Hearts and Everton say farewell to revered player Alex Young

Alex Young training at Tynecastle in 1959. Picture: The Scotsman

Alex Young training at Tynecastle in 1959. Picture: The Scotsman

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When making his last poignant entrance, he did so to the Theme From Z-Cars. It was as Alex Young had done so many times in his pomp for Everton, including 50 years ago to the very day when emerging from the tunnel at Goodison Park for a famous FA Cup quarter-final victory over Liverpool in 1967.

He had established himself as one of the greatest players in Everton history by then, having already done the same at Hearts. Both clubs were playing at home yesterday. Both featured Young, whose funeral took place yesterday morning in Edinburgh, on the cover of their match programmes. Everton also held a minute-long ovation in his memory.

Hearts were represented by Scot Gardiner, Ann Budge, Craig Levein and John Robertson at Alex Young's funeral at Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh. Picture: Greg Macvean

Hearts were represented by Scot Gardiner, Ann Budge, Craig Levein and John Robertson at Alex Young's funeral at Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh. Picture: Greg Macvean

It felt right to say farewell to a footballer on a Saturday even if it meant some from this community were unable to attend. Hearts were hosting Hamilton Accies while around 200 miles further south Everton were entertaining West Bromwich Albion.

But this didn’t stop a group of season ticket holders at Goodison Park making their way to Warriston crematorium. As is normal on a Saturday, they wore their blue and white scarves. Far from feeling dislocated, they sensed they were in the right place.

It hadn’t been a hard decision to miss an Everton game for the first time this season. “Some things are more important,” said Bernie Grindley.

“We were here today to represent Merseyside in a way. We’ve had massive giants at Goodison Park but Alex was above them all. He was special.

Everton fans travelled north to pay their respects to Alex Young. The Goodison club was represented by their former striker Graeme Sharp. Picture: Greg Macvean

Everton fans travelled north to pay their respects to Alex Young. The Goodison club was represented by their former striker Graeme Sharp. Picture: Greg Macvean

“Everton going back to the late 1800s have always worshipped footballers,” he added. “That’s the main thing, pure footballers. This man epitomised the type.”

Grindley, 72, expressed regret that he couldn’t be at Goodison for the minute’s applause. “But my son will be there, my grandchildren will be there. I will go to Hearts instead, and pay my respects there.”

Hearts, to their credit, found some spare seats for the group at the usually crammed Tynecastle, where Young, who died last month at the age of 80, began his senior career in 1954.

Director of football Craig Levein and owner Ann Budge were among those representing Hearts yesterday morning, while his former Tynecastle team-mates Freddie Glidden and Gordon Marshall also attended. John Hurst, who played with Young at Everton in the 1960s, made the journey from Liverpool.

Not many graduate to the position of legend at two clubs in a career but Young did so courtesy of 101 goals for Hearts and 87 goals in 273 appearances for Everton. It was the elegant manner in which he played that truly marked him out, along with his blond curls.

The first hymn, Be Thou My Vision, was a reminder, not that one was needed, of Young’s nickname, one of the best ever bestowed upon a footballer: The Golden Vision. But it was as “Chalky” that we learned he was known by his family.

Starting with the upbeat choice of music played, yesterday’s service really did succeed in its stated aim to be “a celebration of the life of Alex Young”.

The service sheet included the badges of all four clubs for whom Young played, with Stockport County and Glentoran making up the quartet. It also featured the Scottish Football Association crest, to mark the (too low) number of eight caps he earned.

A tribute read out by the Hearts chaplain Andy Prime from Billy Hunter, a Scotland international teammate and one of the “Ancell Babes” at Motherwell, recalled Young’s very formative days at Broughton Star.

“Even then he glided through the mud,” wrote Hunter, one of Young’s oldest friends “He avoided tackles with a hop, skip and a jump which he would later perfect.”

Everton club ambassador Graeme Sharp, another Scot who travelled south to establish himself as a Goodison Park legend, paid tribute to Young, confirming that if you asked Everton fans of a particular generation who their favourite player was, “nine times out of ten it will be Alex Young”.

Sharp’s Hearts equivalent John Robertson stood up to address the congregation, recalling Young’s last trip to Tynecastle for a friendly with Everton appropriately enough at the start of last season. “They could both do with a bit of width,” he said of the teams. “But that lad up front for Everton looks like he could be a bit of a player.”

The striker in question was Romelu Lukaku, who has recently overtaken Duncan Ferguson as Everton’s record Premier League goalscorer.

But neither seems quite as revered as Young was – and is – at Everton. As Goodison chairman Bill Kenwright wrote in words read out yesterday by Sharp: “He is part of the fabric of this club, part of who we are.”

Despite his talent and amid so much adoration, felt most recently in November when he made a timely return to Goodison to view a screening of a film about him, Young somehow retained the modesty that helped set him apart.

Referencing his roots in the then coal heartland of Loanhead in Midlothian, Prime pointed out Young’s special quality.

“He didn’t go from humble miner to arrogant, egotistical football,” said the chaplain. “He went from humble miner to humble footballer.”