Friday, 10 December 2010
215 Alex Russell
Position : Midfield (also played at right back)
Played : 1994-95 to 1997-98
Appearances : 101
Goals : 14
Alex nearly qualified as the first player we've come across who is still playing League football having played his last game for Exeter in Februrary. He was signed in the summer of 1994 from Burscough for £4,000, remarkably the only transfer fee in his long career. Alex had started out as a schoolboy on Liverpool's books but had drifted into non-league with Morecambe before Burscough where he presumably caught Sutton's eye while the Dale boss loooking at Martindale and Formby the previous season.
Alex wasn't blooded until late September but immediately caught the eye with his poise on the ball and eye for a pass. After a half away at Scarborough he got his big chance in an Auto-Windscreen game away at Blackpool where he and Jason Peake ran the show in midfield. Unfortunately the following League game at home to Doncaster Sutton's nerve failed and he replaced him with Shaun Reid after 56 minutes; it's one of the great might have beens in our history if Sutton had let the partnership continue. Unfortunately for Alex, Mick Docherty seemed to have taken a dislike to him and the signings of John Deary and Dean Martin pushed him well down the pecking order. At the start of the next season Alex had to cover for Andy Thackeray at right back (itself a bit of an insult as Martin had greater experience in that position but kept the midfield slot Alex coveted). Nevertheless while not being a naturally defensive player, Alex acquitted himself well and was a key player in our good start to the season. Docherty didn't seem to think so and packed him off to Glenavon for a month as soon as Thackeray recovered. However he was recalled to the same position before Christmas and did enough to at least convince Docherty to give him another contract.
Alex then bucked the general trend by actually doing better under Graham Barrow. While Barrow rarely played him in a central midfield position (in answering a question from Mr P on this point he said he might do later in the season which he never actually explained) he was a regular in the side either wide on the right or playing just behind a lone frontman. While both these positions exposed his lack of pace (his major Achilles heel) they did allow him to start scoring and he finished the 1996-97 season with 9. The following year he was clearly our best player in a really dismal season scoring 5 in 30 games.
It was obvious that Alex was going to move on in the summer on a Bosman (the first time that ruling hit us) but it was quite surprising that the best offer he got was from Cambridge in our division. He scored 6 goals to help them to promotion then suffered an injury-hit season in his second year. He played more games in 2000-01 but was released at the end of the season. That summer he returned to Spotland for trials and played in some pre-season games but Steve Parkin passed on the chance to sign him and he started the next season with Torquay. Alex had 4 good years there making 153 appearances and scoring 20 goals . Released in 2005 Alex made the most surprising move of his career, stepping up a division to join Bristol City at the age of 32. Though never an automatic choice there he did play in 55 games and score 6 goals over the next couple of seasons. Back in the Championship for 2007-08 City gave him just one more outing before loaning him out to Northampton and then Cheltenham. He joined the latter when released in the summer and played most of a season there making 23 appearances but failing to score. He went on loan to Exeter in Februrary 2009 playing 7 games as they headed for promotion though his season ended prematurely at Spotland in March where he was injured in a collision with Lee Thorpe (given their relative physiques there was only one winner there). Nevertheless Alex had done enough to win another year of League One football playing in 29 games up to February and scoring his last League goal at Elland Road on the opening day of the season.
Alex signed for Bath in the Conference this summer and is doing well there. His departure and that of Lee Trundle from Bristol City at the same time mark the end of Dave Sutton's influence on League football (Trundle played for him at Chorley before coming into the league with Wrexham).