BBC BLOGS - Paul Fletcher
« Previous | Main | Next »

Alexander the great joins the 1,000 club

Post categories:

Paul Fletcher | 13:42 UK time, Sunday, 17 April 2011

A little moment of history was created at Turf Moor on Saturday when Graham Alexander became the second player to reach 1,000 competitive outfield appearances in English professional football.

Perhaps the 39-year-old Scotland international has rather limped over the line, with his latest 12 appearances coming as a substitute and none of them before the 72nd minute of a match.

But there is nothing fortunate about the extraordinary achievement of clocking up so many games and Alexander deserves enormous credit for reaching the milestone.

"It is a truly amazing landmark to reach," said Lennie Lawrence, who managed Alexander at Luton Town in the mid-1990s. "He is a fantastic fellow, a great lad and the epitome of what a professional footballer should be and how he should conduct himself."

Coventry-born Alexander started his career as a trainee at Scunthorpe, where he made his league debut as a 19-year-old in 1991. He left for the Hatters in 1995 and joined Preston for £50,000 in 1999 shortly before his contract at Kenilworth Road expired.

"That must have been just about the best £50,000 spent by anyone, anywhere in football," added Lawrence.

Alexander was signed for Preston by David Moyes, the current Everton boss who started his managerial career at Deepdale.

"He was a Scottish boy and he was great, quite a feisty lad," said Moyes. "He was a really good player, an incredibly good football player. He lacked a bit of pace, which he would admit, but his passing was as good as anybody. In hindsight, maybe I made a mistake when I left Preston that I didn't try to bring him with me. He was that good."

Alexander made exactly 400 appearances for North End as the club not only established itself in the Championship but regularly pushed for promotion to the top flight.

Graham Alexander celebrates a play-off semi-final victory at Preston in May 2001.

Alexander was a popular figure at Preston and did not want to leave. Photo: Getty images

"Every side that is successful has what I would term good pros, the sort of players who don't miss training, have good habits and do not mess about or sulk," said former Preston team-mate Sean Gregan.

"He was a guy that you could look in the eye in the tunnel before a game and you just knew that you could rely on him."

Callum Davidson, another former North End team-mate of Alexander's and one of his best friends in football, reckons his mate was gutted when he was controversially sold to Burnley in 2007. But the move to Turf Moor allowed the right-back to reinvent himself.

Steve Cotterill, who was Clarets manager at the time, used Alexander as a holding midfielder, a role ideally suited to such an experienced, competitive and technically solid player. Alexander went on to become a key member of the side managed by Cotterill's successor Owen Coyle that won promotion to the Premier League in 2009.

"He was devastated when he left Preston but it is funny how things work out," said Davidson, who spent three years with Alexander at Deepdale. "Eventually, he fulfilled his ambition of playing in the top flight and walked out alongside Manchester United's Ryan Giggs as the two players skippered their teams for a league match at Turf Moor. That season in the Premier League, coming so late in his career, meant an awful lot to Graham."

Moyes added: "When he came up into the Premier League with Burnley, he did really well and scored some goals."

Former Scotland boss Craig Brown was another who managed Alexander at North End. Some time later, Brown happened to be in the crowd at Turf Moor as Alexander's Burnley defeated Arsenal 2-0 in a Carling Cup tie in December 2008.

"I was sat next to Sir Alex Ferguson and we both agreed that Graham was the best player on the pitch," said Brown. "That was how successful he was as a holding midfielder - and that was, in part, because he has a wonderful range of passing."

The 39-year-old has made at least 150 appearances for each club he has represented, in addition to winning 40 caps for Scotland. Everybody I spoke to was full of praise for his dedication and professionalism. It is Alexander's drive combined with the good fortune to have had a largely injury-free career that has enabled him to play for so long.

"That a lot of it comes down to Graham's attitude," added Davidson, who tries to meet Alexander for a catch-up over coffee at least once a week. "He just wants to play. If he is not in the team, it puts him in a terrible sulk. I used to find it funny at Preston, watching him trudge off disconsolate because he was being subbed with two minutes left ."

One of the most remarkable aspects of Alexander's career has been his penalty record. It is tricky to work out an exact figure but the general consensus is that he has converted 77 from 83 attempts.

"His record is no fluke because he would take 30 or 40 every day after training," added Gregan. "When I played with him, I was as good as walking back to the centre circle to restart the game when he stepped up to take a penalty."

Graham Alexander scores a penalty against Sunderland in a Premier League fixture.

Alexander, a prolific penalty taker, had one season in the top flight. Photo: Getty images

Alexander's longevity has allowed him to enjoy an international career. He did not make his international debut until the age of 30, although Brown now regrets that he did not select him when he was in charge of Scotland.

"When David Moyes was in charge of Preston, he asked me to have a look at Graham and so I watched him in a game at Crystal Palace," added current Aberdeen boss Brown, who managed Scotland from 1993 until 2001.

"He was given a tough time by a winger and did not have the best of afternoons. I now regret that I did not cap him when I had the chance but, when I was in charge of Preston, I recommended him to Berti Vogts, my successor as Scotland boss."

Davidson reckons that Alexander has changed dramatically since they first became team-mates in 2004. Back then, the defender had less understanding of what sort of things could help extend his career but now he is very vigilant with his diet and careful to protect his ageing body.

"His wife often complains that Graham is the last to leave the dressing room," added Davidson, who is currently without a club but training with Nottingham Forest to maintain his fitness levels as he recovers from a long-standing calf injury.

"He takes his time to stretch, cool down and take an ice bath. He looks after himself but that was not always the case when I first met him."

The other player to reach the milestone of 1,000 outfield appearances in English football is Grimsby-born Tony Ford, who brought up four figures in March 2000 when he played for Rochdale in an Auto Windscreen Shield match against Carlisle United.

"I did not know until a couple of weeks before the game that I was so close," said Ford, who now works in insurance as well as carrying out occasional scouting assignments for the Mariners. "I did a couple of pre-match interviews for local radio and that was just about it."

The two players were team-mates at Scunthorpe, with both operating on the right flank. Alexander was establishing himself as a regular at the Iron, while Ford, then in his mid 30s, combined playing with a coaching role.

"He had a very competitive spirit, whether it was a five-a-side game or a long-distance run," added Ford, who eventually retired from playing when he took on a coaching role at Barnsley in November 2001. "Graham absolutely loved playing football and that really helps in terms of your longevity in the game."

Nobody starts out with the ambition of reaching 1,000 outfield games. As Ford explained, it is the sort of thing that eventually creeps up if you last long enough. Ford told me he played 26 seasons before he reached the milestone. Davidson reckons that Alexander started to focus on it when he reached 900 appearances.

"He likes to set himself goals," said Davidson. "They are the targets that push him on."

What Alexander intends to do next is unclear. If Davidson knows then he is not letting on but Alexander does not appear to have a long-term future at Burnley, where he has become an increasingly peripheral figure since the appointment of Eddie Howe as manager.

But the vast experience gained over 20 years and 1,000 appearances will surely mean that we have not heard the last of a man who just keeps on going.

You can follow me throughout the season at twitter.com/Paul__Fletcher

 

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Well done to him. A great achievement.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hats off to Graham, what an absolute gentleman. I'm a Brit in Portland, USA and Graham came out with Preston and then Burnley. My son and I helped manage their tour in Portland, pro bono.We have stayed in touch ever since, I doubt if there are too many players at his level that always get you back with an email, update you on some of his ex team mates and have time for the little people ! I could see that when he was at Preston he was the go to guy on and off the pitch. All the players looked up to him, a HUGE mistake when manager Paul Simpson let him go, I could have told him that from the outside just being around the team.
    Congratulations Grezza, think you can hit 2000 games ?!!!

  • Comment number 3.

    Congratulations Graham. Having spoken to him on a number of occasions I found his humility and pleasant nature a rare thing in a modern foootballer. No mistaken belief that he is in some way better than others just because he plays football. When we at Burnley signed him from Preston, it proved the catalyst for our promotion to the Premier League, and ultimately, Preston's likely relegation back to League 1 (though I hope they stay up). His leadership skills are now sorely lacking on the pitch at the Turf but his legs are finally starting to go. Finally, the best compliment for Graham is that after he signed for us it took over a season for him to clap and acknowledge the fans in the way he does now - he was so attached to PNE that it must have felt like betrayal even though he was told he was leaving. A true sign of loyalty, one which I wish our former manager at Wembley today had learnt from. Well done Graham on all counts.

  • Comment number 4.

    What a player and long may he continue

  • Comment number 5.

    It would be disappointing to think that Graham could not see out his career with us. Eddie Howe could do worse than look at the last few results and think about bringing him back.

  • Comment number 6.

    Graham is a fantastic footballer and a great role model. He has had a phenomenal 23 years in the game, and I really really hope that he plays for us for one more season after this. In my opinion his career is definetely not over yet, he still has great ability and leadership qualities aswell so it is more than worth it to keep him in the team. And after all, he is a magician from the dead ball and is very clinical from penalties and free kicks. He should always have a role at the club.

  • Comment number 7.

    The way the man takes a pen is devastating. What a model pro. Take a bow son.

  • Comment number 8.

    He will now be remembered for two things he, individually added to the game.
    1000 appearances and that unique penalty kick of his!

  • Comment number 9.

    Amazing achievement in the modern game. Often wonder how much his wembley penalty miss in '92, as a teenager, drove him on to have such an exemplary penalty taking record over the years. If you fancy another challenge Graham, you'd be more than welcome back at the Iron...

  • Comment number 10.

    A true professional, dedicated, a good man, unlike many in football these days he doesn't put his ego before the team.

  • Comment number 11.

    The last 4 seasons, every time I met a Burnley fan I asked them, "Can we have Graham Alexander back?"
    They always said, "No".

    Easily North End's best and most effective player all the time he was there. Certainly the only one we were worried about going to Everton with David Moyes.

    Mind you, he could have played in the Premier League with Preston as early as the 2001-2002 season, if he hadn't been so rubbish in the 2001 Championship playoff final!

    The way I remember the 2000-2001 Championship season is like this. It was won by Fulham, who had bought many Premier League quality players. Second automatic promotion spot went to Blackburn Rovers who, under Graeme Souness were (IMHO) the best footballing side the Championship has ever seen. Third place went to Bolton Wanderers who, for all Sam Allardyce's bleating about having no money to spend, had actually spent over 15million on players in preceding seasons. (And that was when 15million was still worth something in football). North End finished 4th.

    Fulham, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers. That is the only season that all three teams promoted from the Championship managed to survive in the Premier League. Usually, one or two promoted teams last only one season. And Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton are still in the Premier League. That is a measure of the quality they had in 2001.

    What it adds up to is that, in any other season, the 2000-2001 Preston North End team would probably have been good enough to reach the Premier League. That was primarily due to David Moyes, but then comes Graham Alexander.

    Top footballer. Probably always the most valuable man in whatever team he was playing for, including Scotland. Either scored or assisted the majority of his team's goals. Bit like David Backham in that regard.


    Mind you, he was better looking when he looked like he cut his hair himself. But back them he had youth on his side.

  • Comment number 12.

    Take note Craig Levein, if you want a dependable rock of a player then look no further.

    10 more caps for a Hall of Fame entry Graham, you deserve it.

  • Comment number 13.

    I always try and keep tabs on ex-Luton players (more so now that the FA & FL mafia saw fit to throw us out of the League) and I did, for a while, start to wonder if G. Alexander was one and the same with our own Graham. I has been a long time and this man keeps his head down and keeps on doing the job. I hope that when he does come to retire that he gets due credit.

  • Comment number 14.

    Alexander Please wait because (to-be Sir) Rayan Giggs will join the party, hopefully.

  • Comment number 15.

    @11

    Great points made there. I remember the 00/01 season well and quite rightly you highlight how good the league was that year. Considering that the likes of Birmingham and WBA would also be promoted and establish themseleves within the PL supports this.

    PNE were unlucky, and as an Evertonian I was hoping that Alexander would follow Moyes to our club and the rumours at the time suggested he would, but it never panned out. The only other player I would have thought he'd go after was John Macken and I think that was the problem for PNE. Although they had a magnificent 00/01 season, the inability to re-create that in subsequent years was probably due to a lack of real quality.


    all credit to GA though. By all accounts, a model pro and not a bad player either. Successful from the spot despite seemingly approaching the ball from the wrong side for his right footed strike.

  • Comment number 16.

    Full credit to a true pro. Saw him at Luton a few times and recognisable as someone who enjoyed his trade.

  • Comment number 17.

    Now then,

    Thanks for your thoughts so far. When putting together a piece of this type I often ring quite a few people, leaving messages if there is no answer and working on the basis that not everyone will call back/want to do it.

    However, just about everybody I tried called back and was more than willing to help. I think that says loads about Graham Alexander. As a few have already said, top bloke and a top pro.

  • Comment number 18.

    @ Paul Fletcher

    Graham is very much like that himself. I interviewed him last year for a feature in a Luton Town matchday programme and he was very approachable, texting me to let me know when he was free - even though we've never even met - and it was fascinating to talk to him.

    Then about an hour after we'd finished he rang me back because he'd remembered something else that he thought would be interesting for the piece and it was. In fact, it was a whole new cracking angle to it.

    I actually had a look back through my notes of the conversation earlier and I've a feeling I may have joked about reaching 1,000 games to him looking at some of the left-over quotes I've got!

    An absolute top man in my own experience, and everyone I know speaks so highly of him too, so this is a great accolade and a fantastic achievement.

  • Comment number 19.

    I do really like his straight run up to take penalties. I actually do the same thing now and I seem to be hitting them even better. And his two pens against Hull last season in the Prem were remarkable. Outside of the foot, perfect top corner, what more can you say.

  • Comment number 20.

    Great Player and a model pro, my only wish was that Scotland could have used him earlier in his career, 40 caps from a man who started when he was 30+ is remarkable and a true measure of the quality and ability he had. Thanks for the memories and hopefully ul find the 10 caps u deserve to get in to the Hall of fame!

    Cheers and all the best

  • Comment number 21.

    Very nice piece.

    It's reading something like this that helps to re-establish my faith and hope for the game. Longevity and loyalty, doggedness and just a love of the game. There are precious few of his sort around, and even fewer that have sustained it at the very top.

    Shame he didn't get a longer chance in the prem and Moyes didn't take him with him at the time. But who knows? the story might have panned out differently. 1000 games is a fine achievement.

    He's clearly had a lot out of the game, but my, has he given a lot back. Fine example to any young player starting out.

  • Comment number 22.

    he is one of the few players who returns to a club and is equally admired and feared, all fans appreciate his work rate, loyalty and will to win, when he left us (PNE) for burnley most people didnt think it was that much of a loss but he is one of those players you dont realise how good they are until they have gone , and how we have fallen with out him proves how good he was

    well done Graham see you at deepdale soon especially if we go down

  • Comment number 23.

    Graham Alexander is a role model that many will try to meet his standards but the majority will fail. Having met him on several occassions he is a leader on the pitch but off it you will never meet a more humble and approachable person. He is someone who has taken a lot out from football but will put this back in to the game when he finally hangs his boots up. A credit to the game and should be honoured in some way for a fantastic achievement. Well done and hopefully he'll beat Tony Fords record of 1073 games. I have been informed that he also puts a lot back into grass roots football by helping out some junior football team with coaching in the Preston area where he still lives, how many Pro's do this off their own back

  • Comment number 24.

    I was an avid Luton fan in the mid 90s and for a couple of seasons Graham was one of our best players along with Steve Davis, Tony Thorpe and Ian Feuer. He played right-back mostly but occassionally on the wing where I thought he was much more effective for us. He sure had a sweet right foot!

    I also used to work for a well known video rental store in Milton Keynes (Blockbusters - can I say that?) and imagine my surprise when one afternoon in walked Graham Alexander to rent a vid ! I remember losing my composure and telling him that I thought he was our best player ! After he left I sneakily looked up his address on the computer too!

    Congratulations Graham, a true pro.

  • Comment number 25.

    Tomefccam, @n0.15

    "PNE were unlucky, and as an Evertonian I was hoping that Alexander would follow Moyes to our club and the rumours at the time suggested he would, but it never panned out. The only other player I would have thought he'd go after was John Macken and I think that was the problem for PNE. Although they had a magnificent 00/01 season, the inability to re-create that in subsequent years was probably due to a lack of real quality."

    More like a lack of David Moyes!

    Under Moyes, North End were a remarkably 2nd half team. So often they were poor in the first half and brilliant in the 2nd. The 2001 playoff final was typical. In that match, Graham Alexander had a nightmare 1st half.

    Also, a year ago PNE were having to borrow money to pay wages. What went wrong? Well, Deepdale was a 20,000 capacity stadium with 3 new stands and crowds under 15,000. When Moyes wanted money for better players to push for promotion, the club decided to spend their money on a 4th new stand. Not such a bad decision financially, for a club that were well in the black and anticipating at least 1 season in the Premier League. But as Moyes put it, "You've got to fill the stands you already have before building another one". Look at us now, hoping for a miracle to avoid League 2!

    Anyway. Macken was sold to Man City for 5million. Felt like a joke at the time, but to be fair to him he was very unlucky with injuries. We also sold Brian McBride, Ricardo Fuller, David Nugent, David Healy, Dickson Etuhu, Kevin Kilbane and even Sean Gregan to better things. One season, we sold 3 of our best players (Healy, Eddy Lewis and Richard Cresswell) to promotion rivals Leeds Utd who beat us in the Playoff semis - not that it did them any good, hah!

    And all the while this was going on, nobody came looking for Graham Alexander!

    I recall an interview that suggested Moyes had info on every player in the UK (& beyond). That's how Alexander was identified as the best prospect for a new right back for North End.

    Despite all the praise heaped on Graham Alexander, it's still hard to give justice to how valuable a player he's been. If 5million for Jon Macken was foolish, then 'No offers' for graham Alexander was plain stupid!

    Everton fans would understand it, just by saying that David Moyes singled Alexander out. This is very much like explaining to Liverpool fans just how good Tom Finney was; look up what Bill Shankly used to say about him!

  • Comment number 26.

    This is a guy who deserves to be in every Scotland squad and is as fit as a fiddle and can pass from the back to the front yet we have to put up with 'players' like Lee McCulloch in that position.

    He should definitely play for a few years yet. I'd be happy to see him up here at Hibs. Come on Colin Calderwood, if he's a free agent still get him in. We need an experienced fit player, unfortunately somehow I can see him playing at a higher level for a while yet.

  • Comment number 27.

    Nice work Paul, great football story.
    Just wanted to add my congratulations to a top player and by all accounts, a top bloke... Well done Graham.
    Lets hope he stays in the game, his attitude and experience can only be a positive.
    http://scottssportsandsocial.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 28.

    You say Big G was gutted to leave North End, but us North Enders were also distraught when he left. Former manager Paul Simpson has much to answer for, not least GA's departure from the club. At times Graham would get caught out at the back but his grit was exemplary. He was his own critic. He has done well at Burnley, and that is typical of him as a player, but he will always be a North Ender. He would be a great asset to the coaching staff at Deepdale. I'd be very happy to see him back home at Preston North End, imparting his enthusiasm, vast experience and dedication to the game to the young team members. He is one of those players who just gets on with the job - nothing flash and that's what I admire about him. He is a worthy role model for young players.
    He deserves to be lauded by the FA for his dedication to football, but he won't be because he does not have the glamour associated with what might be called the big names. But mention Ryan Giggs, then mention Graham Alexander because they are in the same league. Same degree of commitment on different levels - but same commitment.
    A big man.

    I like Giggsy, but I take my hat off to Graham Alexander.

  • Comment number 29.

    Well done Graham probably 1 of thest Scotish players of my lifetime and a true gentlemen of the game. I'd happily see him at Morton but even at his age i stil dont think we're big enough for him

 

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.