Alex Young - A Personal Reflection

Tommy Bowman 09/03/2017  31 Comments  [Jump to last]

Grime – that’s what I remember most as a kid growing up during the mid to late 1960s. The Liverpool skyline was either burnt umber or steely grey depending upon the season and time of day. The smoke from 100,000 coal fires meandered into a leaden sky and competed with the billowing fumes issuing from steam trains, the smoke from the funnels of the ships leaving and entering the docks, and the poisonous issue from the tall chimney stacks of busy factories. All around was dirt – when it snowed, it turned to dirt within a couple of hours; your windows were covered in filth all year round, the washing lines had to be cleaned of it before hanging washing out. But it was beautiful, because dirt meant work.

The dockers and the factory workers of Liverpool usually worked a 6½ day week and often worked shifts. The half-day that most of the workers had off was Saturday afternoon (you’d never turn down a Sunday if offered as this meant double time) and Saturday afternoon meant one thing to most working class males – football.

Crowds in the late 60s reflected this obsession. 50,000, 60,000 and even 70,000 souls crammed into Goodison and Anfield during the heyday of standing terraces from the late 40s to early 1970s and ‘the match’ was the topic of conversation from factory floor to railway platform to dockside and in my case, the school playground.

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‘Who do you support, laa?’ was the first question any new kid would be asked and until 1967 I could never answer that question accurately – I honestly didn’t know, because my dad took me to Everton wearing an Everton scarf and my Grandad to Anfield wearing a red and white one.

The person who changed that, and cemented my affiliation to the blue half of the city, was a bloke from Loanhead Scotland and a particular match in late August 1967. Everton 3 – 1 Manchester United.

Alexander (Alex) Young was born to working class parents on the 2nd of February 1937. His family was visited by tragedy when Alex’s older brother was killed in a road traffic accident. He grew up supporting the Edinburgh team Hibernia but was later to make a name for himself playing for their city rivals Heart of Midlothian, where amongst other achievements he helped them win two Scottish League titles. In 1960 he travelled across the border and was signed for Everton by affable Irishman Johnny Carey. Carey was infamously sacked in a taxi by Sir John Moores and replaced by the steely minded, some would say bullish and distant, Harry Catterick.

If rumours are to be believed, it’s been argued that Catterick almost got rid of Young as he regarded him as not robust enough for the team he wanted to create, but there is no argument that, by the 1961-62 season, Young was starting to gel with Everton’s Welsh Centre Forward Roy Vernon.

In 1962-63 they won the League title, with Young providing 22 of the goals and Vernon 24. My dad always contended that Catterick won the title with Carey’s team. Catterick’s cardinal sin in my dad’s eyes is he once dropped Alex Young and, to my dad, that was unforgivable.

I’d seen Young play a few times prior to 1967, but to be honest I cannot remember the games, the scores or anything he did. I was too young to process these memories coherently and I couldn’t truthfully say anything he did made an impression. I’d heard my dad go on about him incessantly and my Granddad, Kopite to the core, also heaped him with praise but, to provoke a ‘friendly’ argument with my dad, he’d call Young ‘Tenderfoot’ due to Young’s proclivity towards blistered feet, a condition that plagued him throughout his career. On the day I was to become a lifelong Evertonian, believe me, Young’s feet were in fine fettle.

I looked at the opposition team sheet in preparing for this appreciation. Best, Charlton, Law, Kidd, Styles, Foulkes, Stepney, probably the core of the most well known football team of the 1960s. Everton won 3-1 with a certain Alan Ball providing 2 and Young 1. However, the result of the game and the goals wasn’t the focal point of the memory of the game but the performance of the man I came to idolise and who made me an Evertonian.

Goodison Park was packed to the rafters, my dad had lifted me over the turnstile with the attendant telling him ‘he’d get him shot’ before dad tipped him a threepenny bit (funny the things that stick in the mind). I was passed down to the front of the Paddock to stand on the orange box he’d brought with him with strict orders not to move. The teams came out to a mass of roars, from the 50,000 or so Evertonians and the 10,000 Mancunians who packed the Park End and I immediately recognised Young through his blond curly hair. He got the ball within seconds and went on the first of his mazy runs that afternoon. When he received the ball, there would be a split second of silence as the massed ranks of blues waited with anticipation and then a roar as he’d run at opponents, very often leaving them on their backsides or tackling thin air.

Well, I say ‘run’ – Alex Young didn’t seem to run – he glided, he waltzed, he pirouetted. The word ‘running’ was not ethereal enough for Alex, running was for mere mortals and Alex was a God, a sprite straight from the pages of Shakespeare's The Tempest or Midsummer Nights Dream, a floating silky presence that was ‘football’ as it should be played but oh so rarely is.

He dazzled me that day, he entranced me and, from that day forth, I was Everton to the core.

They say iconic players define a football team, the image it wants to project to the World. Well, the words ‘Everton’ and ‘Alex Young’ are interchangeable to me. Alex Young means modesty in excellence, grace, beauty, and delicate power. Alex Young was not the actuality but who we should aspire to be. He was a template for what we should aim for. He played the game with a skill, and effortless excellence that, to me, should be the reference point for all who claim to play good football.

The reality of Alex Young far surpasses the mythology built around him as he was not a man to court publicity and shied away from the public glare – but if you were to ask the ever diminishing band of brothers who watched Everton in the early to mid sixties and ask them who they’d like to see reanimated and wearing the blue of Everton once more – most of them would pick Alex Young.

That gloomy grime-ridden era, with the mist of coal fires and tobacco smoke veiling the pitch, so much so it was often difficult to breath, was for Evertonians dominated by a vision of what we could never be but should aspire to emulate – a Golden Vision, a heavenly presence sent to us by the gods of football, to light up the murk and bring a little bit of paradise to a World so often mundane.

Thank you, Alex.

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Reader Comments (31)

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Tony Sullivan
1 Posted 09/03/2017 at 16:33:36
Tommy, thank you, a really fine tribute to the genius that Alex Young was for so many.

It is amazing how fans from that era define their footballing memories around The Golden Vision. That in itself encapsulates the aura he created.
RIP Alex.

Dave Abrahams
2 Posted 09/03/2017 at 16:36:41
Tommy, your dad would have had a lot of supporters agreeing with him that Harry Catterick won the 1963 League title with Johny Carey's team; it is an old argument.

I am a big Catterick fan and, although Carey was a great footballer and a gentleman, he failed to make Everton a dominant team, especially away from home.

The team that finished winning the league contained Gordon West, Dennis Stevens, Johnny Morrissey, Tony Kay, Alex Scott; Ray Veall also won a medal for that League title win, all signed by Catterick, plus Dunlop, Mick Meagan and Brian Harris who were at Everton before Care came and played a part in winning the title.

That's my side of the argument, other fans will disagree but what most or every fan of that time will agree on is that Alex Young was a most wonderful player to watch and gave us many great memories to savour.

Thanks for your article, Tommy, I enjoyed it.

Steve Hogan
3 Posted 09/03/2017 at 16:57:20
A wonderfully evocative piece Tommy. I just about remember Alex Young as I started going the match around 1968, but my older brother took me a number of times previously in 1966.

For the record, pollution just wasn't on the agenda in the 60s/70s. I remember vividly, St Georges Hall and other civic buildings in Liverpool city centre, always being 'black' in colour, I thought they were built that way?

In fact it seemed to take an age, to bring them back to the state they are in today. Journey's into town on the bus were equally galling, as seemingly ALL the occupants on the top deck were required to smoke, whether they liked it or not.

I kid you not, it was difficult to see the other end of the bus for the ciggie smoke 'upstairs'.

I bet it's difficult for today's kids to comprehend that.

Gerard McKean
4 Posted 09/03/2017 at 16:58:42
Tommy, congratulations on a brilliantly evocative article. The best words paint their own pictures and reading this my memory was filled with soot-black images of the everyday city of my childhood contrasted against the dazzling Saturday afternoon technicolour of watching our blue heroes play on the billiard baize green of Goodison Park. Even the players contributed to this matchday festival of colour with the more usual dark hair of Vernon and Harvey providing a backdrop to the red of Ball and Kay and the blond of Gabriel and, of course Alex Young.

(For a really interesting film of the gritty Liverpool as it was in those days, try to see Terence Davies's film "Of Time and The City".)

Few, if any, of the eulogies I have read about Alex capture the essence of the man in the way that you have. You are so right; "he didn't run – he glided, he waltzed, he pirouetted" and all credit to Jimmy Greaves in 1968 for describing Alex as "The Nureyev of footballers" for he had the grace and balance of the greatest of ballet dancers.

Well written!

Tommy Bowman
5 Posted 09/03/2017 at 17:18:48
Dave, you and my ald fella would have got on. He loved a good debate and quite often when we went to away games with me in the 70s and 80s these debates would be carried on, on the coach/train/Mini-bus and only stopped for the game.

Sadly, he passed away a couple of years ago but was still arguing football with me until the day he died.

I know he appreciated Catterick, but he'd turn the air blue if you suggested he was right to drop Young (which I'd deliberately do to wind him up!)

Peter Mills
6 Posted 09/03/2017 at 17:28:52
That's an excellent piece of writing Tommy. I suspect you and I are a similar age, I went to a few matches in the 62-63 season and thereafter, but my first full season was 65-66.

The sight of Alan Ball and Alex Young together in that match against United still lives with me. There are times when you just know you are seeing something magical, even though you are a kid. And as you get older, you just want to see it happen again. For me, Tom Davies's goal against City was like that, and yes, as Gerard #4 suggests, the appearance of the player, blonde hair and socks at half-mast, does add to it.

I hope to live long enough to be able to take my grandsons to a new stadium to witness such occasions. I am really disappointed that I am having to miss the match on Saturday, but I am sure there will be an appropriate send-off for Alex the Great.

Jay Wood
7 Posted 09/03/2017 at 17:54:22
This, Tommy, is a cracking read, exquisitely crafted.

Thank you.

Ray Roche
8 Posted 09/03/2017 at 18:08:40
Lovely piece of work, Tommy, brings back memories of a city before the Clean Air Act of 1956 when all the cities buildings wore a shroud of black soot. Look at any old photos of the Liver Buildings and they're black! Anyone else remember the scaffolding and water jets cleaning them?

Dave (#2),

It's easy to forget that Catterick did bring his own players into Everton and won the League with them, however, my own favourite partnership in any team is Young and Vernon and Catterick would never have countenanced the purchase of those two heroes. But he DID bring in Kay and the incomparable Morrissey, another big favourite of mine.

Jay Harris
9 Posted 09/03/2017 at 18:51:18
Great piece of nostalgia, Tommy, reminding us all of what is was like in "dem" days.

Like Ray, I feel very privileged to have seen my all-time favourite duo of Roy Vernon and Alex Young. It was like watching Bambi on ice watching those two dance around defenders and goalies and to watch the Golden Vision hang in the air as if he was floating before planting a header into the back of the net.

Maybe it was cos we were all kids but there was something simple and magical about the 60s.

Dave Abrahams
10 Posted 09/03/2017 at 19:24:40
Ray (#8) yes it is always an interesting debate over Carey and Catterick.

I loved the pairing of Alex and Roy and agree Catterick would have been unlikely to sign Alex because of his style. We (Catterick and Everton) would have been the losers there...

But I couldn't see Harry not signing Vernon, who was also a great player but had that bit of devil in him that Catterick liked. Although Roy had too much to say for himself so that didn't go down well with Harry.

Niall McIlhone
11 Posted 09/03/2017 at 19:35:34
Just brilliant, Tommy. I never saw the great man in action, just that little bit too young, unfortunately, but I well remember in my childhood the grim landscape, growing up as I did off Everton Brow, the wastelands being a legacy of both the Luftwaffe's bombs and the early days of slum clearance.

My late dad and my late elder brother would come home from the match and speak of Alex with reverence, in particular, his matchless ability to glide around bovine defenders intent on crippling him. Your article is very warm and affectionate and reminds me of my childhood image of Alex as some sort of demi-god with his curly blond locks, sent down from Mount Olympus to show us mere humans how it's done!

Christy Ring
12 Posted 09/03/2017 at 19:53:34
Superb piece of writing, Tommy. My dad's first cousin, Tommy Ring, was signed by Carey, in the same year the great Alex Young arrived. And when he returned after breaking his leg against Chelsea, Harry Catterick sold him to Barnsley.
Stan Schofield
13 Posted 09/03/2017 at 20:42:13
Great article, Tommy, very enjoyable and evocative.

My dad first took me to the match when I was 7 in 1961, against Aston Villa. I wasn't very interested in football, but Alex Young made an impression on me. He seemed to have a kind of presence, or charisma to me as a kid then, no doubt, thinking about it since, because he was so dominant. Also because my dad told me how great he was. I remember him scoring, but can't recall the goal.

As an adult, I've come to think of Alex Young and Alan Ball in a different light. I used to read, again as a kid, stories of heroes such as those in Greek myths, men with qualities who could do things beyond the reach of ordinary men. I realised that the Greek writers were creating figures with qualities we could aim for but seldom achieve, god-like qualities. Figures with charisma and presence.

I came to see Alex Young and Alan Ball in this light. Footballers who are also heroes, with exceptional qualities. In a way, god-like qualities.

I suppose Alex Young had a big part in me becoming an Evertonian, beside my dad taking me to Goodison that day.

That match you mention, against Man Utd, was fantastic. Alex Young and Alan Ball playing in the same team, against a team with Bobby Charlton and George Best. I remember a tussle for the ball, between Young and Best. A real physical battle, but fair, between great players. Young's goal in that game was pure class, he seemed to walk past defenders before stroking the ball into the net.

Rest in Peace, Alex Young, great hero of Everton.

David S Shaw
14 Posted 10/03/2017 at 08:27:06
I've never smoked, always hated my clothes stinking of smoke when surrounded by others, buses as mentioned previously were unpleasant as they forced you to passive smoke too.

Yet the smell of cigarette smoke at the match was something different altogether!

Trevor Powell
15 Posted 10/03/2017 at 19:53:50
I have one mixed memory of Alex Young. I remember that the Blues were near the top of the league playing West Ham at Goodison during the winter of 1964.

Match Details

Everton were obviously expected to win and my Dad took me on one the BICC Social Club coaches to the match.

With a few minutes to full-time West Ham were holding on desperately for a 1-1 draw when Derek Temple sped down the left wing, swerved into the box, drew the goalie and stroked the perfect ball for Alex Young to tap in from three yards. Simples!

Somehow, the Golden Vision put the ball against the bar when it was easier to score. Goodison was stunned as the final whistle blew.

Back on the coach to Prescot, there were no recriminations for Alex Young. There was clearly a problem. The ball bobbled on a bad divot, the ball was deflating anything to pardon the great man. Any other player would have been flayed for this glaring miss!

That shows the worship and high regard for the THE GOLDEN VISION!

Tony Heron
16 Posted 10/03/2017 at 20:45:15
Thanks, Tommy, for a wonderfully written and evocative article. It literally brought a tear to my eye as the memories came flooding back.

My first game was, I think, in 1961 at home, when we played Arsenal who had Jack Kelsey in goal (who? I hear you say). Our keeper was Albert Dunlop and the team included Bobby Collins, Roy Vernon and of course the great man himself, Alex Young. I count myself blessed to have seen him in his heyday.

I recall one period when he was getting played on the right and in particular one game where I forgot what was happening in the match and just focussed on watching Alex. I just wanted him to have the ball all the time, he was simply mesmerizing.

No player since has excited me or thrilled me as much and I don't suppose they ever will. RIP Golden Vision, thanks for the memories.

Clive Mitchell
17 Posted 10/03/2017 at 23:57:21
'Most of them would pick Alex Young'

This one would, Tommy. Thank you for a wonderful article that really captures the magic of the man.

Unless I've made a mistake, as we turn up to Goodison tomorrow to remember Alex Young hours after his funeral, it'll be a few more hours until it's exactly 50 years since the Golden Vision, Alan Ball and the rest beat Liverpool in the FA Cup in the game that was relayed live to 40,000 watching giant TV screens at Anfield. I can still see it now, there with my Dad. Thank you, Alex.

Chris Williams
18 Posted 11/03/2017 at 00:04:44
Did anybody see the wonderful eulogy David France wrote on the Everton website earlier today?

Elegant, evocative and totally appropriate.

An Everton giant.

Rick Tarleton
19 Posted 11/03/2017 at 07:24:44
If you asked me who was the best Everton player of my Everton life (which started in 53-54), even in Young's own era, I can name six or seven who were perhaps objectively better players: Collins, Vernon, Harvey, Wilson, Kay, Ball, perhaps Labone. But I can't name one player who is my epitome of Everton more than Alex Young.

He had charisma in spades, but not in the flamboyant style of Law or St John. He lacked pace, sometimes in more robust games he disappeared. I think I'm right in saying he never scored in a derby match, Yeats and Smith were not to his liking, whereas Vernon thrived in that atmosphere.

But when he shimmied in from the left-hand side, the ball under immaculate control, and went past two or three men like a ghost... when he rose above the Tottenham defence for that header that so confirmed our superiority in 63-64... when facing his own goal, but on the edge of the opposition penalty area, he played a one-two with Vernon using the outside of his foot to propel the ball in a perfect parabola for Vernon to run onto... in these moments you capture the essence of genius that made him so captivating and so adored by the Goodison crowd.

And adored he was like no other player in my 60 years of attending games at Goodison Park. Before Honeycombe and Loach christened him "The Golden Vision", we called him "The Golden Ghost" and it was the ghostly way he passed and mesmerised opponents that so intrigued us. He could bamboozle thugs like Hartle and Banks at Bolton and he could score beautiful goals without any ostentation at all.

As I write this sitting under the signed print 324 of Young scoring his first Everton goal at Ewood Park, I count myself blessed to have seen in most of his Goodison games, the player who to me symbolises all that I love about football and about Everton. He made it the beautiful game.

Tony Abrahams
21 Posted 11/03/2017 at 08:54:45
Great thread and a really good post from Rick, who probably describes Alex in a very similar way as my dad. I think, after Dixie, then Alex Young is the one player I would have loved to have seen play for Everton; I think it's incredible that a player could play to such a high level, when constantly in pain with blisters on his feet.

His funeral is today, and it goes without saying that I hope he gets a really great send-off, especially for giving so much joy to so many people during his very successful playing career.

David Baxter
22 Posted 11/03/2017 at 09:20:55
Hartle and Banks, I remember that pair of full-backs. Bobby Charlton wrote his first book that included his first game as an 18-year-old against Bolton Wanderers.

He played on the right wing against Banks, who, with every tackle, slammed Charlton and the ball into the hoardings around the pitch. Perfectly legal in those days when as long as you got the ball first, anything else was okay.

After about 20 minutes of this brutality, and Charlton feeling like a train wreck, the other full back Roy Hartle shouted across the field – "When you've finished with him Banksy,chip him over to me, I'll have a go at him."

Those were the days.

David Baxter
23 Posted 11/03/2017 at 09:35:55
To expand on the Hartle and Banks pairing, in-between them was the brute of a centre-half called Higgins. I am 90% sure that his son played for Everton; correct me if I am wrong.
Gary Naylor
24 Posted 11/03/2017 at 16:54:43
I am very grateful to Tommy for this fine piece which he allowed me to publish at https://sportsobituaries.wordpress.com/.

Andy King (https://sportsobituaries.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/andy-king-1955-2015/), Gary Ablett (https://sportsobituaries.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/gary-ablett-19-november-1965-1-january-2012-by-gary-naylor/) and Gary Speed (https://sportsobituaries.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/gary-speed-8-september-1969-27-november-2011/) are also there.

Tommy Bowman
25 Posted 12/03/2017 at 07:14:21
Thanks, Gary.
Dave Abrahams
26 Posted 12/03/2017 at 11:07:27
David (#23), correct. Mark Higgins, I think he was the most capped English schoolboy when he joined Everton from school; he retired early with an injury then made a comeback with Man Utd... I don't think that lasted long.

His dad would be at Goodison Park every week watching Mark play for us; he stood out (his dad, that is) with his big red face... looked like a farmer, played like one as well.

Rick Tarleton
27 Posted 12/03/2017 at 11:16:55
I've been thinking a lot about Alex Young and if you want one word to sum him up, it is 'noble'. He played with grace and nobility in a way no other player has done in my 60 years of watching football and supporting Everton.
Chris Williams
28 Posted 12/03/2017 at 11:37:05
Rick,

'Noble' is a perfect word to describe this shy genius.

John Keating
29 Posted 12/03/2017 at 12:07:08
Nice post, Tommy. I loved Roy Vernon but worshipped Alex Young and agree with a couple of the above that they were a great pairing.

I remember seeing Young in the street one day, a few years back, and I just stopped, jaws gapping and couldn't speak. A then 50-odd-year-old dumbstruck like a 7-year-old kid. Unbelievable.

That 1963 team was great and I remember so well the game against Fulham at home. Remember the two lads coming on the pitch before kick off with a tennis ball, the crowd cheering them on as they put the ball in the net a few times. Nobody bothered them.

Think I started at the Park End of Goodison Road at kick off and ended the first half at the Gladwys Street end! Great days, great memories, great players but only one for me.

Is it really 50 years since Ball's goal? Bloody hell!!! Great man and a great loss to the Club.

Barry Jones
30 Posted 12/03/2017 at 21:23:04
"Burnt Umber" are you an artist by any chance Tommy? I loved the article and it brought back memories of me being in the paddock with my dad back in the early to mid sixties.

Sometimes (not often) we would be at the ground and hear the team sheet announced over the PA system and Alex Young would be out, probably injured. I would feel physically sick when this happened as I could not imagine us winning without Alex on the field.

Stewart Oakes
31 Posted 13/03/2017 at 17:29:54
Don't know if people are aware that the Golden Vision is available to buy from the BBC store, it's a download to watch on the BBC player.

Link

Roy Exley
32 Posted 15/03/2017 at 13:27:01
An Evertonian from the age of eight (first week at junior school!) I went to a game when I was sixteen (I can't remember who the opponents were, but it might have been Newcastle) – and from the Gwladys Street stand I watched in awe as Alex Young (9), Roy Vernon (10) and Bobby Collins (8), collectively and repeatedly swept aside the opposition and I think the score ended up 6-1 to the blues.

This game, or at least that aspect of it, has remained vividly in my memory for 63 years! Does anyone else remember that game – it was almost as if Alex Young had the ball attached to his foot by a piece of elastic!

Nobody here has mentioned Roy Vernon's 'grass-cutter' shots, remember those?

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