100 years later, Tommy Cook’s record may never be broken


Cuckfield Village Football’s Tommy Cook’s dramatic rise to Brighton and Hove Albion’s all-time leading scorer began 100 years ago today.

The opportunity presented itself to the ambitious 21-year-old when boss Charlie Webb gave him his first team debut with Queen’s Park Rangers on September 23, 1922.

When he left Albion in 1929 he set a record that remains unbeaten to this day.

His total of 123 goals will probably never be undercut, because star strikers don’t stop so often these days. Glenn Murray is next on the list at 111.

Cook’s first team debut came at a time when Charlie Webb was looking for a replacement for another Albion hero, Joe Doran, who scored 55 goals in 85 games before being lured to Manchester City for £1,050, money the fighting Albion could hardly refuse.

For a season Cook had honed his craft in the reserves after making the big leap from village football with Cuckfield FC.

Indeed, he had briefly made his Albion debut in the reserves on September 20, 1919 in a right-half draw in a 2-2 draw at Luton Reserves in the South Eastern League.

It appeared to be a one-off stint and he returned to goalscoring Mid Sussex League football before Webb signed him in 1921.

At Cuckfield he scored 27 goals in 22 games in his last season, although he played many games to help in defence.

Cook and his deadly shooting boots were destined for greatness.

However, Cook’s conservative and cautious father, a shopkeeper, Alfred was less interested in his son’s footballing advances and wanted him to pursue a secure career as a marine engineer rather than the highly unstable job of a professional footballer.

One of Tommy’s traits was determination, often bordering on stubborn, and on this occasion it served him well when he decided to pursue a playing career.

But Webb wasn’t ready to throw an exciting young talent into the first-team, and Cook needed to harden himself for professional football.

When Cook started his first season at Albion in 1921/22, despite his local goalscoring abilities, it looked like he would pursue a career in full-back as he spent a season honing his footballing craft as an amateur with the oddly-called reserves The lambs before they turned pro.

Lambs scored their first competitive goal for Albion in a 4-1 win in front of 3,000 at the Goldstone against Southend in the Southern League English Section (Albion’s first team joined the Football League).

That season, Cook played all fullback and center forward positions and only played a few games as a center forward, as he scored about five goals (records are incomplete) for the Lambs.

The departure of Dynamic Doran on the cusp of the 1922–23 season opened the door for young Cook as Albion settled into the Third Division South. Webb had found a star who wouldn’t cost him a transfer fee. It was every manager’s dream.

Webb credited his biggest signing to the club’s administrative secretary, Albert Underwood, who saw Cook play in a park game at Hove’s Marine Ground and recommended him.

Albion drew 0-0 in Cook’s first first-team game at Queen’s Park Rangers in a torrential downpour, with Cook playing with his left palm and showing deft touches and power in both running and shooting.

Cook, still playing from his preferred center forward position, scored his first goal for Albion on 7 October 1922 in a 3-0 win over Gillingham in front of 9,000 fans at the Goldstone.

Cook felt pressure to follow Jack Doran, but his nine goals in 23 games in the 1922–23 season was a promising performance from a young player.

He scored 28 goals in 1923/24 and never looked back, winning one cap for England in 1925. The center forward was his place.

Cook’s top-notch career total of 123 still remains the best-ever peacetime total for the Albion and is extremely unlikely to be surpassed.

He later had an unsuccessful stint managing Albion and died aged 49, having committed suicide in his native village of Cuckfield in 1950.

His professional cricket career also began in 1922 and he scored 20,176 runs for Sussex.

His two sporting careers are commemorated on a special memorial stone provided by funeral directors Gallaghers and Albion in November 2020 at Cuckfield Cemetery, just a few minutes’ walk from his South Street birthplace, Cuckfield.

*Cook’s life is featured in the book Tommy Cook. The Double Life of a Superstar Sportsman’ by Philip Dennett, available for £15 from the Albion Store or from 100 years later, Tommy Cook’s record may never be broken

Fry Electronics Team

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