Keith Alexander became better known as a manager than he was during his playing career, winning many admirers for his talents and attitude before his untimely death at the age of 53 on 3rd March 2010. He was a pioneer, and an inspiration to others, being one of only a handful of black managers to come through in English football so far.
Born in Nottingham in 1956 to parents from the Caribbean island of St Lucia, he played for numerous non-league clubs, including Kettering Town and Barnet, before finally turning professional for Grimsby Town in 1988 at the age of 31! He faced racism both on and off the pitch but never let it deter him.
A centre forward, he helped Grimsby win promotion from the old 4th division in 1990 before moving to Stockport County and then Lincoln City, both in 1990. He then joined Mansfield Town in 1994, and had a spell on loan to Cliftonville in Ireland in 1995. He only made 3 appearances for Mansfield, his playing career coming to an end when he broke his leg playing against Exeter in January 1996. By this time he was 39.
He also played internationally, representing St Lucia 3 times in 1990.
Whilst still playing, Alexander was preparing for a career in management or coaching. At Lincoln, he coached the youth team and helped develop stars of the future including Darren Huckerby and Mike Pollitt. The impression he made in this role led to him being given the job of caretaker manager, then permanent manager, of Lincoln in 1993. After a season in charge, he moved on and joined Mansfield as a player and assistant manager. From 1995 to 2001, he gained valuable managerial experience and a good reputation with non-league Ilkeston Town and Northwich Victoria.
In 2001, he returned to Lincoln as director of coaching and assistant manager, and became manager in 2002 when the club was in administration. He defied all the odds to steer them to the 3rd division play-off final in his first season. This achievement was all the more remarkable as he had been rushed into hospital in November 2003 with a cerebral aneurism and given life-saving brain surgery. He was back at work within 3 months. In four seasons at Lincoln, he led them to the play-offs every time. He also gained the UEFA Pro Licence, the top coaching qualification.
He then had spells managing Peterborough and as director of football at Bury, before becoming manager of Macclesfield Town in 2008, where he stayed until his death in 2010.
Alexander was also involved, with other members of his family, in setting up the Sacred Sports Foundation, a charity based in St Lucia which aims to provide quality sporting opportunities for young people whilst promoting community development, good citizenship and conflict resolution skills.
He was honoured with a posthumous lifetime achievement award at the 2010 Black List awards set up by the Voice newspaper to recognise the contribution of black non-playing personnel in football, both amateur and professional. Macclesfield chairman Mike Rance said of Alexander,
“He was a splendid man, a real gentleman and an absolute privilege to work with. He was strong, sensible, commanded respect throughout the game and was unique in many ways”.