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Author Topic: Meeting Braveheart  (Read 390 times)

Online dave.woodhall

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Meeting Braveheart
« on: May 08, 2020, 11:27:32 PM »
From no. 175 - August 2012.

Football is all about opinions, especially when discussing different players. As a lifelong Villa supporter of forty plus years, I have had the privilege of watching many great players. Just to name a few there’s been Gerry Hitchens, Brian Little, Andy Gray, Paul McGrath and Dwight Yorke. But there's only one who stands out for me, and that's a player called Alex Cropley.

Some of you of a certain generation will remember Alex’s sublime skills and ball-winning qualities. His was a career cut short by many injuries such as two broken legs, a broken ankle and two cartilage operations. One of his broken legs happened during a local derby with West Brom and most of those who were there will remember hearing the bone crack. Although we won that game 3-0 the final score was insignificant for Villa supporters because we knew he would never be the same player again. Such was the bravery of the man - when he went for a tackle he went in with no holds barred at the risk of his own career. He would die for the shirt; what a man to have in your trench.

My fiancée and I recently spent a few days in Edinburgh and I’d heard that Alex was now a black cab driver back in his home city. We made extensive inquiries and as a result of Googling and calling up various of his relatives and friends, managed to track the great man down via a local cab company. It was a relief to find out that a) he was nearby and in work and b) in good health as we had discovered that he had suffered a mild stroke about a year ago.

The cab company contacted him on our behalf as we had expressed our desire to meet him and pay for his time so that we could chat about the old days and hopefully he would sign some memorabilia. Imagine my surprise when the phone rang ten minutes later and the voice on the other end said “This is Alex Cropley speaking.”

I was so excited I could hardly get my words out Once I’d convinced myself that it really was Alex on the line I was like a stammering kid. I couldn't believe I was speaking with my all-time hero! I told him that I was such a huge fan and we arranged for him to pick us up in his cab outside Edinburgh's Waverley train station. I couldn't wait to meet him.

As we approached the meeting place I was a little apprehensive about meeting him face to face; maybe it would be a let-down, Sometimes when you have great expectations, things don't always live up to them but I needn't have worried. Alex was waiting for us with a lovely smile on his face and his first words were “It's nice to meet you both,” which broke the ice. We shook hands, then I thought sod this, I'm going to give him a hug. After all, it's not every day you meet your hero in real life. I'm not quite sure if he appreciated the gesture though.

Still smiling, he told us to get into the cab and took us to a large department store nearby, where we met his wife who worked there.
On the way there, I couldn't help but ponder how such a great player was driving a taxi when the vast majority of Premier League players today who are making fortunes, aren't even good enough to lace his boots. He was born 25 years too late! In today's money, he'd be worth millions. Anyway, we arrived at the store and met his lovely wife.

I gave Alex some memorabilia to sign, shared some more memories with him about great times at the Villa and asked all manner of questions, all the time pinching myself at the surreal experience. One of the questions was why he never played just as a playmaker and left the ball winning to lesser players? Surely this would have prolonged his career? He looked straight at me with a wry smile and a twinkle in his eye -"That's why my teammates called me ‘Studs,' for obvious reasons!"

So that means you preferred the Holte End chanting, “Five foot eight, not much weight, Alex Cropley tackles late” as opposed to “Five foot eight, not much weight, Alex Cropley’s fucking great?” That got a big laugh.

We had a great half hour and then it was time for Alex to get back to work. On the way back in the taxi, I asked him, “Did you actually realise how good you were?” His reply, “Not really, all I wanted to do was play football,” is a mark of his humility. Just to remind people, how is it possible for a player to overhead bicycle kick twenty yards, straight to a chosen player, consistently (not even Messi can do that!), ghost past opponents as if they weren't there, hit short and long passes at will and go in for crunching tackles that rarely lost the ball?

I also, of course, mentioned the 1977 League Cup final replay at Old Trafford and the famous Chris Nicholl goal. The Villa supporters were behind the goal when Chris was just about to shoot, there was a gasp of horror from most of us as Chris was about to let fly. Alex commented “If the supporters felt that way, how do you think the players felt?” He also mentioned with a little smile that he helped Chris to score the goal, because the ball came straight to him and he managed to duck, thereby unsighting the keeper.

During our conversation, the love he has for the Villa and our supporters was very evident. He said that from day one, he was made very welcome and felt like he'd definitely made the right move.

All too quickly my time was up. After all, Alex is a working man, and he took us back to the city centre. I thanked him profusely and shook his hand. He kissed my fiancée on the cheek and she promptly shouted out in the street “I've been kissed by Alex Cropley!” Then he was gone but most definitely not forgotten, ever.

I am hoping that there will one day be some kind of Hall of Fame at Villa Park because this man's name should be right up there, honoured not only for his exceptional skills but also because he paid the ultimate price and sacrificed his career for the claret and blue cause.

Brian Sigston


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