Alsop: Time to set record straight over banana incident
JULIAN Alsop has inspired promotions, broken goalscoring records and won over thousands of supporters with his honesty and work ethic.
But he is most commonly associated – outside Cheltenham at least – with an infamous incident involving a youth trainee and a banana during his time at Oxford United.
On the day that he announced his retirement from football at the end of this season, Alsop has given his version of events from that fateful day in October 2004, which saw him sacked by Oxford and banned from football for four months.
"In the past I have never said much about it or justified myself because my friends and family knew the truth, but now my kids are getting older and it's time to speak out because they will read things on the internet and it's for their sake more than anything," Alsop said.
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"There was a fracas and I took my ban for that, but what was reported in the national newspapers never happened.
"There was a banana and it was rubbed in the lad's face, but that was it."
Alsop refuses to allow the unfortunate events during his time at Oxford sour what has been a career with more highs than lows.
Born in Nuneaton, Alsop turned out for a host of non-League clubs before his form at Halesowen Town captured the attentions of Bristol Rovers, who gave him his chance in the professional game at the age of 23.
His final game for Halesowen was against Cheltenham Town at Whaddon Road, a match that the Robins won 2-1 to earn Steve Cotterill his first three-point haul as caretaker boss.
Some of Alsop's fondest memories are from his early life as a professional, making his debut against Luton Town and scoring his first goal against Burnley.
He then moved onto Swansea City, helping them win the Division Three title in 2000 before Cotterill talked him out of a move to Brighton and brought him to Whaddon Road.
His first season at Cheltenham was mediocre, but he returned fitter and sharper at the start of the 2001/02 campaign and the signings of winger Lee Williams and mercurial strike partner Tony Naylor transformed him into a feared and prolific target man.
Alsop netted 26 goals that season as Cheltenham won promotion to Division Two for the first time in their history via the play-offs.
He netted the second goal in a 3-1 win over Rushden and Diamonds at the Millennium Stadium in the final.
Alsop's goals also helped Cheltenham reach the fifth round of the FA Cup and he was on target in the shock fourth round victory over Burnley, later scooping the club's Supporters' Player of the Year award.
He regrets leaving the club in the summer of 2003 and, after leaving Oxford, he turned out for Northampton Town, Forest Green Rovers, Newport County, Cirencester Town and Bishop's Cleeve – while also channelling his energies into a part-time law degree at the University of Gloucestershire.
With family commitments and studying his primary concerns, a return to full-time football was the last thing Alsop expected.
But he surprised everyone by stepping up from Cleeve to League Two and rolling back the years with some typically committed displays for Cheltenham.
"Last year was unbelievable and if you'd have told me when I started uni that I'd ever be back in pro football, I'd never have believed you," Alsop said.
"I took the chance with both arms because I didn't want any regrets and I think it was successful because we stayed in the League.
"I think everyone questioned the club's decision to bring me back, even my wife Kathryn, but I proved myself and that shows with me winning the Player of the Year at the end of the season.
"But now I am too old and fat and my missus and kids tell me that! I am 38 in May and I have decided I've had enough.
"My ankles have given up and, with my business commitments now, I need to free some time up. This year at Cleeve I keep getting injured and it's a different standard of football where you get whacked more.
"It's time for some other whipper-snapper target man to take my place. The good thing is with work I am in and around football clubs, so I won't have to miss the banter."
Alsop has set up his own business, offering advice and training to footballers for when their playing days are over.
"It's been hard work, but I have had some great help from a lot of people and good advice," he said.
"Getting into clubs has been fantastic, dealing with pros, ex-players, youngsters getting released and part-time players looking for work.
"I have no interest in coaching badges or management because when you look what the Cheltenham gaffer (Mark Yates) is going through this week, I just wouldn't do it."