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The Golden Vision

“What’s your Daddy do?
Plays football.
Who for?
Is he good?
What’s his name
Alex Young”

Golden Vision. BBC Play for Today. 1968

Like most Everton fans, I was devastated to hear the sad news of the death of The Golden Vision himself, Alex Young. He had just recently celebrated his eightieth birthday.

Most clubs have their legends who are no longer with us. Wolves have Billy Wright, Tottenham have Danny Blanchflower, Manchester United have Duncan Edwards, West Ham have Bobby Moore, Stoke have Stanley Matthews. Many of them displayed their skills at a time when there was not wall to wall coverage of football on the television.

However, Alex Young was unique. At a time when there were only three channels to watch, he had a play broadcast on BBC 1 which was dedicated to him and his adoring army of Everton fans. That play was called the Golden Vision. It was directed by a young Oxford graduate called Ken Loach and part of the team writing the script was the ITV newscaster Gordon Honeycombe. As it was billed at the time, “The story of an Everton family who put Everton before Everything.” Evertonians love of Alex Young is a level of hero worship that no Everton player of recent times has come close to emulating. His mastery of the football, his breath-taking silky footwork, his svelte movements into the opposition box, his blond curly hair earned him the nickname, The Golden Vision.

Last Easter, I was with some friends undertaking a guided tour of Hampden Park, alongside a couple of Hearts fans in their twenties. Whilst exchanging the normal football banter, I cautiously asked them. “There is a very famous Everton player who played for Hearts before we signed him in the Sixties. But I guess you wouldn’t know him”. As the young man gave me a knowing look, his girlfriend replied with some feeling. “Yes, Alex Young. He is a legend at Hearts as well!”. It was so pleasing to see so many Hearts fans taking to social media as well to express regret at the passing of one of their own. The Maroon half of Edinburgh and the Blue half of Merseyside are united in their mourning for a true football genius, who never quite received the national recognition he merited.

Alex Young was born in Loanhead, Midlothian in Scotland in 1937. Like many young footballers, at that time, a career as a coalminer was beckoning. At the age of 16, he signed for Hearts, making his debut when he was 18. In five seasons of top flight Scottish football, he scored an incredible 71 goals in 155 appearances, helping Hearts to win the title in 1957/58 and again in 1959/1960. Hearts have never won the title since. And during this time, he was never once picked to play for Scotland!

A host of English clubs were desperate to sign Young. Surprisingly, it was Preston North End who led the way. At the time, they were managed by the ex- Everton player and manager Cliff Britton. Hearts accepted the bid and Alex Young agreed personal terms. However, for some strange reason, the Preston board would not sanction the signing on fee. For the sake of £1000, a player who would have become a club legend was lost. Preston were relegated from the top division at the end of that season. They have never been back since.

Everton, with Chairman John Moores’ financial backing swooped. A fee of £55,000 was paid which included full back George Thompson. Young was valued at £42,000, which at the time was a record fee for a player coming from Scotland. It was one of the best investments Everton have ever made. The Everton manager at the time was Johnny Carey. His failure to get his expensively assembled squad to deliver some silverware to a club which had not won a trophy since 1939 , led to his replacement by Harry Catterick, a manager who knew how to get the best from his players. Ironically enough, Young was worried that he was not the type of forward Catterick wanted to lead the attack and feared that he was looking for a more muscular forward.

The first time I saw Alex Young play was in a game at Blackburn on November 17th 1962.In an atrocious snowy blizzard, Everton lost 3-2 and dropped to second place. Yet, even at such a young age, I was impressed by the skill displayed by Alex Young. On the train back home, my Dad kept singing his praises. However, mine and Young’s season was only going to get better. Everton mounted their strongest challenge in years to win the title. Their main rivals were Tottenham. They were neck and neck throughout the season.

On April 20th 1963, Everton were to play Tottenham at Goodison Park in what would effectively be the title decider. People were desperate to get their hands on tickets. In the Liverpool Echo, stories emerged of people allegedly paying an incredible £100 for a ticket. One supporter even swapped his Ford Anglia for a ticket! I was one of the lucky ones, my Dad somehow got me a ticket! They had Jimmy Greaves, we had the Golden Vision. In front of an incredible crowd of 67,650 with thousands milling around the ground outside, Everton’s talisman Alex Young delivered, scoring the goal with a tremendous trademark header that won the match, his twenty second league goal of the campaign. Legend has it the roar of the crowd when the goal hit the back of the net, could be heard all over the city. The legend of the Golden Vision was created as Everton celebrated their first title in twenty four years.

The 1962/63 season was undoubtedly Young’s most effective for Everton as he forged a dynamic partnership with Roy Vernon. He even scored a brilliant glancing header against his cousin, Adam Blacklaw, the Burnley keeper in another important three one win against one of their closest rivals. Over the next three seasons, the Young and Vernon partnership yielded 116 league goals. Even at the height of his success with Everton, he still lived in a very average modern semi- detached house in Maghull, on the outskirts of Liverpool. Fans would often make special bus trips to see his home. I remember the feeling of intense envy I had when I found out that one of my classmates had baby sat for him! I think he still dines out on that story today.

However, being the fan’s favourite is no guarantee of being the manager’s favourite as many have found out to their cost. Young also suffered throughout his career with appalling blisters on his feet and this caused him to miss a number of games. Young had always feared that Catterick wanted Everton to play with a more traditional type of centre forward and his fears were realised when he bought the Blackburn forward Fred Pickering in March 1964.To the fan’s outrage, Young only played in two of the final league games of the season as Everton failed to retain the title. However, Young playing for the reserves boosted their attendance considerably as I and many others went to watch him play and attendances of up to 10,000 were not unusual. Young requested a transfer then changed his mind. Incredibly enough the only team to express an interest in signing him were Third division Brentford!

By the 1965/66 season Everton, suffering from the injustice of losing Tony Kay to a life-long FA ban were a club in transition. Catterick had often used the shock tactic of dropping an established first team player as a way to drive them to higher levels of performance. So it came to pass that on January 15th 1966, Catterick made the sensational decision to drop Alex Young from the team to play at Blackpool, in favour of the sixteen year old forward Joe Royle. As Young turned out for the reserves, Everton slumped to a 2-0 defeat in front of a crowd of 14,588, many of them increasingly irate Evertonians. At the end of the game, a crowd of fans waited outside the changing rooms for Catterick to appear. As he made his way towards the coach, he was jostled and pushed by angry supporters and knocked to the ground. Undoubtedly, Catterick was shocked by the fans reaction. After spending the remainder of the weekend recuperating at home, he returned to Everton on Monday allegedly with badly bruised legs and ankles according to the tabloids.

The defeat, with Everton placed eleventh in the table, placed Catterick’s job in jeopardy. He tried to reconcile with the fans by saying to the press about the fan’s reaction. “They had great loyalty to Alex Young and they were displaying that.” Everton’s only hope of a trophy was the FA Cup. The following Saturday, Everton were at home to Sunderland in the Third Round of the Cup. Young was back in the team and scored and Everton’s journey to Wembley was about to take off. Everton reached the final and Young played his part in a thrilling game as Everton game back from two goals down to Sheffield Wednesday to win three – two. Young had a perfectly good goal disallowed for offside and a stonewall penalty denied when he was hauled to the ground by the Owl’s keeper Ron Springett.

Alex Young seemed rejuvenated by the Cup victory and played thirty five league games in the 1966/67 season, his highest since 1962/63, scoring eight goals and he was recalled to play for Scotland after a five year gap. I am still amazed that he was only ever selected to play for Scotland eight times. He was restored to his favourite position in the number nine shirt, as Pickering was consigned to the reserves. Some of his performances that season were his best in an Everton shirt, especially in the four- one victory over Sunderland.

However, the following campaign saw Young only make twenty four appearances as Catterick’s next league title winning side was starting to take shape. However, he did play a leading role in ensuring that Everton progressed to another cup final. Young made his last appearance at Goodison Park scoring in a two- nil Fifth Round Cup win over Tranmere on the 9th of March 1968. His final appearance in the Royal Blue shirt was at West Ham on the 11th of May. When he was not picked to play in the cup final against West Brom, he knew his Everton career was over.

Everyone who ever met Alex Young was impressed by the humility of the man. He was genuinely overcome by the high esteem in which he was held by all Blues. He was incredibly self -critical at times and often after a man of the match performance would feel he could have contributed more. Often, as I went to Anfield for the Derby match, I could hear Reds asking, “Is the Golden Vision playing today?”. They hoped the answer was No.

I know it will never happen, but I do think that the Golden Vision should be shown again this weekend as a tribute to the great man. Perhaps instead of Match of the Day ? Danny Murphy or Alex Young? No contest.

I was privileged to watch Alex Young play in his pomp. The memories never fade away. The joy he brought to thousands of Evertonians who watched him every Saturday cannot be put into words. He was a goalscorer, but not your traditional burly centre forward. He cherished the ball and played passes no one else could see. He oozed calmness, class, elegance and style. He glided across the pitch like an ice skater. His dribbling skills and close control were masterful. He had an aura about him.

He was the Golden Vision.

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