Shortly before 5pm this afternoon a 37-year-old man burnt a pair of football boots in a field in Gloucestershire and in doing so brought the curtain down on an illustrious career spanning more than 20 years and almost as many clubs.
Julian Alsop headed home a last-minute equaliser in Bishop Cleeve’s Zamaretto South and West season finale against North Leigh shortly before he took a blowtorch to his boots, ending his last game in typically flamboyant style.
That he chose to end his playing days at Cleeve is testament to his loyalty to Villagers’ boss Paul Collicut, who encouraged him to up his fitness during his last spell there ultimately leading to Alsop rejoining Cheltenham Town, beating the all time goals record and sealing his position as a Robins legend.
Having missed much of this season due to ‘rubbish ankles’ Alsop has called it a day, but what a career it’s been; starting off in non-league in the midlands he can count Bristol Rovers, Swansea City and Northampton Town among his former clubs, although he didn’t turn pro until he was 23.
He achieved infamy at Oxford United, after he was sacked for an incident with a youth team player. The incident earned him chants and nicknames, but according to Jules he rubbed the banana in the lad’s face, that was it, end of story.
Almost six years later (via Northampton, two spells with Forest Green Rovers, Tamworth, Newport County, Cirencester Town and Cleeve) he achieved the status of legend for returning to full-time, League 2 football last year, at the age of 36. Most Cheltenham fans thought it was a joke when Martin Allen brought him back to Whaddon Road.
Allen’s explanation was hardly convincing, he told the Gloucestershire Echo:
“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.”
But, on and month-by-month contract, he did it, rolled back the years and scored goals, unsurprisingly picking up Supporters’ Player of the Season at the end of a turbulent year for the Robins. Then he headed back to Cleeve, a full three and bit leagues below and back to non-league trips to such glorious places as Newport Isle of Wight (he met Rolf Harris on the ferry, bizarrely) and Cinderford Town.
Ask any Cleeve, Ciren or Cheltenham fan about Jules and they’ll have a tale, a famous goal or a sending off, the time he swigged from a pint before setting off to play the second half of a game (last week, against Cinderford) or the time his wife instructed bar staff not to serve him alcohol to ensure he made it to a family function. He usually recounts some of them in his weekly column for a local paper in Cheltenham.
My own Jules tale is from a few years ago during his brief spell at Cirencester Town. Sulking on shared fans/team coach the way back from watching the Centurions getting dumped out of the FA Cup Preliminary Qualifying 3rd Round to Newport Pagnall I realised my iPod had been pinched out my bag, gutted wasn’t the word. The news got back to the big man, holding court on the back seat as usual, then after a quick petrol stop a big bunch of flowers magically appeared. “To cheer you up” was the only explanation, before he got back to the serious business of schooling the younger squad members in how to enjoy a post-match can of warm lager.
Although he’s destroyed his boots, Alsop’s post-playing career isn’t going to be a departure from the game, he now run’s Footballers Careers, a company which offers help and support to footballers once their playing days are over. Despite his reputation as a joker, Jules has spent most of the past few years working very hard – studying for a degree and setting up Footballers Careers, now he’s drawing on his own experiences and those of the big names in his contacts book.
He said: “I don’t feel there is enough support out there for players coming to the end of their career from PFA and also the football clubs themselves.
“A player will leave a club at the end of his contract and then it is up to the agent to fix up his next club if that fails – welcome to the real world.
“The PFA offers financial support in paying for courses but that’s it. Footballerscareers aims to give the player the training needed and through other sources get the player into a work that’s why we only offer short number of courses as I have set up the players up with the possibility of work after their training.”
For a man seen to many as a joker, his business is something he takes very seriously – he’s said he won’t get into coaching (“I’d get too frustrated”) and claims to be in training for the London Marathon to keep himself busy for the next few months, his last moment on the pitch may have been a real life blaze of glory but I doubt we’ve heard the last of Julian Alsop.