Alex Govan

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Alex Govan
AlexGovan in 2008.jpg
Govan in December 2008
Personal information
Full name Alexander Govan
Date of birth (1929-06-16)16 June 1929
Place of birth Glasgow, Scotland
Date of death 10 June 2016(2016-06-10) (aged 86)
Place of death Plymouth, England
Playing position Outside left
Youth career
Bridgeton Boys Club
1944–1946 Plymouth Argyle
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1946–1953 Plymouth Argyle 110 (28)
1953–1958 Birmingham City 165 (53)
1958 Portsmouth 11 (2)
1958–1960 Plymouth Argyle 32 (8)
Total 318 (91)

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.


Alexander "Alex" Govan (16 June 1929 – 10 June 2016) was a Scottish professional footballer who played at outside left. Most of his career was spent with Plymouth Argyle (in two spells) and with Birmingham City during their most successful period in the 1950s, and he also had a short spell with Portsmouth. He is credited with being responsible for Birmingham's fans adopting Harry Lauder's song "Keep right on to the end of the road" as their anthem.

Life and career[edit]

Govan was born in Glasgow. He played football for Bridgeton Boys Club, was capped for Scotland at schoolboy level, and played one youth international match for his country, against Wales youth team in 1945.[1] He was recommended to Plymouth Argyle manager Jack Tresadern by Alec Hardie, head of the club's Scottish scouting network, who thought he would go on to represent Scotland at senior level.[2] After a successful trial, he was eventually persuaded to make the long trip south, and he signed for Argyle at the end of August 1946.[3] Govan admits there was an incentive apart from the football:

One of the directors was a builder and he took me on as an apprentice chippie – not officially, but on the books to keep me out of National Service! When I got to 18 I was eventually called up by the RAF but I would often go back to Plymouth at the weekends to play for the reserves.[4]

He scored 30 goals in 117 appearances for Plymouth, and was part of the team that won the Third Division South championship in the 1951–52 season.

When Birmingham City showed an interest in signing Govan, he was reluctant to move away from the Plymouth area, as his wife was a local girl, but when manager Bob Brocklebank promised them a house, the deal went ahead.[4] Govan signed for Birmingham in June 1953 for a fee of £6,500.[5] He scored on his debut and finished that season with eight goals.[6] With the addition of the prolific Eddy Brown to regular top scorer Peter Murphy, a former league-winner with Tottenham Hotspur, combined with the creativity of Govan, fellow Plymouth winger Gordon Astall and Welsh international Noel Kinsey who had all joined the club the previous year, the Birmingham forward line outclassed any other in the Second Division. All five reached double figures as the club won the 1954-55 championship.[7]

Though unable to score at such a rate in the top flight, the club still achieved its highest ever league finish of sixth place.[8] They also reached the 1956 FA Cup Final, and it was during that season's FA Cup campaign that Govan was responsible for Harry Lauder's song "Keep right on to the end of the road"[9] being adopted (and adapted)[10] as the anthem of the Birmingham City fans. There is no definitive explanation of how this happened. One version has him heard singing it on the coach on the way to the quarter-final against Arsenal;

Govan was the man who first sang the Blues anthem Keep Right on to the End of the Road on the way to Birmingham's 1956 FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal. The song spread quickly among the players — and then to the fans.[11]

another has him revealing in a radio interview that it was his favourite song.

In the build-up to the 1956 FA Cup semi-final with Sunderland I was interviewed by the press and happened to let slip that my favourite song was Harry Lauder's old music hall number 'Keep Right on to the End of the Road'. I thought no more about it, but when the third goal went in at Hillsborough the Blues fans all started singing it. It was the proudest moment of my life.[12]

Either way, by the time the football correspondent of the Times came to write his Cup Final preview, the song was well enough established for him to describe how

the Birmingham clans swept their side along to Wembley – the first side ever to reach a final without once playing at home – on the wings of the song Keep right on to the end of the road.[13]

The strengths of Govan's game were hard work, pace on the wing and exceptional goalscoring ability. In April 1956, his ability was recognised by the national selectors when he received his only call-up to the full Scotland squad for a match against Austria. Unfortunately for him the international match was due to be played only three days before the Cup Final, so Birmingham refused to release him.[1] The following season he was Birmingham's leading scorer with 30 goals in all competitions.[14] This was a remarkable tally, especially for a winger, and included no fewer than five hat-tricks:

I scored five hat-tricks that year, including three in ten days – I couldn't believe it myself! The sad thing is that in those days you didn't get to keep the match ball as it was dubbined up and used again the next week![4]

He also took a productive part in Birmingham's first foray into European competition in the 1955–58 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, scoring both goals to beat Inter Milan 2–1 and thereby top the qualifying group.[15]

By 1958 his pace was beginning to flag.[16] Winger Harry Hooper came in from Wolverhampton Wanderers for a £20,000 fee.[17] In March 1958 Govan was transferred to Portsmouth but failed to settle; six months later he returned to his first club Plymouth Argyle. He contributed to the club winning the Third Division championship that season[18] before retiring the following year, and settling in Plymouth.[5]

In 2012, Govan was one of seven former players elected to Birmingham City's Hall of Fame.[19]

Govan died at his Plymouth home on 10 June 2016 at the age of 86.[20]

Honours[edit]

Plymouth Argyle

Birmingham City

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Argyle Internationals". Greens on Screen. Retrieved 19 December 2007. 
  2. ^ "Soccer football. New players signed for Plymouth Argyle". Western Morning News. Plymouth. 6 July 1946. p. 6 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  3. ^ "Amateur 'goalie' being given trial with Argyle Reserves". Western Morning News. Plymouth. 31 August 1946. p. 6 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  4. ^ a b c "Alex Govan". Birmingham City F.C. 2007. Archived from the original on 8 September 2007. Retrieved 7 September 2007. 
  5. ^ a b Matthews, Tony (1995). Birmingham City: A Complete Record. Derby: Breedon Books. p. 91. ISBN 1-85983-010-2. 
  6. ^ Matthews, Complete Record, p. 189.
  7. ^ Matthews, Complete Record, p. 190.
  8. ^ "Birmingham City". Football Club History Database. Richard Rundle. Archived from the original on 5 September 2007. Retrieved 13 September 2007. 
  9. ^ Dillon, William & Lauder, Harry. "The End of the Road". A Celebration of Sir Harry Lauder "Laird of the Music Hall". Archived from the original on 19 September 2007. Retrieved 13 September 2007. 
  10. ^ "Keep Right On". Birmingham City Swedish Supporters Club. Archived from the original on 6 January 2008. Retrieved 13 September 2007. 
  11. ^ Boyden, Malcolm (19 April 2003). "Ross finds ways to turn airwaves blue". The Times. London. Archived from the original on 23 May 2011. Retrieved 13 September 2007. 
  12. ^ Lewis, Peter, ed. (2000). Keeping right on since 1875 The Official History of Birmingham City Football Club. Lytham: Arrow. p. 63. ISBN 1-900722-12-7. 
  13. ^ "Every Prospect Of A Good Final". The Times. London. 5 May 1956. p. 4. 
  14. ^ Matthews, Complete Record, p. 192.
  15. ^ Ross, James (27 June 2007). "Inter-Cities Fairs Cup 1955–58". Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF). Archived from the original on 1 September 2007. Retrieved 7 September 2007. 
  16. ^ Matthews, Tony (2000). The Encyclopedia of Birmingham City Football Club 1875–2000. Cradley Heath: Britespot. p. 99. ISBN 0-9539288-0-2. 
  17. ^ Matthews, Complete Record, p. 98.
  18. ^ "Plymouth Argyle". Football Club History Database. Richard Rundle. Archived from the original on 5 September 2007. Retrieved 13 September 2007. 
  19. ^ "The magnificent seven". Birmingham City F.C. 9 March 2012. Archived from the original on 6 December 2015. Retrieved 19 August 2015. 
  20. ^ "RIP Alex Govan – 1929–2016". Birmingham City F.C. 10 June 2016. Retrieved 10 June 2016. 

External links[edit]

  • Profile at Post War English & Scottish Football League A–Z Player's Database