1852 — 1933
William Whiteway (Alec) Alexander

"For if Mr.Alexander was old in years, he was certainly young in spirit"

Alec was born in 1852 near Andover. His father became an inn-keeper, giving Alec early experience of this trade. He left home as a teenager to work with horses, and came to work in Brewood, Staffordshire. Alec was a good runner, and loved cross-country racing. He took a job with the Post Office, married, and joined Birchfield in 1879, aged 27, three years after the club’s foundation. He finished 4th in the 1881 English XC Championships; he’d completed his post-round before the race.

In 1882, Alec became both Club Secretary and a member of the Midland Counties Cross Country Association. His ambition was to make Birchfield a highly successful club. His rival in this was a banker and sports enthusiast, Harry Oliver of Moseley Harriers. Oliver, who like Alec had been a good runner himself, had developed Moseley into the top club in the Midlands, by recruiting good athletes, often from wealthy families, from outside Birmingham.

Birchfield won the English Cross-Country Championships for the first time in 1880 and, Inspired by Oliver, Moseley took the title the following four years. For Birchfield and Alec it was “Game On!” But in 1885, one of Moseley’s top runners, William Snook, left Moseley for Birchfield, and in 1886, the Moseley club folded. Oliver was in trouble with debt and the courts and in no position to revive the club. This was an opening for Birchfield, and by 1886 Alec had given up competitive running to manage the club, whilst his growing family followed him through work in his tobacconist’s shop, as licensee of several pubs, including premises in Redditch and Halesowen, and finally back to work as sub-postmaster.

Handicap races at local sports days and festivals were attracting thousands of people each weekend and Bank Holiday. Perhaps because of his knowledge of horse racing, Alec became an expert handicapper and would travel to races across the West Midlands, getting an excellent overview of up and coming talent. Birchfield was seen as a club for the people, rather than for “society” as Moseley had been, and athletes flowed to Birmingham. In 1977 his nephew James recalled: “He used to travel around the British Isles talent spotting and, being very persuasive, he used to get them to come to Birmingham. And then he would go and find them a job and a house and they would become Birchfield Harriers”. Sometimes they were offered accommodation at his pubs.

Alec’s passion for cross-country, “the purest and healthiest of pastimes, with no material reward for weekly toil and strict training”, meant that many new members were strong over the country; of the 49 championships held from 1886 to 1939 the club won 27 of them, and finished outside the first three only six times.

In 1922, Alec was instrumental in setting up Birchfield ladies section. They trained from the ”Tally Ho” ground and his son, also W.W.Alexander, was their coach.

Alec is remembered with huge affection and this is reflected in the club cartoons. The original Alexander ground was built in his honour, and the current stadium bears his name and is famous across the world as a top quality athletics venue. Alec died in 1933. The WW Alexander Memorial race was deliberately designed, on his wishes, to be “a simple gathering where we could all meet on an equal footing, without distinction whatever”: a fitting reflection on this extraordinary Birchfielder.