and Fred Wedlock came from entirely different backgrounds and cultures and I doubt they ever met let alone new each other but were linked by the love of our game and for the simple reason that they were thoroughly good men.

I did not know Keith but I did know Fred very well in my younger days. Fred visited my home in Clevedon on a number of occasions in the 1970’s. It was the time of the great folk song revival. I used to frequent one such club up in Clifton. It was there that I met Fred for the first time.

With a group of like minded friends we were thinking of starting up a folk club in Clevedon and we sought Fred’s advice. At the time Fred was an English teacher at South Bristol College up Bedminster and I was a Maths teacher at Brunel College in Ashley Down; bit of a clue there as to where our football allegiances lay.

My grandfather had told me stories of Billy “Fatty Wedlock” because perhaps they were the same height at only 5ft 4 ins tall but mostly I’m sure because Billy was a Bristolian who had won 26 caps for England between 1907 and 1914. It is amazing these days to think of a League and England footballer paying centre half at only 5ft 4ins tall.

I digress a little. Fred helped us a lot and advised us that a decent venue was really important to the success of a folk club. We settled on the Bristol pub just up the hill from the Triangle in the centre of the town. It is all open plan now but in those days it had a separate room on the side with a small stage and seating for around 120. We invited Fred to be the guest singer on our opening night.  Fred was on top form and charged us just a fiver.

Wedlock? I didn’t twig; did not even think of putting two and two together.  Fred came back to my place for a coffee after the show and spotted Rovers fixtures and pictures all over the kitchen. “I’m a City fan “, he said, “My grandfather used to play for them.” Fred was such a lovely modest guy that I don’t recall him saying “And for England as well.” The rest as they say is history. We became friends but life moved on, careers and that sort of thing. I had not seen Fred for a good number of years, far too many to count but memories are strong. I was deeply saddened by his passing and like many Bristolians I was moved to tears, literally.

Billy Wedlock was a resilient, no-nonsense defender but with an even temperament, so it was written, so much so that he was nicknamed “Smiler.” Like grandfather like grandson I reckon. Not only did Fred have such an infectious smile but he made so many many people smile with him. Thanks Fred.

Stuart Hammonds writes in The Non League Paper “It’s not wages earned or the games played that last longest in a footballers mind at the end of his career, it’s the people he’s met.”  Stuart goes on to say that it’s easy when someone has died to say how wonderful they were, but you won’t find many with a bad word to say about Keith Alexander. Macclesfield’s manager, died after collapsing at his home after arriving back there from an away game with Notts County on Tuesday of last week. Macclesfield Chairman Mike Rance described Keith “as a splendid man, a real gentleman and an absolute privilege to work with.”

Keith had managed a number of Football League clubs including Lincoln City and Peterborough United. His long time assistant Gary Simpson spoke of a “larger than life character”  who was “a role model and an inspiration to the black community. I would most certainly and most sincerely support that sentiment and I would guess so would all in football.

I suspect that when footballers say really good things about their manager then they must be as close as you can get. Former Lincoln keeper Alan Marriott says of Keith that he was a fantastic person such that football will never see the like of again. He went on the say that Keith took his football seriously but equally liked players to go out and enjoy the game; if you made a mistake so what and that’s why he got the best out of players.

I reckon Keith Alexander got the very best out himself as well and you can’t ask much more of a man than that. Keith Alexander is a big loss to football and to the black community. He has inspired others to follow his example and surely they will, surely they must.


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