Feature by Tony Scholes
Updated Tuesday, 2nd July 2013
Date and Place of Birth
10th October 1971 - COVENTRY
Transfers to and from Burnley
from PRESTON NORTH END - 30th August 2007
released - 4th July 2011
First and Last Burnley Games
COLCHESTER UNITED (a) - 1st September 2007
replaced by John Spicer
CARDIFF CITY (h) - 7th May 2011
sub: replaced Chris Eagles
SCUNTHORPE UNITED, LUTON TOWN, PRESTON NORTH END
PRESTON NORTH END
Burnley Career Stats
|Season||League||FA Cup||League Cup||Others||Total|
Profile by Tony Scholes
Signing a player from a local rival club can often be a difficult one, and when said player has been something of a cult figure at said club and is considered to be well past his sell by date then it's a signing that is hardly likely to come off.
That's exactly what Burnley did in August 2007 when Steve Cotterill astonishingly splashed out a reported £200,000 to bring Preston North End's 35-year-old captain Graham Alexander and on a two year contract that would see him edging close to his 38th birthday.
The reason we'd even been able to get close to getting him was because Preston had decided he wasn't worth anything more than the one year he had remaining on his contract; they clearly believing Alexander's career was coming to an end.
It looked nothing more than a stop gap signing for Cotterill, for whom Alexander was a last Burnley signing, but little could anyone know that not only was the player anything but ready to hang up his boots, he was ready to enter into another chapter of his career that would prove to be its pinnacle as he went on to play Premier League football.
And so a Preston player, and one not liked by Burnley fans, was a Burnley player. Not only that, the PFA Championship right back of the 2006/07 season was now set for an astonishing move into midfield.
Alexander, best known as Grezza, had already enjoyed a long, if not ultimately, successful career, a career that had started as an apprentice at Scunthorpe. So long ago was that start that he was close to having played at Scunthorpe's Old Show Ground, but the debut came in December of their first season at Glanford Park. It took him a couple of seasons to establish himself at Scunthorpe but once he had a regular place he never lost it.
He even tried his hand at taking penalties but a miss in the shoot out of the last ever Fourth Division play off final in 1992, against Blackpool, cost his side any hope of promotion.
His form won him a move to Luton Town. He'd played against Burnley during that 1991/92 season, a hugely successful one for us, and he came up against us for Luton, in one game scoring from two free kicks in a game we won 3-2 at Kenilworth Road.
If you want to be disliked by Burnley fans then turn a move down to Turf Moor and opt to sign for Preston. Colin Murdock did it; Sean Gregan did it and there were others. Graham Alexander joined that group when he became a Preston player in March 1999 despite attempts by Stan Ternent to bring him to Burnley.
In over eight years at Deepdale, Grezza became a fans' favourite. He captained the side, initially managed by David Moyes, and led them to promotion, along with us, in 2000 and then to what seemed a never ending string of play off appearances.
I couldn't be doing with him. Almost every time we went to Deepdale the words 'Alexander' and 'penalty' seemed to be in the headlines. In truth he played 15 times against us for North End and scored five times, four of which were from penalties.
Such was his form there that he won, at the age of 30, an international call for Scotland. Coventry born he may be but he's the son of a proud Scotsman and made his debut against Nigeria in April 2002. It was the first of 40; the last ten of which he won after signing for Burnley.
He was still in the Preston team but clearly they realised that his time was just about up. They'd signed Billy Jones from Crewe to replace him and I bet they laughed all the way to the bank when the £200,000 arrived. If they did then they soon found out the laugh was on them.
After completing the signing, Cotterill said: "We are going to enjoy him. I don't think there is a question over his quality and his age. He could be one of those players who has got even better with age. We are just delighted to have him."
He then astonishingly added: "I feel we get more than a right back in Graham. He can play well in midfield and it will depend who we are playing against and where as to where he may play in the team."
Burnley had been searching for a right back for some time. We'd just been turned down by Phil Bardsley and now, having got the previous season's PFA right back in our league we were considering playing him in midfield. That led to some criticism aimed at the manager but it was in midfield that Alexander started his Burnley career at Colchester.
The truth is, Cotterill had never intended playing him at right back. He wanted him in a holding midfield role and that's where he was going to play. He reasoned that this was his best position. Early suggestions were good; Alexander played well and we got some good results, then it all went wrong when Michael Duff, playing right back, suffered a cruciate ligament injury.
That forced him to play Grezza at right back whilst he searched for a replacement, but the replacement didn't come and instead the manager left. We played the rest of the season with Grezza at right back.
He was still there at the beginning of the 2008/09 season and it all looked frightening on the opening day of the season at Sheffield Wednesday. However, he was moved into the midfield area eventually and played most of the games there that season.
That's the season Grezza recently said was his most memorable. We played 61 games; he started every single one of them and was substituted only twice. He was outstanding throughout the season. He was very much one of the key players in a season that saw Burnley promoted to the Premier League.
Grezza was, I'm told, the most emotional player in the dressing room after the game, shedding tears apparently just as much as I'd done in the stands. For a player who had come so close so often, this must have been a very special moment for him.
Graham Alexander was now a Premier League player but the two moments I'll remember most from that season were his first Burnley penalty and a heartbreaking defeat. That penalty came at Nottingham Forest and I just happened to have a seat right behind that goal.
Forest goalkeeper Paul Smith was doing all he could to delay things but Grezza, who'd scored our first goal that day, just stood over the ball looking down and not giving the goalkeeper any eye contact whatsoever. You just knew he wasn't going to miss it.
The other occasion? Those television pictures of him immediately after the Spurs Carling Cup defeat. If anyone ever needed proof that it meant just as much to a player as it did to the fans, this was it.
The 2009/10 season saw him reach that pinnacle of playing Premier League football and often captaining the side in the absence of the injured Steven Caldwell. But Burnley were relegated at the end of that season and for Grezza it was a last season as first choice.
By then, Brian Laws was the manager and he signed a new two year deal in the summer of 2010. He was always involved but on some occasions from the bench. Laws was sacked in December and Eddie Howe's arrival as manager a month later signalled the end for Grezza.
He didn't start a game for Howe and made occasional, very late, substitute appearances to get him to the milestone of having played 1,000 senior games and in doing so became on the second outfield player to achieve it in English football. I'm sure he'd have preferred to do it as a first team regular but it was not to be.
There was speculation in the summer when he was linked with the vacant manager's jobs at Morecambe and Bury. Neither happened and it appeared he'd remain at Burnley as player and potentially as a coach.
But, on 4th July 2011, with no coaching role of note on offer and him not being needed as a player, his contract was terminated by mutual consent.
Grezza was no more as far as Burnley Football Club were concerned but was it the right move by Steve Cotterill to bring him to Burnley almost four years earlier, despite his appeal at Preston?
Too right it was. Grezza became every bit as much a fans' favourite at Burnley as he'd been at Preston. He loved it too and referred to Turf Moor as a 'Special place'.
Grezza's gone and he's left owing us absolutely nothing. We owe him a hell of lot. It's been an absolute privilege to have had him as a Burnley player for those four years.
He signed for Preston just ahead of the 2010/11 season, returning to the club where he'd enjoyed over eight years as a player before becoming a Claret. He lost the knack of scoring from the penalty spot, missing a number for North End, but off the field, on 14th December 2011 he stepped up alongside David Unsworth to manage the side on a temporary basis following the sacking of Phil Brown. Following the appointment of Graham Westley as the new manager, Alexander continued to work on the coaching side, working with the players out of the first team picture.
In April 2012 he was the recipient of the PFA Merit Award, presented by the PFA Chairman and his former Burnley team mate Clarke Carlisle. In the same week he confirmed that he was finally hanging up his boots and looking forward to moving into a permanent coaching role at Preston.
Graham Alexander was appointed as Preston's Head of Youth Development on 20th June 2012. He held that role, which doubled up as youth team coach, until 6th December 2012 when he left Preston for a second time to take his first managerial role at Fleetwood, replacing Micky Mellon who had been sacked five days earlier.