Obituary: Alex Young; Hearts, Everton and Scotland legend
Alex Young, who has died at 80 was a footballer of exquisite talent and ability. He had that rare ability to unite fans of two otherwise deadly foes in a single city in appreciation of his skill. Even while he was helping tear Hibs apart in the maroon of Hearts, there were Hibbies who could applaud his talent – the same thing happened when he took the High Road south, to Everton.
Young was the son of a miner, he had briefly been an NCB apprentice, before his football talent took him away from the coal face.
His footballing gifts first surfaced with Broughton Star then Musselburgh Union, but, it was with Newtongrange Star, which was then a sort of Outward Bound finishing school for young Tynecastle talent, that this slight, angelic-faced 17-year-old really showed he had what it took to make it in the game. Once he got to Gorgie – he was signed by Tommy Walker on 22 September, 1954 – it took him less than a year to get into the first team. His debut came, on 27 August, 1955, as stand-in centre forward for Willie Bauld, against Partick Thistle in a League Cup group game at Tynecastle. Young was involved in the move from which Johnny Urquhart opened the scoring for Hearts, before, having survived a few hefty and not always legal challenges from Jimmy Davidson, he scored the winner in the 79th minute.
By the end of that season, he had won his first medal, as the youngest player in the Hearts team which beat Celtic 3-1, in front of a 132,000-plus Hampden crowd to bring the Scottish Cup back to Edinburgh for the first time in 50-years.
That season was the last full one to see the “Terrible Trio” of Alfie Conn, “King” Willie Bauld and Jimmy Wardhaugh wear the numbers eight, nine and ten jerseys, but, so-keen was manager Walker to get his teenaged prodigy into the XI he switched him to outside right.
Alfie Conn departed for Raith Rovers and Young moved inside, eventually inheriting Bauld’s number nine shirt as Hearts’ Golden Era rolled on. He would collect another Hampden medal right at the end of his Tynecastle term, in the 1959-60 League Cup Final, on 24 October 1959 – in which he scored the winner in a 2-1 win over Third Lanark.
In between there were League Championship medals in 1957-58.Young played 243 games for Hearts, scoring 158 goals, a terrific return for a player who was as much about creating as taking chances.
Young would only win eight Scotland caps, scoring five goals and this lowly number of appearances for a man of such prodigious talent has long puzzled football historians. However, the Scotland team back then was chosen by the SFA selectors, rather than the manager.
He went to Goodison Park in November, 1960, signed by the great Irish player and manager Johnny Carey for £40,00. He was accompanied south by fellow Jambo, full-back George Thomson, who initially adapated better to English football. However, Young quickly gelled with Welshman Roy Vernon in the Toffees midfield and their partnership was a key component of Everton’s League Championship win in season 1962-63, the club’s first title since before World War II. He would also play a major role in Everton’s FA Cup win in 1966, their first since “Dixie” Dean had led them to glory 33 years previously.
More importantly, the Everton fans took him to their hearts. He was known as “The Golden Vision” for his ability to see a pass and then make it. Indeed, that nickname was, in 1968, chosen as the title for a drama-documentary which a young Ken Loach directed for the BBC’s Play for Today series, with Young and his family playing themselves. The nickname was coined by the great Northern Ireland captain-turned-football writer Danny Blanchflower, who wrote: “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”.
By 1968, however, his Everton days were drawing to a close. Injuries were taking their toll and Young was sold to Irish League club Glentoran for £10,000.
However, his time in Northern Ireland, including a spell as player-manager, was short, as The Troubles began and he returned to play-out his career with Stockport County, before persistent injury forced him to hang up his boots.
Young, and wife Nancy, whom he had married in 1957, returned to Scotland, to open a pub in West Linton. This was a short-lived venture, however, and, after a spell of unemployment, the Youngs bought-into the Edinburgh-based upholstery firm of Richard Wylie Ltd. Today it is still run by the Young family.
Alex and Nancy had three children, Jane, Alex Junr and Jason, who followed his father into football with Hearts, Meadowbank Thistle and Livingston among his clubs. They, his grand-children and great-grand-children survive him. Alex was heavily involved in the family firm before illness intervened in his later years. He overcame a stroke and continued to take an interest in the firm, and in football right to the end of his life.
In 1999 he was named as one of the 100 Legends of the 20th Century by the English Football League. An Edinburgh icon as one of the biggest stars of Hearts’ golden era of the 1950s, he is similarly loved in Liverpool.
Alex Young is right up there among the biggest names and most-influential Scots to have strutted their stuff on Merseyside.