Sentiment is an increasingly rare commodity in a sentimental game yet last Saturday the recalling of a 40 year old to the Deepdale bench resulted in one of the most inspiring and deserved swansongs in recent times.
After an incredible 1022 professional games and twenty years sterling service to Scunthorpe, Luton, Burnley and Preston midfielder Graham Alexander was drawing a close to a career unparalleled for dedication and excellence. Even so, with his Preston side trailing 2-1 to champions Charlton in the season’s finale and the minutes ticking by the modest player expected the last substitution to be a striker thrown on in an attempt to grab a late equaliser.
Instead gaffer Graham Westley bowed to the wishes of the crowd, who had prior to the game rose as one to applaud Alexander as he walked through a guard of honour from both teams, and sent on the departing hero in his old right-back role. With barely seconds remaining this happened –
It proved to be the last kick of the game and an entirely wonderful and fitting cameo from a player who has given the game so much. Even the Charlton supporters cheered whilst Kevin Friend the referee booked Alexander for diving into the fans more in tribute than through obligation. It is tempting to say that with this sublime effort he rolled back the years but in truth the popular Scottish veteran – known as ‘Grezza’ to both team-mates and fans alike – has been knocking in such beauties for the entirely of his thirties.
At Burnley he played a pivotal captain’s role in their Premier League campaign having led them back to the top flight for the first time in 33 years and it was here that he established himself to the public at large as an arch penalty specialist slotting away 7/7, all taken with the outside of his boot in trademark fashion.
By the season’s end he was voted Player of the Year at Turf Moor and despite much interest for his signature and a chance to remain at the top level he chose loyalty to the clarets as they fell back to the Championship.
‘Grezza’ has the fourth most league appearances for any player in English history and characterises qualities often deemed to be from a by-gone age – gritty endeavour, outstanding professionalism, unassuming modesty and loyal to the bone.
As he moves into coaching, to pass on his considerable experience to others, the Cutter would like to pay our sincere respects to this ordinary man who enjoyed an extraordinary career.