The great Alexander Stevenson

By Gavan Bergin

Alexander Stevenson was born in Dublin in 1912 and grew up in the East Wall area. He was a brilliant footballer as a boy and by the time he was eighteen years old he had become an outstanding player in junior football with Dolphin FC.

Alex’s attacking skills helped make Dolphins into one of the best sides in the Republic of Ireland. They won the Leinster Senior League in 1931, earned promotion to the League of Ireland, and then won the Leinster Senior Cup in 1932. 

By then, Alex had attracted the attention of scouts from big clubs in Britain, and he joined one of the biggest, Glasgow Rangers. He signed on the first of August, 1932, when he was only twenty years old, and it took him a little while to adapt to the higher standard of football in the Scottish First Division.

But he started his second season with Rangers like a runaway train. He barrelled through defenders like they weren’t even there and went on a scorching run of goal-scoring, seven goals in the first eleven games of the 1933/34 season.

Alex was 5’5” tall and weighed 10 stone, he was whippet-quick on the run, highly skilled on the ball – all in all a little wizard of a footballer. He was an expert at riding rough tackles from defenders, that is, when they even managed to get close enough to try and put the boot in. Mostly, they found that trying to mark him, with his size, speed and agility, was futile – like trying to catch a will o’ the wisp.

Alex could play anywhere in the attacking line, at outside forward, inside forward, on the left or on the right. Whatever position he was selected in, he did a fine job. He scored plenty of goals, and made plenty more, with his clever movement, powerful, accurate shooting and intelligent, incisive passing. All in all, he was a big talent in a small frame, and every team he played for valued him accordingly.

Having shown he could do the business for Rangers, Alex was ready for the top division of English football. In January of 1934, he was signed by Everton, one of England’s premier clubs.  He went straight into the Everton first team playing at inside-right and scored 18 goals in 41 games during his first full season in English football.

Such impressive consistency in quantity and quality of performance turned out to be the norm from Alex, and he continued to play game after game and score goal after goal for Everton for years to come.

By the end of the 1937/38 season, his fourth on Merseyside, Alex had become an integral part of an Everton side that the newspapers were tipping as likely contenders to become the next champions of England. The Liverpool Daily Post previewed the 1938/39 season by saying, “We shall find Everton having a grand season – better than many people expect. Shall we see major honours being brought to Goodison? It is not too much to expect.”

Everton wasted no time showing that such hopes were justified and in their first game of the season, Alex scored the winning goal against Blackpool, firing Everton to the top of the table. Throughout the season, he played like a demon, right up to the last vital games, where he really showed his worth to Everton.

On April 8th 1939, Everton travelled to play Chelsea in a game they desperately needed to win if they were to keep ahead in the championship race. The Liverpool Daily Post reported on a nervous, tetchy match that still was goal-less after seventy minutes until Alex stepped up and “banged the ball into the net at tremendous speed,” to seal a win that put Everton within touching distance of the league title.

Two days later, against Sunderland, Alex again did the business when he “worked zealously and unobtrusively throughout the game, then scored a picture goal,” which was his thirteenth of the season and secured another important win for the team. Two weeks later, Everton and Alex were champions. 

After winning the league in ’39, Alex remained with Everton and was still playing and scoring in the top division for the club when he was almost forty years old.

Alex also had a lengthy career as an Irish international player.  It began when he played for the Republic of Ireland against Holland in Rotterdam in May 1932, while he was still with Dolphin.

Although he played well in an impressive and rare away win for the Republic, that game was his last for the team for almost fifteen years.

This absence has caused much controversy and speculation. There are suggestions that Alex was ignored by the FAI on account of the fact that he was a Protestant who had played for Rangers, or that he did not want to play on Sundays, when Republic of Ireland international matches were often played.

Even now, after more than eighty years, there are claims on internet message boards that Alex was a member of the Orange Order who refused to play for the Republic.

The truth of the matter is that Alex was a victim of the disdain shown to the Republic of Ireland team by English clubs back then. The reason he didn’t play for Ireland was because Everton would not allow him to do so.

The same thing happened to some of our other best players. Jimmy ‘Snowy’ Dunne, the great striker from Ringsend, was more than once refused permission to play for the Republic by his club Sheffield United. In Alex’s case, the issue was complicated by the fact that Everton never seemed to hesitate in allowing him to play for Northern Ireland, for whom he made his debut at outside-left in a 2-1 win against Scotland in December 1933.

In his fifth match for Northern Ireland, Alex played at centre-forward against England in Liverpool on February 6th 1935, and from the first whistle of the game he attacked the English with zeal and purpose in a performance of astonishing intensity. The Irish Press said, “he was the highlight of the Irish forwards, his solo run during the first half was one of the finest ever seen by an Ireland player and it drew from the home crowd tumultuous applause.  Had the goalkeeper not managed to save it, Stevenson’s amazing effort would undoubtedly have gone down in history as one of the great international goals.”

For the next twelve seasons, Alex was a regular in the forward line for Northern Ireland, and helped the team to finish runners-up in the 1947 British Championship, thanks to their first unbeaten season in 34 years. He was also back playing for the Republic of Ireland again, having at long last won his second cap for the team fourteen years after his first appearance for the Republic.

In 1950, Alex retired as a player after seventeen years as a professional.