THE feelgood factor that must have enveloped Livingston’s venerable goalkeeper come the final whistle on Saturday may have temporarily subsided as he strutted from the field. “Congratulations to Neil Alexander on his first competitive appearance for the club for 16 years.” SIXTEEN YEARS?! How to make a chap feel old.
Alexander, though, it has to be said, is ageing well. Looking younger than his 39 years, the man who won three Scotland caps and played in goal for Rangers in the UEFA Cup final has rejoined the second of the many clubs he has represented over the years. Stenhousemuir may have been where it started for the goalkeeper but it was at Livingston first time around where he really made his name, helping the West Lothian club to two titles in three seasons as they worked their way up to the top division, eventually earning him a move to Cardiff City.
After a year sitting on Aberdeen’s bench, he has elected to return to Livingston this summer and showed against Partick Thistle in the opening Betfred Cup match that his instincts are as sharp as ever. His three stops in the penalty shoot-out that followed the teams’ 1-1 draw were as good a way as any to mark your return to a former club.
Livingston’s ground may have been subject to numerous name changes over the years – current title: the Tony Macaroni Arena – but the interior has stayed largely the same. As Alexander departed the small room used to conduct media interviews on Saturday, he spotted a Scotland goalkeeper shirt hanging on the wall, one of his that he had donated to his former club a decade or so previously. No wonder they still think so fondly of him in these parts.
The newly-promoted Championship side have recruited Alexander for his football ability but there are supplementary benefits, too, the now-veteran player happy to lend his wealth of experience to the many young players filling the other jerseys in David Hopkin’s side.
“Hopefully I can have a good influence on and off the pitch here, I think I have plenty to offer,” he said after helping Livingston to a bonus point in this latest League Cup incarnation. “It seems a natural process to come back here and hopefully get into goalie coaching, I enjoy that responsibility.
“I think this is a good place for me to be at the minute and we’ll see how it goes.
“It’s a role reversal from last time I was here. Back then I was a young boy and it was an experienced dressing room. Now it’s the opposite, I’m experienced and there are a lot of young lads here. Now they are the ones looking up to me. I have a lot of fond memories of that first spell at the club, it’s a great little club and we had a lot of success back then.”
Goalkeepers tend to hang around a lot longer than their outfield counterparts and, even as he approaches his fifth decade, Alexander has no intention of hanging up his gloves. His previous competitive appearance had been for Hearts in a 3-1 defeat to Celtic back in April 2016 and there was a satisfaction at properly earning his corn once again.
“It’s great to be back involved again and have something to look forward to on a Saturday,” he added. “It’s good to be training for a purpose again, I’ve played three games in a week now (two friendlies) and that’s what I came here for. The manager was constantly on the phone. He knew I was available and thought I would be ideal to come here with a young squad. He wanted someone to help them through, so hopefully I can play my part over the season.
“It was difficult at Aberdeen last season being on the bench because I’m not getting any younger and you want to be playing as much as you can. I’ve never put a time limit on it, everyone tells me to play as long as I can, so I just look at it at the start and end of every season. I feel good, I’m still enjoying it so I wanted to go again.”
On Saturday they came up against a Thistle side shorn of options, with manager Alan Archibald lamenting the loss of five first-team regulars to injury. Midfielder Ryan Edwards hoped replacements would soon be on their way.
“We could definitely do with a few extra bodies,” said the Australian. “We saw towards the end of last season that we had a good squad where the starting XI was really strong, and so was the bench.
“But it’s encouraging right now that we have boys coming back, and they’re running so they shouldn’t be too far off.
“Obviously one or two are long-term so we are looking to strengthen the squad with one or two signings as well. We need more competitiveness within the team because it drives everyone forward.
“We’re obviously disappointed we didn’t start well but there are more games to come in this competition.”