Hearts and Everton hero Alex Young back in film limelight

What's your name? Jane.
Pure gold: Former  Hearts and Everton player Alex Young at home in Penicuik. Picture: Greg MacveanPure gold: Former  Hearts and Everton player Alex Young at home in Penicuik. Picture: Greg Macvean
Pure gold: Former Hearts and Everton player Alex Young at home in Penicuik. Picture: Greg Macvean

How old are you? Five.

What does your Daddy do? Plays football.

Who for? Everton.

Is he good? Yes.

What’s his name? Alex Young.

The above dialogue, followed shortly afterwards by a spine-tingling burst of the theme from Z-Cars, is how The Golden Vision, from 1968, kicks off.

Fast forward nearly 50 years, Jane, now 54, is back on camera for a new film chronicling a footballing great. Alex, her daddy, is nearby, still probably wondering what all the fuss is about.

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The modesty is what people so admire about Young. Particularly since his abundant talent and the level of adoration he commands on Merseyside as well as Edinburgh, where he won the league twice and the Scottish Cup and League Cup once apiece with Hearts.

Not bad. Enough, indeed, to mean that he features in debates identifying the Tynecastle club’s greatest ever players. But at Everton, the devotion extended towards Young, now 79, borders on the spiritual. He is considered to symbolise what fans claim is this distinguished club’s ethos, to win with style.

It must be hard to stay so humble and yet he has, even while he was in the eye of it all back in the Sixties, when Liverpool thrummed with excitement. But despite having the looks, the talent and the then much-desired Mini, Young seems to have easily avoided the trappings of fame, less intense though the spotlight was then.

“I used to think professionals were all posh people – way above what I could ever be,” he says during the course of an interview in The Golden Vision, which was broadcast just as his gilded eight-year spell with Everton was coming to an end – not that he knew it at the time.

“Maybe next week someone comes along and bingo, you are transferred,” he ponders. Within weeks of The Golden Vision being shown, as part of the BBC’s Wednesday Play series, Young learned he’d been dropped from Everton’s 1968 FA Cup final side by manager Harry Catterick. A golden era, during which the Scottish centre-forward helped Everton win the league and FA Cup, was over.

But the legend – which The Golden Vision, last broadcast eight years ago, helped stoke – only grew greater.

Now memories of the innovative docu-drama, as well as Young’s ball-on-a-string dribbling style, have been stirred by a new film, Alex The Great, which will be premiered at Goodison Park next month.

Featuring interviews with fellow Evertonian Scots Walter Smith and Duncan Ferguson, as well as Joe Royle and Sir Alex Ferguson, it is being shown for the first time on 26 November – in the Alex Young Suite course.

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Few people are lucky enough to have a lounge named after them, never mind become the subject of two films.

David France is the chief reason why the Youngs – in addition to Jane, there are sons Jason and Alex junior, and wife Nancy – were patting their hair down ahead of recording fresh interviews last week.

The story of the new film’s genesis is an epic tale itself, the seeds having been sown a quarter of a century ago.

An uber-Everton fan and successful energy industrialist in the States, France retired aged 42. It meant he had time to pursue other, more personal dreams, one of which was to finance a follow-up to The Golden Vision, which was directed by one Ken Loach – or Kenneth Loach as he is in the credits.

Liverpool-born Neville Smith wrote and then acted in the drama. France got to know him while living in London.

“I mentioned I’d love to meet my hero Alex Young,” recalled France, now 68. “He said: ‘Oh, I have his phone number’. I thought: ‘I can’t just phone him up’. But one day, thankfully, I did. I was slightly relieved his answer machine came on and I left a message.

“I explained I’d like to come and chat to him about a book. He called back and left a message – for many years I kept the tape. He said: ‘Come up any time’. I went up the following week.

“I bought a bottle of the best Scotch whisky. I don’t drink. But I drank with Alex Young. You can imagine what state I was in.”

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We are speaking in the Crown Bar in Penicuik, where France has returned for last week’s final burst of filming. He doesn’t drink, it’s true, ordering instead a strong black coffee. This particular bar is an appropriate venue since its front is coloured maroon. But the talk, in this corner at least, centres around Everton rather than Hearts.

More specifically, it centres around Alex Young, with whom France has become firm friends over the years.

While France and his wife Elizabeth were living in Canada, the Youngs came to visit. On a walk by the harbour in Victoria, a car screeched to a halt, with the barely credulous driver pleading for a photograph with his football hero. At that moment the broad appeal of a new film on Young was underlined to France.

“I have also written a biography (titled, of course, The Golden Vision) but there is no way you can capture how good he was on the page,” said France. “That turned out to be one of the challenges with the film as well, we struggled with the absence of footage.”

Sequels aren’t often as memorable as the original. Which is why France cut such a frustrated figure as he watched the first attempt, put together by a Liverpool-based production company, to bring the Alex Young story up to date. Originally scheduled for a premiere at the Epstein Theatre in Liverpool several years ago, France put the kibosh on it.

The businessman wasn’t used to failure. Still based in the States, he got in touch with Everton and told them to finish the film, at no extra cost to them, with all the proceeds going to Everton in the Community, the club’s charity. “Everton had more clout than I have,” he reasoned.

As hoped, the club unearthed more footage of Young, including a goal deemed to have all-but clinched the league title for Everton against Spurs in April 1963. Of course, it doesn’t quite live up to the memory, cherished by France for more than 50 years, of seeing it live.

“In the still photograph he looks four feet off the ground heading the ball,” says France. “I can picture the ball coming in, Alex rises above it and powers a header into the goal at the Gwladys Street end.

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“There’s also one v Manchester United in a 3-1 win in 1968 when he puts Nobby Stiles on his backside with a shimmy before sending Pat Dunne the wrong way.”

These are the skills which mean Young is still revered at Goodison. “You have to remember that Alex was popular in a town where the Beatles were so famous; there were four Beatles and everyone had their favourite,” said France. “In football terms it was one or the other, Everton or Liverpool.

“If it was Everton, it was Alex Young. So I would say he was more popular than any single Beatle. He was dropped at Blackpool to give Joe Royle his debut and the manager (Catterick) got beaten up!”

“Alex was ours,” added France. “He didn’t have national fame, up to that point. And then The Golden Vision broke it open. Of course, he left shortly afterwards. Heroes change. Alan Ball, a World Cup winner, joined. He was the opposite of Alex, arrogant and self-confident. But they got on well and bought a racehorse together.”

Before Young, at France’s behest, returned for a Hall of Fame dinner in 1999, The Golden Vision was a treasured document of a special player who seemed to have disappeared. As far as Evertonians were concerned, Young had returned to a cloud palace on top of Mount Olympus, from where they reckoned he’d sprung.

“I remember seeing him sitting in the stand, it must have been 1960,” recalled France. “He was at a game and the word was we were signing him. I mean he is blond, so he stood out among Scousers! He looked like a Greek god!”

Young returned to Midlothian, running a bar in West Linton for a spell, before starting up a soft furnishings business based near Portobello. Summing up his aversion to exposure, the company, now run by his three children, is called Richard Wylie Ltd.

Meanwhile, Loach’s The Golden Vision, because it was shown in days before video recorders, became a collector’s item. Now on YouTube for all to see, it’s a quirky claim to fame for Jane.

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“I remember filming it,” she said. “I know people don’t believe it. But I also remember getting bored by the end of the day. It took a long time before I knew my dad was actually so famous. I can look back at it now and not even feel it is me and see that it is actually quite sweet.

“It’s mind-blowing that people are still so interested, and excited. When I have been back at Goodison, people always say, ‘Wow, you must be the little girl from the film, Jane’.”

As for the title of the original film, France explains the phrase was not commonly used at the time of Young’s pomp. He was more often referred to as Alex the Great, the title of the new film.

Former Spurs player Danny Blanchflower, who later became a journalist, coined the expression during an interview. “The view every Saturday that we have of a more perfect world, a world that has got pattern and is finite.

“And that’s Alex, the Golden Vision.”