After a 6-2 home win over Cottenham two weeks later, the local press hailed him as Abbey’s best player, adding: ‘He was originally a forward, and it was in that capacity that he was signed by Chelsea about two years ago.
‘He was then a good shot, but he has not only benefited by his sojourn with the professionals in that direction, but in all-round football ability.’
Alsop’s career was punctuated by periods when he concentrated on Thursday league football, and there were times when he seemed to be on the verge of signing for Cambridge Town.
But he occupies a prominent place in the list of the most influential players United have ever had.
An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme for the game against Cheltenham Town on Saturday, 25 August 2018.
In February of this year, 100 Years of Coconuts lost its greatest asset: a one-man information storehouse and author extraordinaire in the person of Andrew Bennett.
It was a tragically heavy blow for Andrew’s family and for his legions of friends and admirers. And for a while, Coconuts people wondered how they could carry on researching and communicating the story of our club.
Moves are afoot to ensure his name and achievements endure: stand by for the unveiling of a memorial plaque in the Habbin, for news of the Andrew Bennett Award and for the autumn publication of the third volume of his peerless Celery & Coconuts history of the club.
But how could we hope to carry on Andrew’s work – his tireless ferreting out of information in libraries and archives, his compilation of stats, facts and info in dozens of databases, his cheerful and speedy answering of queries from football fans far and wide – in short, his work as Cambridge United’s club historian?
The short answer is that we couldn’t. But what we can do is have a bash at providing a second-best service – a sort of Andrew Bennett Lite, if you like.
Luckily for us and you, Andrew bequeathed to Coconuts his entire, vast archive of U’s-related stuff.
When I say ‘vast’, I mean ‘flipping ginormous’. If you chopped down all the forests in Scandinavia to provide enough paper, printed everything out and laid the sheets end to end, the result would stretch seven times around the world and then on as far as Godalming.
The size of the task of bringing order to the archive, and coming close to understanding it, is gut-grippingly terrifying. Merely opening a folder at random, to reveal thousands upon thousands of sub-folders and individual files, would be enough to induce panic in the most placid of Zen practitioners.
I was browsing idly the other day, clicking on files here and there, when I came across the photograph on this page.
Although not in the best of nick – Andrew downloaded it from a microfiche reader (always a hit-and-miss procedure) during one of his countless visits to the Cambridgeshire Collection – it does provide a priceless snapshot of a precious moment in the early days of Abbey United. And I hadn’t seen it before.
Can you make out the object in George Alsop’s hands? It’s the Cambridgeshire Challenge Cup, and the Abbey team that Alsop captained had just won it.
The date is 18 April 1925, the venue is Cambridge Town’s Milton Road ground and the day’s events – Abbey’s trouncing of Girton United by six goals to one – are being reported by the long-gone Cambridge Chronicle.
The bearded gent to Alsop’s right is Major Oliver Papworth, who presented the cup, and to his left is Cambs FA secretary Charles Dennant.
The Wasps had lined up: R ‘Percy’ Wilson; Joe Livermore, Bill Walker; Jim Self, Alsop, Bill ‘Pim’ Stearn; Fred Stevens, Frank Luff, Harvey Cornwell, Tom Langford, William ‘Fanny’ Freeman (kids: teams played in the 2-3-5 formation in those days). Cornwell had scored a hat-trick and the other goals had come from Walker, Langford and Freeman.
The Challenge Cup was just one of three trophies claimed by Abbey United that season – and they shared a fourth. Read Andrew's Newmarket Road Roughs for the full detail.
We don’t know exactly when the Barnwell-born lad departed for the Smoke; nor do we know how Chelsea came to find out about young Alsop’s talent. He was after all playing his home games on Stourbridge Common, in the depths of Cambridgeshire League Division Three, when he came to their notice.
Nigel Browne’s research into Barnwell families of the early 20th century – part of a Coconuts team’s scrutiny of the everyday lives of people in east Cambridge during World War I – shows that our George Alsop was probably born in 1902 and was living with his parents at 481 Newmarket Road in 1911.
It’s possible that his dad sold his East Road wheelwright’s business to Donald Mackay, whose family still runs the engineering and hardware emporium. It’s also possible that his mum was one of the Ivett family who helped to found the Ivett & Reed stonemasonry company on Newmarket Road.
We are going to find out about other aspects of Alsop’s life. One thing we do know is that he was some player.
The late Andrew Bennett’s book Newmarket Road Roughs (available for purchase through the CFU online store) reveals that he marshalled the Abbey United defence in 1921/22, the club’s first season of competitive football. Then he was off to Chelsea.
You’ll search in vain for internet mentions of George Alsop in a Chelsea FC connection. We’re making enquiries of the club historian, but it seems that, having made the enormous leap from the Cambs League to Football League Division One, Alsop got no further than Blues’ reserves.
Restored to the Abbey team as centre half and captain by 1924, he made an immediate impact in the season’s opening Cambs League Division One match at St Ives, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win.
Two weeks later, after a 6-2 defeat of Cottenham in which he again scored twice, the Cambridge Daily News raved: ‘He was originally a forward, and it was in that capacity that he was signed by Chelsea about two years ago. He was then a good shot, but he has not only benefited by his sojourn with the professionals in that direction, but in all-round football ability.’
Alsop was prominent in Abbey’s progress over the next few seasons; he’s pictured below in the middle of the front row of the all-conquering 1924/25 team.
But by the early 30s his influence was declining and, having appeared 160 times and scored 62 goals, he played his last Wasps game in 1932.
We have much to discover about this fascinating personality, and perhaps you can help. If you have any information about George Alsop or his family, please email email@example.com.
Their mother placed five of her kids in an orphanage, but they were soon on their way to Britain aboard the liner Habana. They settled well in Cambridge – and football played a big role in the process.
‘Football meant everything to us; it was the only thing we knew about,’ Antonio (known as Tony) told El Pais in 2012. ‘We got attached to Cambridge and made a lot of friends here through playing football.’
Goalkeeper Tony and winger José (Joe) signed for Town as teenagers. Tony moved to the Abbey in 1943 before rejoining Joe at Milton Road, spending time as a professional with Norwich and then returning to United in 1947.
Joe left Town for Brentford and went on to play for Southampton and Colchester, but came back to United in 1951.
The Gallegos stayed in Cambridge for the rest of their lives, Joe dying in 2006 at the age of 82 and 90-year-old Tony passing away in 2015. I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts rang out loud and proud at the funeral.
This article appeared in the Cambridge United official programme for the game against Accrington Stanley on Saturday, 1 October 2016.
Footballers’ nicknames can be really boring, can’t they? Too often it’s just a case of adding a ‘y’ or an ‘o’ to a surname – Mooro, Bally, – or shortening the name and adding an ‘s’ – Becks, Blatts, Cholmondeley-Warns.
The U’s have been as guilty of this lazy practice as any other club. On the other hand, we have a proud history of nickname creativity: who was the genius who first dubbed John Taylor ‘Shaggy’? How did Gary Clayton become Hedgy? Was Lindsay Smith’s ‘Wolfie’ moniker the result of a Habbin wit’s contribution to a Saturday afternoon?
Go further back in U’s history and you’ll come across the likes of Buzzer, Cruncher and Scobie. But if you explore the period covered by Andrew Bennett’s wonderful book Newmarket Road Roughs, published this month by Lovely Bunch, you’ll be able to mine a fabulously rich seam of nickname gold.
Here are some of the mysteries 100 Years of Coconuts researchers hope to solve (if you know the answers, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org): whence came the ‘Pop’ in Stan ‘Pop’ Ballard? Why was Harold Watson known as Darley? Who put the ‘Pim’ in Bill Stearn? What was the story behind Jim ‘Squatter’ Smith? Why did everyone call William Freeman ‘Fanny’? Was it a result of dressing room bants? I shudder to think.
My favourite is the byname bestowed on Albert Dring, who was Abbey United’s top goalscorer in 1922/23 and finished his Wasps career with 34 goals from 46 appearances. I would love to know why he rejoiced in the nickname ‘Twitter’. We can rule out the suggestion that he spoke in sentences of 140 characters.
An extract from Newmarket Road Roughs (yours for £14.99, or £13.99 if you’re a CFU member, via the CFU online store or the caravan on a match day) shows how important Twitter was to the Abbey, and gives a flavour of the kind of football they were playing in the 20s: ‘In the Minor Cup, Abbey were favourites to beat Soham Comrades in the semi-final at Cambridge Town’s new Milton Road ground, but found themselves two goals down after 70 minutes. Wilson then swapped positions with Dring and converted a penalty to pull one back before Soham’s Talbot skied a spot kick that would surely have clinched it; duly encouraged, Dring headed an equaliser ten minutes from time and seconds later right winger Tom Langford snatched a dramatic winner.
‘The final at the same venue two weeks later was against Cambridge GER, whom the Abbey had already thrashed 10-2 and 5-1 in the league, but they were shocked when Cracknell fired the Railwaymen ahead inside the first minute. Dring soon equalised, but GER had a game plan that involved stopping the Abbey from playing their normal game and the nearest United came to scoring again was when Wilson hit the post in the second half.
‘United had no such difficulties in the league. In February they thrashed their nearest rivals, Newnham Institute, 6-0, with Wilson and Dring contributing two goals apiece. “Abbey played on the top of their form, and won with ease,” stated the match report. “They are a well-balanced side, and it will not be a surprise if some of their players find a way into higher class teams.”’
Recognise the players pictured above? Of course you do. Now, recall their nicknames, then order Newmarket Road Roughs here and enter a nickname wonderland.
Packed with the fascinating stories of the characters who saw our club, always firmly based in its community, through its formative years and on to the brink of national recognition, Newmarket Road Roughs comes with details of every game played by Abbey United in its first 40 years, plus league tables and playing records.
Those appendices alone are worth the cover price of £14.99 for this attractively designed hardback book – the first of many to come from Andrew Bennett and Lovely Bunch. To preorder your copy, go to cambridgefansunited.org/store/c4/Books.html or visit the CFU outlet on a match day. Alternatively, drop a line to email@example.com. Members of CFU enjoy a £1 discount.
We’ll let you know when your copy of Newmarket Road Roughs is available to pick up or is in the post. By choosing to collect from the CFU caravan you will avoid the postal charges of £2.99 for normal post and £5.99 for Royal Mail special delivery.
Happy reading! The past will soon be present.
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