Memorial tablet laid for a Sussex sporting legend

A special memorial tablet has been laid in memory of a sporting legend from Cuckfield.

Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 7:46 am
The special memorial tablet

Tommy Cook once terrorised professional football defences in winter and bowlers in summer.

His all-time record tally of 123 goals between 1922 and 1929 for Brighton and Hove Albion is unlikely to be bettered in modern times. A brilliant double sportsman, he also scored 20,198 runs for Sussex.

Albion historian and author Tim Carder represented the club at the ceremony at Cuckfield cemetery and Jon Filby of Sussex Cricket Club Museum represented the cricket club. They laid poppy wreaths on the grave; Tommy served in both WW1 and WW2.

A special ceremony was held

In WW1 he is credited with saving a shipmate by diving into the sea in Russia. In WW2 he suffered physical and mental injuries when surviving an air training crash in South Africa in 1943.

By 1947 he was back in England managing Albion, but his few months in charge were a disaster and he was soon sacked. Tommy did some coaching in the late 1940s but he suffered badly from the aftermath of the South Africa incident and he died at only 49 in 1950 from an overdose.

Phil Dennett, 70, of Burgess Hill, whose grandfather played for the Albion, and who first supported Albion in the 1960s, decided to get a memorial stone laid on the grave after seeing the worn-out state of its headstone last year while researching a book on Tommy.

The Albion immediately agreed to pay for the inscription and funeral directors Gallaghers gave the granite tablet, as well as tidying up the weather-beaten headstone.

Tim Carder (l) and Jon Filby with wreaths

Phil, a former Mid Sussex Times news editor, said: “We had planned to hold the service in January 2021 to coincide with the anniversary of his birth, but because the pandemic worsened so much, resulting in another lockdown from November 5, we had to bring everything forward. I am grateful for those who attended at such very short notice. Luckily, after some bad weather, we were blessed with a beautiful sunny day.

“Tommy was a great Sussex sportsman and it is right that we celebrated his achievements. The word unique is over-used, but in Tommy’s case it is true. No-one in the history of Sussex has achieved such heights in two professional sports.

“ I would like to thank Albion and Pat Gallagher of Gallaghers for their support for this project, which I feel is a proper recognition of his sporting life.”

Also present at the service on November 3 were Pat Gallagher, of Gallaghers, Bill Collins, of Cuckfield cricket club and stone mason Paul Buckland, who restored the headstone for Gallaghers.

The service was conducted was Rev Michael Maine, vicar of Cuckfield.

Tommy played cricket and football for Cuckfield before his professional sports career started in his early 20s.

Dashing Tommy went on to become the first Third Division (South) footballer to play for England, and the first Albion player to achieve England international honours. There were calls for him to be picked for the England cricket team as he greatly desired, but he was never chosen. Sadly, neither Albion nor Sussex won a title in Tommy’s day, but his individual achievements are an indelible part of Sussex sporting history.