As George Pattullo left Barcelona, city and football-club, for the second and final time in 1912 his footballing boots would prove hard to fill. FC Barcelona stalled a little and the search must soon have begun for a quality replacement.
And in searching Juan Gamper, founder and President, might well have turned to one of his ex-players, Darvel-born, Newmilns-employed John Hamilton. The reasoning is thus. In Catalonia's capital Hamilton had become a top referee. He would officiate the 1912 Copa del Rey final. But, having recently spent time in his hometown, he would there have been more than aware of three local brothers, the Steels.
From Newmilns all three were professional footballers. In England eldest, Danny, had seen Tottenham into the Football League in 1907 and was still there. Youngest, Bobby, had just joined Spurs. And middle one, Alex, Sandy, having left the same club the previous year, had been at a loose end back at Kilmarnock. It was therefore probably not coincidence when he was signed by the Blaugrana.
Alex Steel had been born in 1886 so was twenty-six when he arrived in Barcelona. He was the son amongst at least nine chiidren, of locally-born parents, his father a Power Loom Lace Weaver. At fourteen Alex was already working, as a lace-shuttler but football would provide him, as with his brothers, with a way out of the local industry. Albeit it would prove a precarious one.
At nineteen he would be signed as a right-half directly from his home-town club to Manchester City, there making thirty-two appearances there in seasons. But he never managed to cement a first-team place and that had been the same at White Hart Lane. However, in Spain from February 1911 he was soon converted to forward and with considerable success. According to once source in forty-three games over fifteen months, mostly friendlies, he would net fifty-six times, from another it is sixty-two in forty-nine; better than Pattullo, better than Messi. As a result Barca won the Pyrenees Cup in 1912 and in 1913 it and both the Catalan and Spanish Championships.
It might perhaps have been expected that, given two such seasons, Steel might have returned to Britain in triumph. But it was not so. On leaving Spain in May 1913 he found employment for 1913-14, but only with Southend United in the Southern League, Division One. And then came The Great War, where he seems to have been recorded curiously as serving both in the Royal Navy and the RAF. And after the war, aged well into his thirties, he would manage only one more footballing season, at Gillingham back in defence in the same league and division. But he was not retained as the club stepped up to the new League Division Three.
On retirement Alex Steel seems to have settled back in the Tottenham area and become a printer. Certainly he was recorded as such when in 1925 he seems to have married Hilda Olive Patmore in Edmonton. But at this point mystery sets in. Wikipedia reports him as dying in St. Albans in Hertfordshire in 1954. Elsewhere there is record of the death of an Alexander Steel, again St. Albans, in 1932. But this Alex is at forty-four two years too young. Additionally, whilst in 1938 an Hilda Olive Steel is recorded living with a Grace Patmore in Kent, the following year she is with her elderly Patmore parents again in Hertfordshire, St. Albans being perhaps the most local hospital. Moreover she is both perhaps a mother, of a fifteen year-old girl, Betty (Steel), and already a widow, which means that both Alex's year and place of death, although probably in England, remain unclear but the former seems unlikely to have been 1954.
1901 - Chestnut View, Loudoun Rd., Newmilns
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