Friday, 24 September 2021

Tony Alexander, Henley Town FC player

ONLY eight months after the death of player-manager Brian Leach, Tony Alexander, another prominent member of the Henley Town team

ONLY eight months after the death of player-manager Brian Leach, Tony Alexander, another prominent member of the Henley Town team that went unbeaten right through its 30-match Hellenic League Division 1 programme in 1967-68, has died, aged 78.

Brian Leach said he was the first player he wanted to bring to any club.

Born in Reading, Alexander joined the ground staff of the Elm Park club in August 1951 when he was only 16.

A year later, he turned professional and it was only a week after his 18th birthday when he made his first-team debut.

National service hampered his career but he remained with Reading until 1955, although he made only 11 Football League appearances. He then moved on to Yeovil Town, a non-league club but no ordinary one.

Those were the days when the Football League was very much a closed shop and Yeovil had a formidable reputation as perpetual giant-killers. No league team liked to be drawn against them in the FA Cup.

Alexander was signed by Crystal Palace in the summer of 1960, although he failed to break into the first team.

Prior to signing for Henley, he also had short spells with Bedford Town and Worcester City.

He found his way to the old Reading Road ground early in the 1963-64 season. He made his debut in a pre-season friendly, scoring four times.

However, because of the long-winded formalities then necessary for a former professional to obtain a permit to play with amateurs, it was Town’s third league fixture before he could play in a competitive game.

As Division 1 was very small that season, it meant he could play only 16 league matches but he still scored 24 goals.

Local boy Tony Lewington had also been a regular goal-scorer at centre-forward but when he lost form, he changed positions with inside-right Alexander and the move was so successful that each scored a hat-trick in the first match in which it was tried.

To take the title, Henley needed a point from their last league game, away to Thatcham, who ran up a 2-0 lead. Alexander missed a penalty but went on to score the all-important equaliser.

The following season, when Henley were promoted, Alexander was lured away to another Hellenic League side, Amersham Town, who could field an entire team of players who had been on the books of Football League clubs.

He returned in 1967, when Henley were back in Division 1, and proved an invaluable member of that side whose efforts were recognised when the town council gave them a civic reception. By now, he had been transformed into a top-class right-half. The step up to the Premier Division was as big then as now and Town found it difficult to adapt without ever being in serious danger of relegation.

In a remarkable match against Waddesdon, Alexander scored a hat-trick of individualist goals within less than eight minutes. This was despite the fact he was playing at right-half, which meant that there would normally be four or five forwards in front of him.

He remained at Henley for one more season, even when occasionally losing his first-team place. He became manager of the Courage Athletic team that beat Town in the Reading Senior Cup final of 1978-79.

The most remarkable thing about Tony Alexander’s football was that he could “play both games”; he could be a relentless tackler in a hard physical struggle yet show off a vast array of skills when circumstances allowed.

In later life, he owned a successful building firm, in which he was much helped by his devoted wife, Carol, who survives him. The funeral has already taken place.

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