“The view every Saturday that we have of a more perfect world, a world that has got a pattern and is finite. And that’s Alex – the Golden Vision.”
When you talk of British football legends, Alex Young stands alongside George Best, Kenny Dalglish, Bobby Charlton and anyone else.
The above line came from former Northern Ireland midfielder Danny Blanchflower and is a fitting tribute to the former Hearts and Everton forward, who has passed away at the age of 80.
Young was idolised in Edinburgh as a key member of Hearts’ iconic late-1950s team, still the greatest in Tynecastle history. His genius also touched Merseyside during eight years with Everton. He won two league titles at Hearts, in 1958 and 1960, plus the 1956 Scottish Cup and 1959 League Cup. After a £40,000 transfer to Goodison Park in 1960, he helped Everton to the 1963 English league title and 1966 FA Cup.
The forward’s death yesterday hit hard in his local community. Loanhead has lost its greatest sporting export, but his achievements can never be forgotten. “I played for Loanhead Mayflower [the town’s old junior club] and that’s where wee Youngy came from. He’s a Loanhead lad,” said Pilmar Smith, the former Hearts director.
“We used to train at the local pitch on a Tuesday and Thursday night and there was always a huge crowd of youngsters playing on the park. There was always this wee blond laddie who always had the ba’. That was Youngy.
“He used to tell people I was an outside-right when he was a laddie and he said I was his favourite player, but I was never in the same league as Alex. He was a great player. He wasn’t big, he wasn’t quick, but he was held in huge esteem. He became a massive star down in England.”
Young joined Hearts from the junior club Newtongrange Star in 1955 at the age of 18. He was still working in the local colliery at the time but quickly established himself as a prodigious footballer with a delicate touch and a graceful style. “He did well at Hearts and, to start off with, he played outside-right because, in those days, Willie Bauld was The King,” recalled Smith.
“Alex eventually went to Everton and did so well down there. Bill Shankly used to stop his car in the street to talk to Alex Young, he was that kind of guy. You couldn’t help admire him.
“They made a documentary about him, The Golden Vision, and it was all about Alex Young. Dixie Deans, Tommy Lawton and Alex are the three legends Everton fans rave about. Alex used to tell me he was at functions down there and young lads would come up and ask for his autograph. He’d say: ‘You never saw me play.’ And they’d reply: ‘My grandad told me about you’.”
Young made his name as a traditional centre-forward at Everton, a No.9. His transfer fee was considered a huge risk by many at the time and, initially, he took time to adapt to life in England. However, in season 1962/63, Young’s striking partnership with Roy Vernon blossomed and propelled Everton to the league title.
He scored 87 times in 271 memorable appearances at Goodison and later moved on to the Northern Irish club Glentoran. He was forced to end his career prematurely in 1969 at the age of 32 due to a knee injury whilst at Stockport County.
It should be regarded as something of a tragedy that he won only eight Scotland international caps.
However, he was revered in both Scotland and England as a great of the 1950s and 1960s era. He also had a gentle, human touch to him and never forgot those he had grown up with in Midlothian.
“There was a crowd of us who used to go out for lunch. Dave Mackay, Alex Young, Jimmy Murray, Bobby Wishart, myself, Jimmy Millar. We’d all played juvenile football together,” said Smith. “Youngy was a wee bit younger than us but we all got on great. His son, Jason, played for Hearts too.
“Youngy had great hopes for him. I remember him telling me that Jason was a better player than him at the same age, but he wasn’t. I knew Alex at that age and he was just a natural.”
Smith has watched every Hearts hero since the 1950s but maintains that only a select few had the ability to be named in the same sentence as Young. “Alex just had such a high standard when he played. He played in the 1956 Scottish Cup final for Hearts. He was outside-right that day - Young, Conn, Bauld, Wardhaugh and Crawford was the forward line. He also played in the team that won the league. He was always a class player. He didn’t have bad games.
“That’s the merit of real good players. You don’t look back at one or two good games, you look back at players who played well all the time. These are the great players. ‘Great’ is a word that’s loosely used now. It applies to Maradona and Beckenbauer, but in Britain, Alex was a superstar.”
Young was an inaugural inductee to Everton’s Hall of Fame in 2000.
ALEX YOUNG: THE GOLDEN VISION
• Born February 3, 1937 in Loanhead.
• Signs for Hearts in 1955 from Newtongrange Star.
• Wins Scottish Cup in 1956 aged 19 as Hearts beat Celtic 3-1 in the final.
• Wins Scottish League championship in 1957–58, scoring 20 goals. Two seasons later, scores 23 goals as Hearts win the title again. Also helps Tynecastle club win the League Cup that season.
• Joins Everton in 1960 for £40,000. Wins the league championship in season 1962-63, scoring 22 goals in 42 games. Wins the FA Cup in 1966. Scores 87 goals in 273 appearances for the Toffees from 1960-68.
• Ends career with stints at Glentoran and Stockport.
• Won eight Scotland caps.
• Awarded testimonial by Everton in August 2001 with more than 20,000 attending Goodison Park.