Saturday, 24 January 2009

Alexander the ... Adequate

Millwall's trip to the KC Stadium this weekend for the FA Cup fourth round tie brings with it a return to an old haunt for striker Gary Alexander, who formed one half of a rejuvenated Hull City strikeforce after, finally, the club was rescued from oblivion and transfer funds became available. Boyhood Dreams asked ANDY DALTON to recall the pilferer of goals who had the potential to score, score and score some more...

"Oh Alexander
Lend me your sander
To shave my panda
It’s from Uganda"

Future generations of Hull City fans will wonder quite how this was allowed to develop as our terrace tribute to Gary Alexander – his only one, too. It didn't make much sense. But then the Kempton stand in which it was born often made little sense. And when Alexander was plying his trade in East Yorkshire, going to City didn’t make any sense at all.

Alexander arrived at City in 2001 from Swindon Town. He turned up at Boothferry Park with the Tigers seemingly destined to spend the rest of eternity, and possibly longer, marooned in the barren wastelands of English football's bottom division, doomed to provide endless cup final style amusement for the likes of Scunthorpe and Rochdale. With the benefit of late 2000s Premier League hindsight, his arrival was in so many ways typical of the early 2000s incarnation of Hull City.

He arrived with a heady reputation, caused tremors of excitement with a beginning of pulsating promise, and ultimately faded away in rancour and disappointment. He was, in short, Typical City.

He only spent two years at City before going back to his London origins to Leyton Orient, but they were far from poor ones. He scored 23 goals in his first season, including one hat-trick – this against Leigh RMI, as they were then, in whatever the Johnstone's Paint Trophy was called back then. Did you know they are now the fabulously named Leigh Genesis? I didn't know that until I began researching this piece, but I'm enormously glad I did.

Anyway, he also collected 12 cautions, but even more memorable than those, and the goals, was the partnership with Lawrie Dudfield. Alexander was the archetypal striker, the goal-getting powerhouse up front, with the more cerebral Dudfield playing slightly behind him. For just a short time, it was a joy to behold.

City had started that season as favourites for promotion, and as we stormed up the table it looked like we were not only going up, but going up as champions, perhaps with 120 points to our name. Dudfield and Alexander were unplayable up front, Ryan Williams and David Beresford the suppliers on the flanks, Julian Johnsson the central enforcer, Theodore Whitmore’s shimmering brilliance in midfield – how could we fail?

Fail we did. It’s what happened back then. City stumbled and fell, Brian Little was sacked, and Alexander scored just once in his final twelve appearances. This was one of the main reasons a season of glittering promise ended in the customary despair.

Looking back, we should not blame Alexander too much for 2001/2's abysmal end. He was a young man playing a long way from home, but he never recovered from his terrible run of form at the back end of the 2001/2 season. The following season brought just nine goals – and not all for City, as he moved to Leyton Orient midway through it. He had one final hurrah in a City shirt, collecting his second Boothferry Park match ball during a 4-0 crushing of Carlisle United. I wonder if he kept it.

This was one of the vanishingly small number of happy moments during Jan Molby's reign of terror. The portly Dane was swiftly ushered out of the exit door by a horrified Adam Pearson, and in came Alexander’s fellow southerner Peter Taylor.

Sadly the latter didn’t much fancy the former, whose form had now gone for good. In January 2003, shortly after City swapped the Ark for the Circle, Alexander left for Orient. He played just three times at our new home, scoring once. And that was that.

That statistics of his time here are far from poor. Thirty goals in a season and a half is much better than most of those who preceded him. But ultimately…a sense of disappointment lingers. Alexander has tools to be a player capable of scoring at Championship level, yet he has rarely threatened to make this breakthrough. He turns 30 this year and his chances would appear to be diminishing rapidly.

He’s now scoring at Millwall though, and presumably older and wiser than the player whose eventual underachievement at City owed more to mental fragility and inconsistency than skill on the field. However, for just a while, he provided a lot of fun at City at a time when fun was in desperately short supply. For that, I hope that when we entertain Millwall at the KC, we collectively remember our roots and give a respectful hand to Alexander – if only for the fact we never devised a proper song for him.

Andy Dalton is the co-editor of Amber Nectar.