Football: Wembley hero Aleksic mourned by former team-mates
T RIBUTES have been paid to a former Port Vale goalkeeper who went on to complete a famed trophy double at Wembley.
Milija Aleksic, who died in South Africa this week at the age of 61, played two games for the Valiants in 1969.
But it was with first Stafford Rangers and then Tottenham Hotspur that he enjoyed his biggest successes.
Aleksic was a member of the Rangers side who won the FA Trophy in 1972, and then went on to play in the Spurs team which won the FA Cup in 1981.
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He's believed to be one of only two men – Arsenal's John Radford is the other – to have won both trophies during their careers.
Mick Cullerton played alongside Aleksic at both Port Vale and Stafford Rangers.
He described his old team-mate as a quality keeper and "a lovely guy".
"Milija was only 16 when he joined Vale and only played in two FA Cup games for the club," he said.
"But he was a quality goalkeeper, you could tell that.
"I think he asked to be released because he wanted to help out in the family's taxi business in Newcastle under Lyme, but we met up again first at Eastwood briefly, and then at Stafford."
Aleksic was almost a bystander at Wembley when Rangers brushed aside Barnet 3-0 to win the FA Trophy in 1972 thanks to goals from Ray Williams (2) and Cullerton himself.
"He had little to do in that final because we were so dominant," remembered Cullerton.
"When we were back in the dressing room, he jokingly thanked us for letting Barnet have at least one attempt on goal.
"He said, 'If I hadn't made at least one save, no-one would have known I was there'."
Although Cullerton rated the keeper, he was surprised Aleksic went all the way to the top.
"We had such a cracking team at Stafford that Milija got left in the shade a bit," he added, "but it was great when I saw later on he'd joined Tottenham and then I sat and watched him in that FA Cup final."
Aleksic was born and raised in Chesterton, amid a small Serbian community which also produced a young Mike Pejic.
He went on to play in the same Newcastle Schoolboys team as the former Stoke City defender before signing for Port Vale in 1969.
After his successful spell with Stafford, Aleksic spent three years with Plymouth Argyle before joining Luton Town in 1976.
The keeper made 77 appearances for the Hatters before being snapped up by Tottenham in 1979.
He was soon in the first team and was between the sticks for that famous Wembley final against Manchester City in 1981 – alongside stars such as former Stoke striker Garth Crooks, Ossie Ardiles and, in the replay, match-winner Ricky Villa.
Aleksic eventually lost his place to Ray Clemence.
He had a brief loan spell back at Luton before dropping back into non-league football in 1982 with, ironically, Barnet, then managed by Barry Fry.
He later migrated to South Africa to play for Wits University before helping to run an electrical business.
He died suddenly on Wednesday and Cullerton, who went on to score 50 goals in 187 games over two spells with Vale, added: "I was shocked and saddened to hear about it.
"Milija was a local lad with a smashing personality. You couldn't have wished to meet a nicer person.
"I always remember him having a tremendous appetite, but he worked ever so hard, so you couldn't tell."
Pejic, who went on to enjoy an impressive career of his own at Stoke and then Everton, was also saddened to hear the news.
He said: "We grew up together in Chesterton and he was a very quiet lad then.
"He did really well to get to the level he did.
"We lost touch because he lived in South Africa for almost 30 years, but I was told he was due to fly over for a family christening this weekend and had been planning to move back to England."