“He’s got a gut! I mean an actual protruding gut!”
“Scores lots of goals though”, this was my reply to my friends initial reaction to seeing Julian Alsop for the first time.
It was probably a lot of people’s initial reaction especially in the latter stages of his career yet he was a prolific goal scorer and a true Cheltenham Town legend!
He started his career on the non-league scene with his home town club Nuneaton Borough where he netted an impressive 23 times in just 39 appearances. Considering the physicality of non-league football and the fact that he was only 18 he showed that he was able to withstand that side of the game and, indeed, became known for being a strong, physical presence up front.
A move to another non-league side, VR Rugby, again proved fruitful as Alsop smashed home 27 goals in only 39 matches before moving to a couple of other clubs at non-league level. He got his big break at the age of 23 when Bristol Rovers signed him from Halesowen for £15,000 and he scored his first goal in a 2-2 draw at Burnley. Not bad for a player often derided as “a donkey” by some of the executives of non-league football.
After a couple of seasons at Bristol he was signed by Swansea City for £30,000 following a successful loan spell and went on to score 11 times in the 1998-99 season for the Swans. It wasn’t in South Wales, though, that Alsop really made his name but rather in the Cotswold town of Cheltenham where he moved to in 2000.
His first season with the Robins was nothing to write home about. Cheltenham finished in 9th, just four points off a play-off spot, with Alsop scoring 5 times but the 2001-02 season was a different story! The club signed Tony Naylor from Port Vale and he would form a deadly strike partnership with Alsop that would see the pair combine for 38 goals, Alsop scoring 26. Cheltenham finished an amazing 4th and took on Rushden & Diamonds in the play-off final. The game finished 3-1 to the Robins with Alsop netting the second to help secure promotion for a club that had never competed in the third tier in their history. It was defining season for Alsop and cemented him in club folklore for all time.
He would contribute 12 goals for Cheltenham in the 2002-03 season which was a season of struggle for the club that eventually saw their immediate return to the fourth tier. Alsop left at the end of the season to join Oxford in a move that he later reflected on regretting. His time at Oxford came to a controversial end after a fracas with a youth player involving a banana, which Alsop initially denied, but later admitted to rubbing in the youngsters face. It led to his sacking and receiving a six month ban from the game which Alsop, by this time, had fallen out of love with.
He played for a number of non-league sides over the next few years including a spell with Newport County where he scored 21 times in 50 appearances but there was still a twist in the career of this nomadic striker that took everyone by surprise. In 2009, while playing for non-league Bishops Cleve, Alsop faced Martin Allen’s Cheltenham in a pre-season friendly and was shocked to be approached by the larger than life manager after the game and asked to come and train with the Robins. When Martin Allen was asked about the signing the 36 year old he famously said:
“We went shopping for a big strong centre-forward at the start of the season, but couldn’t afford the players we wanted. If you go shopping at Sainsbury’s and ask for a fillet steak but can’t afford it, you have to find something else and we’ve ended up with a gristly old fatty lump of lard up front – but it tasted good.”
He would re-sign for the club on a month-to-month contract and scored his first goal for them in a 1-1 draw against Rochdale to draw with just two goals of the clubs all time Football League goal scorer Martin Devaney who hit 38!
Alsop ended the season with four goals and did indeed break Devaney’s record before returning to Bishops Cleve and finally ending his Cheltenham Town career, where he will always be remember as a big, burly, legend of a striker!
words James Richards
Photo © Getty Images Ross Kinnaird