4 March ~ Away from mansions, supercars and tabloid scandals, there are people in British football who become synonymous with its traditional values – with determination, respect, pride and indefatigable spirit. Yesterday, football lost a man who had not only become an integral part of Macclesfield Town but of the Football League as a whole. As Silkmen manager, Keith Alexander was a popular and lively figure, frank in his assessments and forthright about his teams.
To lose Keith at 53 years of age is tragic and there is no doubt he will be sadly missed by all at the Moss Rose. The shock of his loss will also be felt at Lincoln, Peterborough, Bury, Northwich and Ilkeston, as well as at the clubs in England and Northern Ireland where he spent time as a player and throughout the wider football world.
Keith's career – its entirety spent in the more uncertain and taxing echelons of the professional league pyramid – should be no less celebrated for it. Most will be aware that he was the first full-time black manager in the Football League but his achievements away from this pioneering course, on which he was proud but refused to dwell, are just as worthy of note. For 17 years Keith worked at a level of football at which inspiring dedication and belief in his players was essential. No Alexander team could ever be accused of lacking commitment to the cause. He was also a great believer in giving youth its chance, as evidenced by the emergence of John Rooney, Shaun Brisley and Izak Reid in the Macclesfield first team.
A shrewd and focused management style was a particular advantage given that Keith's spells at Lincoln and Macclesfield required that his tenure was conducted on a relative shoestring. He had a refined acumen in the transfer market at this level, signing experience where needed – a beneficiary of the knowledge that when not coupled with a few old-fashioned cloggers, little could be won in the lower leagues. Four consecutive play-off finishes with Lincoln are testament to his abilities, the first achieved when the club was in dire financial straits and the next three at a time when the league was becoming increasingly compact and competitive.
Keith was a lover of the game and fully aware of how it should be played – he was not only the first black manager in the Football League, but also the country's first qualified black referee. He was an active member of the Kick It Out campaign and the LMA with whom he was set to be offered a position on the board – yet another barrier broken down.
Despite ill health earlier in his career (if you can call a brain aneurysm "ill health", as he surely would) and even in March this year, he was always back at work following the most minimal of recovery times. His determination in adversity in all respects was there for all to see and he put up with more than his fair share. However, Keith handled it all with the traits that are now his hallmarks – quiet dignity, humility, resolve and an intelligent humour. A family man and one of football's real role models, his is a tragic loss and he will be sorely missed. Rest in peace, Keith. Rob Macdonald