Alsop's fable - there's more to life than football
As achievements go, Cheltenham Town's all-time Football League goalscoring record is a very modest affair.
Julian Alsop's strike against Rochdale in a recent League Two match took the 36-year-old to within two of the record. It came 2,324 days after his previous goal for the club.
If the target man does eventually claim the record - and nothing can be taken for granted in this story - it will complete a remarkable second coming for a player who dropped out of the Football League almost five years ago.
Alsop is hardly a household name but he was a hard-working lower-division striker, an old-fashioned battering ram who won his headers and held up the ball.
Alsop did not return to the Football League after his suspension expired and, as the years ticked on, it looked unlikely to ever happen.
He had played for Cheltenham from 2000-03 and I was curious to know how his unexpected return to Whaddon Road came about. I expected to hear a story of a player desperately grabbing an unexpected second chance with both hands, of someone anxious to squeeze as much as possible from his Indian summer.
Alsop played for Cheltenham from 2000-03 before joining Oxford.
But from the very moment I called Alsop nothing was quite what I expected. I dialled his mobile and was perturbed to hear the Happy Mondays' Kinky Afro playing over the top of the ringtone.
Confused and slightly startled I put the phone down and, a minute later, called him again. More Shaun Ryder. Alsop answered before I decided whether to put the phone down again. But before I could broach the subject of the mystery tune I was told to call back later as Alsop was engaged in the all-consuming basis of feeding his young daughters.
An hour or so later, Alsop was ready to talk and told a tale of a man who fell out of love with football soon after Graham Rix replaced Ian Atkins as manager of Oxford in March 2004.
Alsop, who had been signed by Atkins in June 2003, was told after Rix's first training session that he was not the new manager's type of player. Bristol Rovers showed an interest but they were now managed by Atkins and the chairman at Oxford was unwilling to sell.
"What are you supposed to do? I got caught in the middle of it all," Alsop told me.
Alsop trained all week but wasn't required on the weekend, often taking his children down to Devon for a few days.
"It can get to you after a while," said the 6ft 4in striker. "People outside the professional game say they would do anything to be a footballer but once certain things are happening it can be the worst thing in the world."
His comments made me think of Ipswich's 22-year-old goalkeeper Shane Supple, who recently announced his retirement from football, stating that he had "fallen out of love" with the game.
Alsop definitely subscribes to the philosophy that there is more to life than football, as he discovered during his ban.
Shortly after the start of the 2004-05 season the incident that led to Alsop's dismissal from Oxford took place. He is insistent that the stories that appeared about a banana simply did not happen. Alsop had been told to expect a three-match suspension and £1,000 fine.
"The lad was out of order with what he said to me," explained Alsop, who played briefly for Northampton after he left Oxford and was at Forest Green in January 2005 when the news came through that he would be unable to play for six months.
"The people close to me know what happened and I have not got to justify it to anyone else.
"I served the ban and was not really bothered about returning. I had not missed the game. I was able to spend more time with my family and was enjoying life."
He also did an access course to gain a university place and has since gone on to complete a degree in accounting and financial management. Playing part-time while studying suited the striker, and he gradually rediscovered his love of the game.
Even so, he had no real ambition to play in the Football League. "I really wasn't that bothered," he said.
Alsop returned from a two-week holiday in the summer just in time to turn out for Bishops Cleeve in a pre-season friendly against near neighbours Cheltenham.
He must have impressed because Robins boss Martin Allen approached him afterwards. As Allen has since explained, decent target men are hard to find - especially on a budget. He asked Alsop if he wanted to train with Cheltenham and shortly afterwards the striker signed a month-to-month deal.
Robins boss Allen affectionately calls Alsop (right) his grisly lump of lard.
"In my mind I had moved on to other things that were taking my time up," said Alsop, who now trains with the club two or three days as week. "When it happened it was a complete shock."
As he contemplates his unexpected shot at a place in Cheltenham's record book, the striker, who has also played for the likes of Bristol Rovers, Swansea and Northampton, already has an eye on the future.
He is looking to start a business that facilitates lower-division professionals approaching the end of their careers entering university. There is a refreshing honesty to him when he explains the logic behind his idea.
"Footballers from the lower divisions have often earned decent money but still need to work after they retire," he said. "But often players are lazy and are used to having their backsides wiped. They don't have any formal qualifications and don't know where to look."
He has helped three Cheltenham players start part-time degrees this season but is looking to expand next year if he can persuade the Professional Footballers' Association to endorse his project.
Alsop had never been back to Cheltenham since the day he was sold to Oxford and rarely watches football, preferring a good game of rugby. His return to Whaddon Road represents an unexpected twist, one that is welcome but one that the striker has placed in its true perspective.
"This is an added bonus and I have gone back on my terms," said Alsop. "If I'm not enjoying it I can walk away and go back to Bishops Cleeve."
It remains to be seen whether Alsop will actually beat Devaney's record. In truth I don't think he will lose any sleep if he doesn't.
His only goal this season came against a Rochdale side managed by Keith Hill, a former team-mate and Alsop's best mate in football.
As Alsop prepared to come on as a substitute, Hill said to him: "For Pete's sake, don't score." *
And the Happy Mondays tune?
"One of my daughters put it on years ago and I've never worked out how to get it off," said Alsop.
* Pete was not the actual word used.