They say loss, like love, has an eloquence of its own. So Bill Kenwright, the renowned theatre impresario and Everton chairman, was always going to excel at articulating his feelings at such a sad time at Goodison Park.
An expressive man at the best of times, Kenwright name-checked such disparate talents as Elvis Presley, Vaslav Nijinksy and Lionel Messi when seeking to describe how it felt to watch Alex Young, the Hearts and Everton legend who has died this week aged 80.
“I can’t tell you how many texts I’ve got from people saying ‘I am crying, I am in tears’,” reported Kenwright, 71. “I mean seriously. And these are not the kinds of guys who are emotional cripples like me. These are people who go: ‘oh no, not Alex. Not The Vision. Not the Golden Vision’.
“But it’s the one inevitable in life. And he will be revered forever and a day whenever Everton is talked about. You can’t get better than that.
“You don’t have to make up stories, you don’t have to bolster the legend. You just say what he was. He was totally unique.
“Roy Vernon, who played alongside him, was my other hero. Dave Hickson, the Cannonball Kid, was an idol, Bally (Alan Ball) too. But, as a pure footballer, Alex Young was the Nijinsky of footballers. He shimmied, he strode, he slid and he glided. And yet he was so humble.
“From my position in the boys’ pen to my position in the directors’ box, I have never seen anything like him – and I never will.
“If I am not mistaken, one of his first games was at Leeds, when there were not many there. It was atrocious weather. It would be cancelled now. He never looked like a footballer with his golden locks, but when he came on – my goodness, how can he play on this mud bath? And it was Leeds, no shrinking violets. But he ran rings round them. ‘What are we watching here?’ ”
Although Young had already made his name at Hearts, where he won two Scottish League titles among other honours, it was not as if Everton fans knew what to expect. “Communications were not the same as now,” said Kenwright, when contacted by The Scotsman yesterday.
It was promising that he hailed from Scotland, however, where Everton had already had success when signing players. Tommy Ring, the Clyde legend, signed in January 1960, ten months before Young and George Thomson, a double transfer from Hearts.
According to Kenwright, Thomson “looked like a Hollywood star”. But Young became the leading man. “I am looking now at the pictures in my office,” he said. “I have Elvis Presley, Eric Sykes – my surrogate dad, who I loved to bits. Tommy Steele, my idol since 1956. There are certain people… they are not parts of your life, they are your life. Here’s a photo of Alex, shaking hands with Princess Margaret before the 1966 FA Cup final, bowing down with Alex Scott, another Scot, and on the other side of him is Mike Trebilcock, who scored twice that afternoon (v Sheffield Wednesday).”
Kenwright moves on to another photograph in this hall of fame – Dixie Dean, the great Goodison goalscorer of the 1920s and ’30s.
“They are the two, I think,” he says. “Alex and Dixie. They are the two. But for Evertonians of my generation it would be The Vision. The generation before that, it’s Dixie.”
It’s a measure of the esteem in which Young was and is held at Goodison that when he signed for Stockport County in 1968 after a short spell with Glentoran, hundreds of Evertonians would consult their fixtures lists and head to cheer him on.
Stockport, like Glentoran, seemed an unlikely setting for someone whose elegant style was so renowned.
But Young’s relationship with Everton manager Harry Catterick had deteriorated. The writing was already on the wall when he was left out of the Everton FA Cup final side of 1968. The subsequent defeat by West Bromwich Albion – Young, originally meant to be substitute, was left out completely by Catterick– hardly helped make his star dim any less brightly.
So Kenwright, then just a fan and budding actor, called up his friend, Mike Pender of The Searchers, the 1960s’ Liverpool beat band. Together they went to watch Young’s return to English football on a Friday night, when Stockport used to play their home games.
“About 500 of us went in total, nothing organised,” he recalled. “We just went to Stockport County on a freezing cold Friday night just to worship. That’s what it was like.
We just wanted to worship.”
“I was trying to describe him today and the nearest thing I could say was you know when Messi is going for goal and you think how does that ball stick to his feet? Well, Alex would be like that. But in the middle of a mire!”
“Sorry to Hearts for taking him off you… but you had him! Hearts fans of my age will know what I am talking about. It is impossible to say what he was like unless you saw him.”