Forgotten Heroes: Alec Lindsay

Monday morning’s walk down memory lane takes us back to the 1970’s and a (converted) left back who was signed by Bill Shankly and played under Bob Paisley until 1977.

Alec Lindsay ‘“ Left Foot Maestro

As the 1960’s were coming to a close, there were signs that many of the players that had brought the glory days to Anfield were beyond their best. Bill Shankly could see that this was coming and had been quietly bringing in a few young players who could develop their talent in the reserves, and then be ready to move up to the first team when called upon. Larry Lloyd, Alun Evans, Brian Hall, John Toshack and Steve Heighway, were among the players signed during that period, and would hopefully be ready to replace Ron Yeats, Roger Hunt, Ian Callaghan, Ian St. John, and Phil Thompson as needed. Some of the new signings were able to force their way directly into the first team, but some needed time to find their form. One player from the latter group was Alec Lindsay.

It should have been a dream move for 21 year-old Alec as he was signed from his hometown club Bury in March 1969 for £67,000. He was highly rated as an England Youth International, playing as a midfielder. During his last season at Bury, he helped them to finish as runners up in the Third Division and gained promotion to the Second. His debut for Liverpool came a few months later in September 1969, and was definitely one to remember. It was the first round first leg of the Fairs Cup, with Irish side Dundalk as the victims. The half-time score was 5-0, and the Reds came out for the second half hungry for more. Lindsay took advantage after ten minutes to make it 6-0. Even more goals were to come later in an eventual 10-0 rout that was watched by a certain student teacher named Gerard Houllier, who was among the crowd on the Kop. The result, and the performance of the players, may have impressed the future Liverpool manager, but it was not enough to allow Alec Lindsay to become a regular in the side just yet. He played seven more times that season, with two of those as a substitute, while he worked on finding his form with the reserves.

Alec Lindsay was a wing-half or inside forward with Bury, and would be described today as a midfielder. For some strange reason he was put in the position of striker with the reserves, and while he managed to score a very impressive twenty two goals, he was not happy in that role. At the end of his first season he was unhappy enough to feel that he would never find a suitable place in the squad and handed in a transfer request. The request was accepted, and it looked as though his Anfield days were going to be few, when it was decided that he would be given a chance with the first team in the left back position. Gerry Byrne had retired and the position was proving difficult to fill, but it was soon taken permanently by Alec as he had finally found his form. By the end of the 1970-71 season he had played a total of thirty five senior matches and had scored two goals. The end of the season was the disappointing loss to Arsenal in the FA Cup final, but the medal as a runner up was definitely not to be his last.

The next season, 1971-72, Alec Lindsay continued to improve and increased his number of appearances to forty five. The squad of mostly youngsters was maturing rapidly and were beginning to show that the glory days for Liverpool were far from over. The season ended with Liverpool in third place, just one point behind Brian Clough’s Derby County. This was a big improvement over fifth place from the previous two seasons, and only missed out on second place on goal average. More new players had been signed, including Kevin Keegan and Peter Cormack, and it was felt that Liverpool were on the verge of returning to the highest level.

The most memorable period of Alec Lindsay’s career must undoubtedly have been over the following two seasons. Liverpool were beginning to make their mark in Europe as they steadily progressed in the UEFA Cup. They were also playing consistently in the League, and were on their way to their first Championship since 1966. Arsenal and Leeds United were continually a few points behind, but could not close the gap. The Reds clinched the title in late April with a win over Leeds, and the season ended with Liverpool three points clear of Arsenal in second place. Naturally this was worthy of celebration but there was still the UEFA Cup to play for.

The semi-final first leg was against the holders Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield. The two clubs had already met twice in the League, with one win away and one draw at home, plus twice in the League Cup with a draw at home and an away loss (Spurs went on to win the Cup over Norwich). To say that the clubs knew each other well would be putting it mildly. Twenty seven minutes into the first half, Alec Lindsay pounced on a loose ball resulting from a free kick to score the only goal of the match, with the second leg to come at White Hart Lane two weeks later. Spurs thought that they could easily overcome the one goal deficit, and hoped that Liverpool would be distracted by becoming Champions just two days before the second leg in London. Spurs took the lead early in the second half, but Liverpool cancelled that out a few minutes later. One more goal for Spurs with almost twenty minutes remaining gave them hope but Liverpool hung on to win on the away goals rule, and reach their first European final since 1966.

The two legged final ended with Liverpool winning 3-2 on aggregate, and Alec Lindsay was presented with a well deserved medal having played in all but one of the twelve legs. He also had his League Champions medal, which was equally well deserved, having played in all but five matches. When the FA Cup and League Cup matches are added in, Alec Lindsay played a total of fifty nine for the season and scored five goals.

There was no doubt in any Liverpool supporters mind that Alec Lindsay was the best left back in the country. His previous roles as a midfielder and forward gave him the confidence to push forward with the attack. He was not the fastest full back in the league, but he had a knack of knowing when to move most effectively either to cut out an opposition attack or to make an overlapping run forward to put in a cross, or take a blast himself. His left foot had a surprising amount of power behind it, which came in useful for taking penalties. He once scored twice from the spot in one game, which hadn’t been done for twenty years.

Fellow Liverpool player Brian Hall described his talent this way: ‘œOne of the best left foots I’ve ever seen. Alec was one of those players who had such a lovely sweet movement and motion when he kicked a ball with his left foot that he could kick it three quarters the length of the pitch and make it look so easy.’ Bill Shankly, as always, had a more colourful way of putting it, ‘œAlec Lindsay could peel an orange with that left foot of his.’

1973-74 began with Liverpool as defending League Champions, and returning once again to the European Cup after a seven year gap. It was not a good year in Europe as Liverpool crashed out in the second round to Red Star Belgrade, losing 2-1 in both legs. Consistency was not so easily found in the League as in the previous season, and Liverpool could not catch Leeds United who went on to win by five points over Liverpool in second place. The performances in the League Cup were nothing to cheer about either, with a fifth round defeat to Wolves. But, the FA Cup provided the best hope for a trophy, and Liverpool rolled on to the final against Newcastle. The first half was slow with few chances for either side, but when the second half began Liverpool started to take control. Six minutes into the second half, Alec Lindsay made a well timed interception following an overlapping run down the left wing, took the ball toward the penalty area, played a one-two with Keegan in the centre of the area, and fired a rocket of a shot into the net. The celebrations were short lived as the referee blew for offside, disallowing the goal. Replays of that spectacular strike later showed that the ball had in fact come from the foot of a Newcastle defender after it went through Keegan’s legs, and so should have stood. The only consolation for Alec was that it is still often described as ‘œthe greatest FA Cup goal that never was.’ Liverpool dominated the rest of the match and won 3-0. Alec Lindsay joined his team-mates in collecting his first FA Cup medal as the club won it for the second time.

1974 was also the year that Alec finally had a call-up for Joe Mercer’s England squad, in a friendly against Argentina. That was the first of only four caps (all friendlies owing to England’s failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup) that came in a spell of two weeks.

Nobody could have known during that summer that Bill Shankly was to announce his retirement before the following season began. It was widely believed that Shanks had built his second great team and would want to continue on with them. The Charity Shield match was to be Shankly’s farewell with Liverpool winning on penalties over Leeds in a match that was to be remembered for other reasons. It was also to be Alec Lindsay’s last medal with Liverpool as Bob Paisley took over the management of the club. Bob’s preference was for a mix of continental style with a touch of British grit. It’s hard to argue with the wisdom of that, but for Alec it meant that he was soon to lose his place.

Liverpool were entered into the European Cup Winners Cup for the 1974-75 season, and Alec was once again involved in a memorable night at Anfield to compare with his debut back in 1969. The opposition this time were Norwegian club Strømsgodset. Lindsay scored with a penalty after only three minutes, in an 11-0 win which set a new record for biggest ever victory. The second leg in Norway ended 1-0 for Liverpool.

Phil Neal was brought in the following month and was preferred to Alec in the left back position, pushing him down to the reserves. When Phil Neal was moved over to right back, Joey Jones became the preferred replacement on the left. Liverpool would win two more League Championships, in 1976 and 1977, but Alec did not play enough games in either season to be awarded a medal. He was named as one of five substitutes as a member of the squad for the European Cup Final in Rome ’77, but did not play. His final season at Anfield was spent mostly in the reserves, and even though he won a Championship medal with them in the Central League he decided it was time to move on and was transferred to Stoke City in the summer of 1977. His final tally for Liverpool was 248 appearances, 18 goals, and four major medals, as well as 92 appearances and 39 goals for the reserves.

One year later, Alec Lindsay could be found playing for Oakland of the North American Soccer League. When the owners moved the club to Edmonton, Canada, Alec moved to Toronto where he finished his career with the Toronto Blizzard. His retirement from football came a couple of years later when he returned to Lancashire to open a pub (Foundry Arms) in Leigh.

Keith Perkins

Alec Lindsay was voted in at No. 85 in last year’s ‘œ100 Players Who Shook The Kop’