Career-Ending Eye Injury Set Up King’s Lynn Coach

A freak accident resulting in a macular hole in Alex Cross’ right eye may have ended his playing career, but it has allowed him to focus on being the best coach he can be.

Alex is the academy director at National League North club Kings Lynn Town, while he is also the first team manager at Step 5 Soham Town Rangers. Aged just 30, Alex already has a wealth of coaching experience under his belt having held positions at Cambridge United, Notts County, Boston United, and Stamford AFC.

At the age of 16, Alex suffered an injury to his right eye that would eventually bring the curtain down on his playing days far earlier than he would have hoped. When watching a friend batting in the nets at a local cricket club, the ball hit the top bar and hit Alex in the face which left him with a macular hole in his right eye.

A macular hole is a rare eye condition that can blur the central vision, which can make everyday tasks difficult. Alex tried to continue playing, but his attempts were ultimately in vain.

“I tried to get back into [playing] football,” Alex told Fen Regis Trophies. “I can remember playing a game and somebody nicked the ball off me from my right-hand side.

“I just didn’t see them, because of the macular hole in my right eye.

“From that point, I realised I wasn’t going to play at a decent level of football, so I went down the route of coaching pretty quickly.”

Beginning His Coaching Journey

After accepting that his playing days were over, Alex soon focused his efforts on becoming a coach. His first move was to study coaching for two years at Grantham College before continuing those studies at Northumbria University.

By his admission, Alex is not a theory-based person and was itching to get out onto the grass. That was when he reached out to Newcastle East End FC, where he began coaching the club’s Under-9s.

“I approached Kelly and Charlie Scott, the two people who run the club,” Alex explained. “I offered my services to coach their Under-9s and I quickly understood that they (Newcastle East End) didn’t have a senior setup.

“They had 44 or 46 youth teams at the time, but no senior setup. I asked them to allow me to set up a men’s team and I will incorporate some of the players within the club along with some of the lads I knew who wanted to play football at university.

“We managed to set up and deliver a men’s team there and, as I was helping with their Under-16s as well at the time, we made that natural conveyor belt start to happen.”

A Taste for Success

Not only was Alex successful in setting up a senior team at Newcastle East End, but he was also a promotion-winning coach by the age of 21. He says that the structure he helped to implement at the club, which remains in place to this day, is one of his proudest achievements.

Alex had gotten a taste for success, and for helping to create a structure whereby junior and youth footballers can develop. Roles in the academies at Cambridge United, Notts County, and Boston United helped to shape Alex’s understanding of coaching in an academy environment, and what a positive structure looks like.

It was that experience that convinced Kings Lynn Town that Alex was the man to turn to to turn their youth setup around. Initially, Alex joined on a one-month basis, but he is still with the Norfolk club over two years later.

“I came in for a month and two-and-a-half years into my tenure here at Kings Lynn I’m somehow still here!”

Alex added: “Daily, I look after the Under-23s, and then I work with our academy manager who delivers to the Under-19s on a matchday. I’ll go over to them (Under-19s) on a matchday, on a Wednesday.

“There is also everything else that comes with being the academy director, the welfare stuff, the safeguarding, operational stuff, and the admin.

“Sometimes people look at coaching as just delivering on a pitch all the time, but they don’t see everything that goes on behind it.”

First-Team Football

Though the majority of Alex’s coaching experience has come in youth football, he has dabbled in the senior side, not only at Newcastle East End but also as an assistant coach at Stamford AFC, then in Step 4 of the non-league pyramid. In November 2023, Alex was appointed as first team manager at Thurlow Nunn Premier League outfit Soham Town Rangers – a position he holds alongside his role at Kings Lynn.

“I met with the committee over there [at Soham Town Rangers],” Alex said. “I felt as though there was a lot of alignment and some really, really good people.

“When you’ve got good people, you can start making something and move in the right direction.

“After the conversations that we had, I felt as though it was a good fit and an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up.

“It’s a club that can be developed, and it is probably a bigger job than I thought it was when I took it on at the time.”

With Rangers sitting mid-table in the league at the time of writing, the focus is on preparing for a promotion push next season and returning the club to Step 4, from which Soham was relegated at the end of the 2021/22 season.

Having been forced to hang his boots up much earlier than he would have liked, Alex has proven that opportunities are there for those willing to work for them. With many more years ahead of him, Alex’s coaching journey is one to take note of.

By Aaron Gratton

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