A Tribute To Alec Stock
Alec Stock : 30th March 1917 - 16th April 2001

Alec Stock with his two grandchildren.
Alec Stock with his grandchildren at his Testimonial Match, Yeovil v Fulham, July 31st 1999
Alec Stock, one of the most beloved figures in football and certainly the most famous son of Yeovil Town, passed away peacefully at a Wimborne nursing home on Monday 16th of April after long illness. He was 84.

Alec was a West Countryman, born in Peasedown St John, near the Radstock coalfields where his father was a miner. The family moved to Dartford in Kent after the General Strike in 1926, and he gained a scholarship, the only route to anything other than a basic education for a working class boy at that time, to the local grammar school. His early sports were rugby, as a fly-half, and cricket. One of his great ambitions was to play first class cricket for Somerset, but it was not to be. Like many of his generation his career prospects were to be strongly influenced by the War. He began playing football seriously in his teens for village side Wilmington, and then Redhill in Sussex, as a centre-forward before being signed as an amateur by Tottenham Hotspur. He was by then working in a bank - a job he hated. He was spotted scoring a hat-trick in a trial game by Charlton Athletic manager Jimmy Seed, and Alec signed professional forms in 1936. Two years later he had still not broken into the first team and he joined Queens Park Rangers, for whom he played 30 league games. He broke his ankle in one of the final games before war broke out, but soon had other things to worry about.

Alec joined up with a commission and was promoted several times during the war. He always said he developed his leadership skills in those years. In 1944 he was badly wounded when the tank he was commanding was blown up at the battle for Caen. With several pieces of shrapnel left in his body - which he maintained he carried for the rest of his life - Alec's war was over and he was sent to Wales to convalesce in the care of Marjorie, who he had married in 1943.

With no real chance of returning to professional football Alec was uncertain what he wanted to do with his life as the war ended. It was Marjorie who drew his attention to an advertisement in the Daily Herald for a player-manager at Yeovil Town. There were over sixty applicants, and a short list of six. Whatever it was that the Yeovil board saw in the not-very-famous ex-pro that arrived for interview we'll never know. Alec, in his typically modest way, said that he had been playing some friendlies for Q.P.R. and had scored his only goals, two against Southend, that week. "They thought they were getting some great goalscorer", is how Alec told it. Whatever. What we got was a genius at man-management. Alec knew his own limitations on the pitch by that stage in his career and remodelled himself as an inside left.

Alec was a deep thinker about the game. He often liked to say that he invented the 4-4-2 formation (oft referred to in days of yore as the 4-2-4 formation). This might be a small exaggeration, but a rather remote little Non-league club in the West Country was certainly one of the first teams in England to change from the traditional 'W' formation that had dominated before the war and play 4-4-2 under his stewardship. "The great thing was that Yeovil........ gave me freedom to manage. Every decision, who played, how much they got paid, who was bought and sold, was mine." All well and good; but his budget when he arrived was £ 80!

Alec Stock at Huish.
Alec Stock at Huish in its later days.
Alec had a reputation throughout his long managerial career of being one of the most thoughtful and kindly of men, but he could also be a hard task-master when necessary. He said: " I set my stall out to be hard but fair. If they needed a rollicking they got one, but if they played well I told them so. Some managers seem to find it very hard to say 'Well played'." When Yeovil were humiliated away to Street 2-1 in front of a gate of 4,300 in the F.A. Cup Fourth Qualifying Round in 1947 Alec was so angry that, as a survivor from the team still recalled years later, he wouldn't let them have a bath after the game but ordered them straight onto the coach: "You can wait to get back to Yeovil before you wash."

With the chaos prevalent after the war, with millions of men returning home and petrol rationing still in force, getting a settled side or even completing the fixture programme was problematic. The season of 1945-46 was only a partial one, and the 1946-47 season was not completed either, but ended with Yeovil Town lying fourth in the Southern League. The 1947-48 season was not a success, with boardroom wrangles, financial problems, and a petition from the Supporters' Club demanding action from the club to sort itself out. Alec's team finished a disappointing eighth in the league, and the season ended poorly with a 0-5 league defeat away to Gillingham sandwiched between losing over two legs to Merthyr Tydfil in the Southern League Cup. Alec determined to rebuild the side over the summer, and the team he put together was to bring him immortality in Yeovil.

In came Jack Hargreaves, a 26-year-old winger with spells at Leeds United, Bristol City and Reading behind him; Eric Bryant, a centre-forward with Mansfield; 25-year-old Les Blizzard who Alec knew through his Q.P.R. contacts; Bobby Hamilton who had been playing for Chester; and Ray Wright, an inside forward from Exeter. The side didn't gel immediately and by the first game in September, without a victory, the board was panicking and meddling in team selection. Unsurprisingly that game was lost too. It was decided to leave Alec to it!

The F.A. Cup run that was to spread the names of Alec Stock and Yeovil Town across the footballing, and the wider, world began with a 3-2 away win against Lovells Athletic in Newport in the Fourth Qualifying Round. As is often the case with these things it took an own goal and a late winner for Yeovil to scramble through. The First Round proper saw Romford demolished 4-0 at Huish. Then Weymouth were drawn out of the velvet bag. Over 3,000 fans journeyed to see the great rivals crushed at the Rec by another 4-0 scoreline. In the Third Round the Glovers got a home tie against Bury, who had just dumped W.B.A. out the previous round. Alec often quoted this as being his favourite match - maybe he got a bit fed up with people always asking him about the one that was to follow. Hargreaves put the Glovers ahead on seven minutes, but Bury equalised through Dave Massart. Ray Wright put Yeovil back in front just before half-time, and Bobby Hamilton wrapped it up in the second period. Thirteen thousand fans were still celebrating in the ground an hour after the game, and refused to leave until Alec spoke to them over the tannoy. And then came Sunderland.

Only one Non-league side had ever beaten a team in the top flight since the introduction of their exemption until Round Three, and in 1949 Sunderland was as big as they came. For a Non-league ground the slope at Huish was nothing outrageous - 10 feet from corner to opposite corner - but Alec took every opportunity to talk it up to unsettle the opposition. So much so that the Huish Slope is still a football legend. He refused to let Sunderland, who boasted one of the greatest ever players in the late Len Shackleton, train or practice on it to rack up the tension whilst he took his players away to relax. His attention to detail was such that, at a time the whole town was going bananas with excitement, he found out that the referee for the tie was a clergyman and told the players not to swear during the game. When regular keeper Stan Hall picked up an injury just a couple of days before the match Alec went round to reserve keeper Victor "Dickie" Dyke's work place at a solicitor's office to tell the 21-year-old he was in the side. He built up other players confidence too, telling winger Bobby Hamilton that he was the lucky one in the side because the Sunderland full-back, then one of the most expensive players in the country, was a weak link, and that the Sunderland keeper, on the verge of the England side, was no good at crosses. True? Of course it wasn't; but as a player remembers: "The way he said it made you believe it. We went out there fearing no one."

Figures for the crowd that day vary - 17,123 is what is officially quoted. After all the build up it could have been a dreadful anti-climax. Things didn't start well when Jack Hargreaves pulled a muscle after ten minutes and, in the days before substitutes, Yeovil had to carry a virtual passenger for the remainder of the match. But Alec had another role to play as well as that of manager. On 26 minutes he swivelled on a ball from Ray Wright and scored. He kept those boots for the rest of his life. However Dyke made his one mistake of the match when he missed a speculative through ball, and Robinson slotted home from close range. The continuing petrol shortage meant that extra-time was applicable that season and fourteen minutes into it Len Shackleton misplaced an overhead kick, Ray Wright fed it through to Eric Bryant, and he fired home. With three minutes to go Sunderland won a dangerous free kick. As Alec and his players lined up in a wall he whispered "anyone who ducks now gets the sack". No one did. One of the greatest cup upsets in the history of the game was complete.

Yeovil's immediate reward was a Fifth Round tie against Manchester United. Played at Maine Road 81,565 saw the game, and the Glover's share of the gate receipts solved the usual cash crisis for a while. To say that Alec was rather better known at the end of all this is something of an understatement, and within a week the first League club, Gateshead F.C., was in with an offer of a managerial job. By this time Yeovil were drifting in lower mid-table with a huge fixture back-log and it took a good fourteen game unbeaten run towards the end of the season to get us up to a reasonable eighth. The club also managed some silverware with a 3-0 defeat of Colchester United in the Southern League Cup Final.

Alec Stock at Huish Park in 1999.
Alec Stock at Huish Park, 1999
Alec started the next season with impressive results: 8-0 (Kidderminster), 4-1(Weymouth), 5-0 (Tonbridge) and 4-4 (Kidderminster). It can have been little surprise when on the 3rd of September 1949 he announced that Leighton Orient had lured him away. A glorious chapter in the history of Yeovil Town was over. Alec always looked back on those years fondly, though at the time some felt the board and its chairman Bert Smith could have done rather more to support their manager. Some current Yeovil supporters might take note of this story that Alec told: I think there were 14 directors at Yeovil. I remember one of the first games being at Chelmsford; train to Waterloo, then coach, and the director appointed by the supporters' club coming with us. We didn't play too, badly but we lost. On the Monday there was a directors meeting. On the agenda 'Director's report on the game'. This chap stood up and said: "Mr Chairman, gentlemen. I am sorry to report the team lost and no-one played well." And he sat down. Stony faces all round. Next weekend we played Brentford. Same sort of performance, but we won. On the Monday, same meeting, up he gets. "Mr Chairman, gentlemen. I am glad to report the team won and everyone played well." Sits down. Nods of approval. Right, I thought, I understand now. All that matters is to win.

After leading Orient to the FA Cup sixth round in 1952, losing to Arsenal, and 1954, losing to Port Vale - "my biggest disappointment in football" - and then the Third Division title two years later, he moved to QPR. During that last season with Orient he had spent 53 days at Highbury as coach, led there by inflated promises and resigning on principle. The idea was that Stock would prop up and perhaps succeed Tom Whittaker, pre-war trainer, post-war manager of the Gunners, whose team was drifting. Perhaps Alec mis-judged the strength of his position, telling the team that 20 of them would be sold. At one significant moment, he told a younger player, Danny Clapton, to go over to two seniors, goalkeeper Jack Kelsey and captain Dennis Evans, with an ashtray and tell them to stub out their cigarettes. The players tapped their ash into the ashtray, and went on smoking.

If his brief time at Highbury was an unhappy interlude, as was one at Roma, he was to have better and longer times at Queens Park Rangers (1959-68) where he won the League Cup in 1967 as well as taking them from the Third to the First Division. Directors aren't always the sharpest tools in the box, or pleasant individuals. As his wife Majorie memorably said "You climbed the mountain and found rubbish at the top." At one game, 2-0 down at half-time, Alec was abused by a club official as he walked back down the tunnel for the half-time team talk. He thought - I don't sodding need this, and walked out of the ground and went to the cinema. When he got back after the end of the game he discovered the team had turned it around to win 3-2........ and the same official now singing his praises. QPR chairman Jim Gregory slowly demoted Alec, making him general manager and then saying that he was letting him go on medical grounds. He suffered all his life from asthma attacks, but Alec said that he had never had one day off: "I was treated as though I had pinched the petty cash." Alec had the last laugh. He was replaced by Tommy Docherty, who lasted 28 days. QPR were to finish bottom of the first division, with only 18 points, and were relegated. Alec's next clubs were Luton Town (1968-72), who he took into the Second Division, and then Fulham (1972-76), who he took to the 1975 FA Cup Final, where they lost 2-0 to West Ham. At the end of 1976 he lost out in more boardroom battles and his final club was Bournemouth, where one of his last acts was to bring in a certain David Webb. Alec's autobiography was titled A Little Thing Called Pride.

Amongst his more perceptive moves were to spot that some bloke called Rodney Marsh might be a useful acquisition when he was manager at QPR in 1966, and that a full-back called Malcolm Macdonald might be able to do a bit up front!

In his retirement he maintained his contacts with Yeovil Town and continued to follow our fortunes closely. He came less in recent years, partly through ill-health, and partly because he feared it would be bad luck. In one of his last interviews Alec opened with "I bloody hope they [Yeovil] win promotion. There isn't a League club between Bristol and Exeter and Yeovil is a football town." We are Alec, and you did more than most to make us one. We miss you.

Alec's much loved wife Marjorie died in 1986. He is survived by two daughters.

NOTE: Photography © Ciderspace and Mike Alsford/Devon News

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Last Updated : 18th April 2001
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