The Albion legend whose record is in Murray's sights

Glenn Murray admitted he had one eye on an Albion record when he signed his new contract earlier this week.

By Bruce Talbot • 05 February 2020

By REX/Shutterstock
Thomas Cook (third from left, bottom row) in an Albion team photo.

His goal in Saturday’s 3-3 draw against West Ham United was his first of the season but took him one closer to becoming Albion’s most prolific goal-scorer.

Remarkably, that mark of 123 goals has been held since 1929 by Tommy Cook, the Cuckfield-born striker who has another place in Albion’s hall of fame.

Albion were playing in the Third Division South when his exploits in front of goal earned him a call-up to the England team in 1925. These days it would be unheard of for Gareth Southgate to call up players for his squad from League One clubs, and nearly a century ago it was the same but Cook’s prodigious feats could not be ignored.

Born in Cuckfield in 1901, Tommy won a medal for gallantry after saving a ship mate while serving in the Royal Navy during the First World War. Whenever he was on leave, he would turn out for Albion reserves after being spotted by the club secretary playing on the Marine recreation ground in Hove.

After the war he trained as a structural engineer, worked for the Southdown bus company and kept fit by playing for his village team. He signed amateur forms for Albion in 1921 and became a regular in the first team the following season, initially as a half-back before moving into the forward line. In his third appearance he scored the first of eight hat-tricks for the club against Gillingham and never looked back.


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Glenn Murray's century of Albion goals

Cook really came to prominence in 1922 when Albion played three FA Cup ties against the famous Corinthians club which attracted more than 76,000 spectators. The first drew a then record crowd of 23,642 to the Goldstone where Cook scored in a 1-1 draw. It was the first time a film was taken of an Albion match and was shown in cinemas around Sussex.

The replay, held at Crystal Palace and watched by 4,000 Albion fans, also finished 1-1 with Cook again scoring. The second replay, two days later, attracted 43,760 to Stamford Bridge and Cook’s goal proved to be the winner. He performed his usual habit of picking the ball out of the back of the net after putting it there.

Tommy scored again as Albion lost after a replay to West Ham in the next round. In 1924 he netted a hat-trick as Albion beat Everton 5-2. The England selectors took note.

His cap came in February 1925 in a Home International against Wales in Swansea’s old Vetch Field ground, which England won 2-1. He became the 488th player to wear the Three Lions and it was 55 years and 93 days until Peter Ward became the next Albion player and 948th to represent England.

Sport, of course, is unrecognisable from the games played nearly a century ago but Sussex has never produced an all-rounder like Tommy Cook. He always preferred cricket to football and had only played one game for Cuckfield second XI when he was chosen for Sussex in 1922. Captain Arthur Gilligan ordered him to bowl and he took the first of 80 wickets, but it’s as a batsman that Cook is best known. He played 460 first-class matches for the county and over the next 15 years scored more than 20,000 runs including 32 centuries. He had a Test trial but couldn’t break into the team at a time when England had a surfeit of fine batsmen.

After 209 games and 123 goals Tommy left Albion in 1930 and after spells with Gravesend & Northfleet and Bristol Rovers he retired from football in 1933 to concentrate on cricket. In his last season with Sussex in 1937 he killed a sparrow in a game at The Oval such was the ferocity of his shot.

By Sussex CCC.
As well as playing for Albion, Tommy Cook scored over 20,000 runs for Sussex.

He moved to South Africa later that year and coached in Transvaal, playing against MCC in 1938, and became a publican.

His achievements in both sports have stood the test of time but there is a sad postscript to Tommy’s life. During the Second World War he was badly burned in an air crash in 1943 while serving as a corporal with the South African Air Force. While he was thrown from the wreckage and spent six months recovering in hospital, the rest of the crew perished in the flames. His son Roger, who used to live near the Goldstone Ground, later claimed Tommy never recovered from that traumatic experience.

After the War he managed Albion for six months in 1947 but the team finished bottom of the table and had to apply for re-election. Twice married, Tommy had a tangled personal life. He returned to cricket by coaching the boys at Radley College but images of that burning aircraft and the screams of his pals haunted him in nightmares. He was struggling physically too after developing bronchitis and on January 15, 1950 he took an overdose of sleeping tablets and died in his sleep at his home in Cuckfield. He is buried in the village graveyard.

Now Murray is hoping to surpass Tommy’s achievements. He said, “He was a special guy because he played cricket for Sussex and fought in the world war so unfortunately, I haven’t got a patch on him.”