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Alexander the Great

By Ian  Macdonald :  12/09/2008 :  Comments (16) :
Alex Young in his heyday

The Golden Vision in his heyday

I?m too young (excuse the pun) to have seen one of Everton?s all-time favourite sons play. I?m talking about that revered icon ? and a great gentleman to boot ? Alex ?the Golden Vision? Young, a man who was only five foot-odd but a giant in our Evertonian folklore of the Sixties.

My sadly-departed Dad told me of the fever-pitch admiration of the man whom we bought from Hearts for £42,000, a princely sum then but this man was no prince, he was a King among Evertonians. It?s at times like these I miss my Dad more; he told me so much about our greats.

I?ve been lucky in the past to have been invited to Everton related matters at the club. One such invite was to find our millennium all-time team and a player for each decade. The panel consisted of Brian Labone, Howard Kendall, Dave Hickson, Graeme Sharp, Ken Rogers of the Echo, Alan Myers of Sky, and Jim King from the official supporters group and me!

We had covered Everton greats to the fifties then came another golden era for us, the Swinging Sixties. At this point hard hats where given out by that nice Alan Meyers. Why, you may ask? Well, we were going into the 1960 - 1970 period. Great names again litter this decade but two giants were predominant... watch out for the fallout.

Their names: Alan Ball and Alex "the Golden Vision" Young. Their memories are better than sex to Evertonians.

Howard talked about Bally with great affection. With Colin Harvey they formed The Holy Trinity." The best midfield to grace Goodison," said Dave Hickson. This debate was without doubt the most passionate. I looked on as those who were fortunate to see them both play in their hay day speaking like boxer's corner men, wanting their favourite to win. No, before you ask, I didn't want to punch Ken Rogers for not giving a fairer say in the Liverpool Echo about Everton. Ken, by just being there showed his true colours so maybe a higher body in the Echo is responsible.

Back to the ring... I mean meeting. The late Jim King was also in the corner for Bally saying he was an inspiration to the supporters and he cried like many when the ginger-haired dynamo left. Howard came just when Alex's Everton career was finishing.

 ?I remember he had a style that shone through, ?Howard said, ?but I have to go with the greatest player I ever played with, he was infectious to every one else around him even in training he would tackle you like it was a real match! So we all tried to be on his side. Even Johnny Morrisey, the hardest man I ever saw in football ? and that includes your McKays and Smiths ? wanted to put on the same colour bibs in practice.

"We arrived at practically the same time and just clicked. He was a World Cup winner and it showed why with every game he was  Mister Consistency. When I look at a player to buy I try to find Alan's qualities. The closest I have come is Reidy."

That says it all in my book. Brian Labone was more qualified than most to compare with the two greats and it was interesting to hear from him as he played with both.  Labby said, "Alex was a legend. He brought so much skill to the side. He was a true entertainer and with Roy Vernon a joy to watch, even while I was on the same pitch I stood there in amazement so God knows what the fans thought! He was idolised.

"I remember it was reported in the Echo that I had kicked Alex in training and I was booed by the Gwladys street when I came out onto the pitch. I couldn?t believe it, but there again Alex was a God to our fans. Even kids today know of him. When he was on song, which was mainly at home, he was pure magic! But Bally was more dependable. Alex sometimes went missing, especially away from home." 

Even Alex himself admits he was inconsistent. Dave Hickson said of Alex that he would have loved to have played with him. "I had heard how good he was and came to see for myself what all the fuss was about this slightly-built lad from Hearts. I was not disappointed. I thought the ball was on a string tied to his foot when I saw him play." Howard added that, "Even you, Dave, would have lost your hair with Alex. He could be so frustrating and lazy."

The fans' vote in the Evertonian gave Alex as the clear winner but again Bally spanned two decades so the panel got more frustrated in its decision making.

Sack Catterick! Keep Young!

One of the most enduring images from Everton's 1960s history

Alex made 271 appearances and scored 125 goals; another great number nine for Everton. When the great Harry Catterick dropped Alex from the team, the fans wanted Harry sacked and Alex re-instated. I always remember the picture of a small rounded man who reminded me of a fellow Evertonian, Marti, carrying a placard around Goodison being led away by a policeman with the words proclaiming ?Sack Catterick. Keep Young?. All the women of the time wondered who Catterick was to fulfil their dream of forever being youthful.

I was told at Blackpool away the Cat was booted by an irate Evertonian in the car park outside Bloomfield Road when Alex was dropped for a young upstart called Joe Royle. That was in January. A few months later we won the cup with Alex in the team. In later years I tracked down the fan responsible, Alan Hartley ? ?Acker? to his mates ? but was told by Alan, "it was more a jostle and never a kick at our former manager, Ian. But we were really mad at the time Alex was everything to us. Sure he would have a bad game but when he was good he was great, like a ghost. He?d pass players with the deft touch of a ballerina, leaving some players embarrassed with the ease of the great man?s skills. And boy could he jump, Ian. Like a salmon!"

Never forget that the players with the silky skills like Alex had no real protection from the hard men of the day. Alan and his mates travelled regularly to watch their heros. One season Everton were at Bolton. Before the game all the Evertonians went to the local Yates wine lodges. Alan met a right narky local before this particular game. He was giving stick to Alan saying, "you lot are fruits," and kept on goading him about being a Scouser. Alan said ?Go away, lad, you won?t wind me up?! The local then said ?See that Alex Young, he?s a fruit!?

BANG, that was it; you can call Alan all you want but the local stepped over the line calling the Golden Vision a fruit. The pub became a scene from the wild west. A saloon fight erupted. Chairs and tables went up defending our Alex?s name. Alfie Hinks, a fellow Blue, asked Alan who the big mouth was and put a crate over the locals' head, empty of course. I think the saying of ?what would you do if you found Alex Young in bed with your wife? Tuck him up?, was the order of the day.

Back to the sixties debate...

Labby told us that ?Alex suffered with blisters on his feet and many cures were sent in to help. One was bathing his feet in urine"; ?Sure you?re not taking the piss, Labby?" I added. Alex even had a play written about him, aptly named "The Golden Vision?. I wonder who played his part? I was a bit too young. Pity!

Alan Ball: 249 appearances and 78 goals; a great return for a midfielder. At £110,000, a British record fee. Perpetual motion, fans were stunned when he left for Arsenal after winning the championship in '70. Gambling debts were a reason rumoured at the time. We should have had a whip round... oh well.

What a decade this was. Names such as Collins, Husband, Gabriel, Kay (what a shame about him banned for life over an alleged bribe; could have been the decade's winner according to Labby) Harvey, West, Stevens, Vernon, Pickering, Scott, Wilson (another world cup winner ),Temple, Hurst,  Royle... it just went on and on. All great players showing full well the magnitude of the task to pick one out for this decade. Even the now-departed last of the Corinthians, Labby, himself was hard to leave out.

So the Ball / Young winner was never going to please everyone. One suggestion was to give Bally the winner of the 70's but I threw that one out for my childhood hero which was to be discussed next. The winner of the decade was given to ?the Golden Vision? from the absentees' votes of Bill Kenwright and Sir Philip Carter. So don't blame me when we meet in the street. I'm good at passing the buck, now can I take off this hard hat, I look a right pillock.

My Dad told me of a hat-trick Alex scored against Sheffield Wednesday, every one a cracker. Another game when Roy Vernon and Alex (scoring five together) humiliated Cardiff, beating them 8-3, so much so they never returned to the top flight again. Alex would glide past players like a ghost. He would be one place then another, with defenders scratching their head, "how did he get there?" Madly, Alex never scored against the dark side. It's like a Bob Latchford thing, great goal scorers but maybe heavenly bodies don?t go near the devil's spawn too much... although Alex gave Ron Yeats the run-around many a time.

We don?t have much footage of our games and goals scored in the Sixties. Apparently Catterick shunned the BBC saying that TV would kill the game whilst Shanks welcomed TV with open arms.

But what of the man off the field? Gordon West told me he was a quiet man who really shunned the limelight. He was more family-orientated, as was clearly shown in the much acclaimed ?Golden Vision? documentary. In later years I was privileged to meet the great man, the first time unable to talk, in awe like many. When I found my voice I spoke to a true gentlema. He has a smooth Scottish accent easily deciphered, unlike many Scots.

I remember asking Alex about young Wayne Rooney and who he compared with from his time. Alex said that he played for Scotland in an Under 23 game against England at Sheffield and came up against the great Duncan Edwards of Manchester United; Wayne was similar to the Busby Babe in many ways ? the bullish body and neck, strong as an ox on the ball and ran at defences.

What struck me with Alex was the time he gave you, not a quick autograph and turn away but a warm debate. I asked Alex about Labby at a recent Adelphi "do" to celebrate Brian. He said, ?Labby was a man of the people; Mr Everton. He showed me what wearing the Royal Blue shirt was all about.?

The more I look at Alex these days, his locks may not be golden as they were but he reminds me of a Greek god. I know... keep away from the Stella, Ian, but he was and is a god to so many still just go and listen to the response he gets when introduced at an Adelphi bash; it's gob smacking.

Fans are still in awe of the man to this day. Just after Labby died we heard that Alex had suffered a stroke. Could the week get any worse? Thankfully, Alex seems fully recovered and after Bally going I don?t think the Everton extended family could take anymore.

I rang Alex a few weeks after his stroke to wish him well. Months later, my mum had a stroke and Alex gave me advice about how strokes affect you and the time it takes to get over one, if ever. Just an insight to the caring Alex Young and here?s another: We had a testimonial pre-season game for Alex a few years ago against Espanyol. Alex gave half the profits to the former player?s foundation without being asked.

When thinking about the adoration Alex and co. get when they come "home" it?s because fans felt closer to their idols, they were not paid the obscene money that players not fit to lace their boots get now.

To the fellow younger generation who are reading this and never saw Alex play, the above is no exaggeration of the man. Time has not built a myth like so many other stories in life. Alex Young was a great footballer, a joy to behold, who made people happy in the days when work was hard graft, long hours and early deaths.

Alex and co. were gentlemen and still are in a world of greed dominating sport. The only greed these men had was wanting the ball.

Reader Comments

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David Edwards
1   Posted 13/09/2008 at 01:27:18

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Superb article, Ian. I was just old enough to see Bally in his prime, but I just missed out on Alex and had to rely on memories of others, such as those recounted above. I wish there had been more film taken of him at his peak - you feel like you missed out on something special. From what I’ve been told, we had the ultimate icons of Dixie, Alex and Alan over those decades - I wouldn’t want to swap them for any others (I imagine only the trio of Best, Law & Charlton come close - but let’s face it, red was never my favourite colour!)
Mike Dolan
2   Posted 13/09/2008 at 03:51:25

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What a fabulous player Alex was. Arteta when he is at his best reminds me of him. Alex Young was and still is the best player I have ever seen at making a critical space for himself. It has to be acknowledged that though that Alex was never the first pick for Scotland. And he could totally disappear in games. When he was on though, he was so amazing. There where times when next to Alex Young the Law?s, Charlton?s and Best?s just looked average.
Had Alex Young ever been surrounded by a team of world class players as George Best was, he would have led Everton to the pinnacle. Catterick rhymes easily with prick. He was our undoing in a way. We were much bigger than LFC. Suddenly second division Shankley takes away the front page, where they remain today.
Trevor Lynes
3   Posted 13/09/2008 at 05:15:23

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The biggest shame to me was the Tony Kay thing... he would have gone on to be at least as good as Ball. Young and Vernon were fabulous together. I likened Young to Tostao the great Brazilian... Young always played well against Liverpool and Man Utd. Young did not like hurly burly games but was the perfect foil for the Waspish Vernon. Ray Wilson and Tommy Wright were our best ever backs with Wright just pipping Parker. In today's game you would have four in midfield so it would have to be Ball, Kendall, Harvey and Kay ? absolutely no contest.
Bob McEvoy
4   Posted 13/09/2008 at 07:09:03

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I remember waiting outside Bellefield as a 10-year-00old in the summer of '62. As the players came out to get on the coach (presumably to go to Goodison to get changed), Young and Vernon signed for all the kids but throughout continued a discussion on the day's horse racing. I recall being disappointed that they weren?t talking about football. How Vernon survived the physical side of football (plus the fags ) with his frame God knows but in the 62-63 season no-one could cope with either of them

As for Tony Kay I?m still convinced (provided he hadn?t upset Ramsey) that he and not Nobby Stiles would have been in the England '66 team.

John Andrews
5   Posted 13/09/2008 at 15:46:58

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I was fortunate enough to have seen both Alex Young and Alan Ball in their prime and it was an absolute privilege.
John Hunter
6   Posted 13/09/2008 at 18:31:17

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I was very, very lucky to watch both these extremely talented blues in the 60’s and loved them both but Alex was a God, I swear I watched him head a goal into the net from above tha bar. Mybe I dreamed that but he was so so specail.
Greg Murphy
7   Posted 13/09/2008 at 21:46:53

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Two words: Southall, Neville.

Frankly, anyone who had the good fortune to see this man ply his trade for us over a 17-year period (let’s not forget that) witnessed the second best Everton player of all time.
In fact, I’m sticking my neck out a bit here but I’m assuming that we have to give the ultimate honour to Dixie? Okay then, I guess we do.
But, I tell you what, if Dixie Dean was a better striker than Neville was a keeper then he more than deserves to be called our best player ever.

As for the rest, though, I just can’t believe that anyone would rank someone above Neville Southall.

Here’s the question concerning Young and Ball who seem to be the routine contenders for "second best Everton player of all time": were they better in their chosen position than Neville was a keeper?
I don’t know, I didn’t see either of them.

But I saw all of Neville’s career and I just cannot believe that Young and Ball were better in their positions than he was.

In my view, then: 1) Dixie Dean 2) Neville Southall 3) The rest.

I think we forget about Neville all too easily, in my view. He was the world’s best for years on end (and let’s forget this rewritten history that’s getting put around that Schmeicel was better - he wasn’t).

I genuinely mean it when I say that we should have a stand named after Neville.

He was that good.
Greg Murphy
8   Posted 13/09/2008 at 22:06:01

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To clarify: I actually did see lots of Alan Ball’s career (from 1972 onwards) but sadly not in an Everton shirt.

But I never saw Alex Young kick a ball.
David Edwards
9   Posted 13/09/2008 at 23:38:59

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Greg ? while I think your post is perhaps looking for some provocative replies ? I thought I?d try to diffuse the situation by agreeing that Southall is a true legend who is probably under-estimated by the goalkeeping role he played. He was certainly our best keeper (and I remember chanting ?Georgie Wood - Scotland?s No 1? in the 70?s, and Nev was better than him).

I must admit that the famous half-time protest, clouded my view of him to some extent (I think it was ill-judged, no matter the justification), but it won?t ultimately dampen my view of him in the all-time top EFC 11 ? regularly put on various fan forums

But...let?s face it ? a dazzling attacking midfielder or striker will always grab the eye rather than a solid goalkeeper forced into action by a suspect defence. So the likes of Alex and Alan will always get the edge ? because we crave great attacking skills rather than defensive ones ? sadly, that?s just life, Greg

Dave Moorcroft
10   Posted 13/09/2008 at 23:41:07

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Ian, I was lucky enough to see the end of the Golden Vision. But I didn't see enough to make any judgement about who I thought was the best between the Vision and Bally, whom I saw in every moment of his Everton life. What I have always believed was from what I witnessed even to this day, was that Alan Ball is the most skillfull and influential player to ever wear the blue shirt. And I agree that the nearest we have had, not in terms of skill but in terms of passion and some skill is Peter Ried.

But let's get back to the Golden Vision. As I said, I only saw Alex at the end of his time at the Toffees but do you know what? I watched a video that I bought for £1 at Burscough car boot sale of the 1966 cup final, and I was astonished. Taking into account the difference in the weight of the ball, how good that EVERTON team was. Look at it yourselves and revel in the Golden Vision's play. I know Derek and Mike scored the goals, but just watch the Majesty of Alex.

As I said earlier, Bally is my best all-time EFC player... maybe because I didn't see enough of the Vision live.

Dave Moorcroft
11   Posted 14/09/2008 at 00:39:43

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Greg, I didn't think the goalie's position was in doubt: Neville Southall was the best goalie in the WORLD. And in my opinion of all time. If he had played for England they would have agreed. I love them all.
Greg Murphy
12   Posted 14/09/2008 at 09:23:17

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David Edwards - No, not looking for provocative replies at all bud (how can it be provocative to suggest that Neville Southall is the second best Everton player of all time?). More a case of debating in the round so to speak.

Although, I genuinely wasn’t being name-specific as regards the nature of the thread prior to my first post, I was prompted by your first post David.

For you referred to "ultimate icons". That immediately took the debate away from the specific 60s aspect and the Best Ever Everton XI flavour. And that’s what prompted me to make my post because - and it was no surprise to me - the three names that you mentioned as "ultimate icons" were Dixie, Bally and Young. This is what utterly baffles me because I hear it time and again in Blue debates.


Dave Moorcroft - You’ve hit the nail on the head. The great debate concerning the Best Everton XI always skims over Neville Southall very quickly. "Right chaps, let’s tick the easiest box, all in favour of Neville as the goalie raise their hands. Okay, motion carried unanimously. Okay, who shall we have as left back..."
And there the Southall debate starts and ends. It never extends to debating where Neville stands in the overall pantheon and I’m being genuinely serious when I say that I believe he must skip over both Bally and Young and take his place directly behind Dixie in the No.2 spot of all time.

You have the advantage over me, though Dave, because I really only saw Neville. You saw enough of Bally. So, the question again, has to be: "Was Alan Ball (or Alex Young) a better player in their specific position than Neville Southall was in his?"

Footy is a game that is the sum of its parts. I don’t subscribe to the view that somehow in debates likes this the goalie position is different (I know you didn’t make that point, Dave, I’m just talking in general here) and it’s really only outfielders that count.

But genuinely, when was the last time that you heard someone assert the name of Neville Southall as the 2nd best Everton player of all time? It hardly ever gets mentioned.

We’re in danger of concreting the Cavern in concerning Neville, in my view (a touch florid perhaps). But you get my drift. Anyone the wrong side of 25 - in my opinion - not only saw the best keeper in the world, not only saw the best Everton keeper of all time but genuinely saw the 2nd best Everton player of all time.

Laurie Hartley
13   Posted 14/09/2008 at 11:10:41

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I am one of the fortunate ones who saw both Alex Young and Alan Ball grace Goodison. For me Alan Ball was unquestionably the better player.

I agree with Trevor Lynnes - Tony Kay would have gone on to be even better than Alan Ball - what a shame he was a GREAT footballer. He was as hard as nails (but not as hard as Johnny Morrisey as somebody else mentioned above).

Michael Hunt
14   Posted 14/09/2008 at 18:05:17

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Nice one Ian, different class!
Re comment of which of today’s players would be held in such regard and still remain close to ’the Everton family’ in 40 years time, I think Cahill is a humble, blue blooded, living legend. If we keep him fit and improve around him what joyous new times can be ahead. Perhaps 40 years from now he may be able to visit from Oz for a do via a rocket plane, just 2 hours flight from Sydney!
Ken Rushton
15   Posted 15/09/2008 at 12:02:51

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Super article, Ian. I am lucky to have seen the full careers of both Alex and Alan having been a regular since 1954.

In my view, Bally has to be the greatest I ever saw in blue, if only for the fact that he took so many away games by the scruff of the neck. The Golden Ghost seemed to float just like the great Tom Finney did.

Joey Dela
16   Posted 17/09/2008 at 12:17:01

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I was five when I first watched Alex Young, & I was lucky to see him play with Alan Ball. My vivid memory was the affection the blues fans gave the Golden Vision it is not exaggerated, the banners, the support of his every touch as he glided past players & his touch on the ball was brazillian! When he played with the new Alan Ball he wore the no 7 shirt & when those two linked it was so magical even unbelivable the roars that came was like a goal being scored! I only found out from his latest interview how disliked Alex was from manager Harry Catterick who has now gone down in my estimation!

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