A four-day spell in January 1923 marked one of the most prolific periods of transfer activity in Everton history. In an effort to bring a season that was spiralling out of control – Everton were in the unheard of depths of fourteenth place and out at the first stage of the FA Cup – the Everton board spent heavily to bring three internationals to Goodison. From Manchester United came Scotland defender, Neil McBain, and from Chelsea the England centre forward, Jack Cock. But the signing that would have the most significant impact on the club was Scotland international winger, Alec Troup, signed for a fee of £1950.
Troup was a classic wideman, a feinter and crosser of deadly, unerring accuracy. ‘There could be no doubt of the class of Troup when he was on the move,’ recorded the Liverpool Echo in a prescient assessment of him on his debut, a 4-1 horror show at Stoke. ‘He did not run along the wing and lift the ball into the centre heedless of his colleague’s positions, but he placed the ball well and also made use of a delicious inward pass, as deceptive as it was neatly done.’
Troup, in tandem with the new arrivals revived a flagging team. Newspaper eulogies said things like: ‘Troup’s dandy runs and dribbles have captivated the Mersey crowd.’ ‘Troup has put the “ton” back in Evetton’. He was a ‘magic’ and ‘charismatic little Scot’ who brought out ‘the best in players like Cock and [Wilf] Chadwick.’ By the season’s end, something had been redeemed from the disappointing campaign and the club finished fifth.
Troup’s creativity and verve had a transformative effect on the team. When he played forwards prospered and with Sam Chedgzoy on the opposite flank Everton had arguably the finest pair of widemen in the league. They combined with great success in the 1923/24 season, providing the crosses and attacking impetus that made Wilf Chadwick the First Division’s leading goalscorer with 28 goals.
But it was his understanding with Dixie Dean, who arrived in March 1925, for which Troup became renowned. Dean, a classic target man and incredible finisher, thrived from the teasing crosses put in by the Scot. ‘He stood only 5ft 5inches, but was full of bravery and skill,’ recalled Dean. ‘Because of a weak collarbone, which kept slipping out of joint, he had to play with a strapping on his shoulder every game… I think we had a perfect understanding and I think I have to thank him more than anyone else for the part he played in scoring the goals I did. I’d rate him as one of the best wingers there’s ever been.’
Countless goals came from the pair combining. Still only a teenager, Dean managed 32 goals in the 1925/26 campaign – his first full season – and 21 the next, a year that was largely wrecked by his near-fatal motorcycle accident. But it was 1927/28 for which Dean became a legend. ‘It’s much better for a centre forward to be able to head a fast moving centre,’ Dean would recall in later life. ‘I could either head it directly or flick it on to someone else, and Troup’s centres were made to order.’ Chedgzoy was another winger who he praised, by Troup ‘was even more accurate than Sammy, and used to hit them harder.’
According to Troup’s biographer, David Potter, Evertonians adopted a Victorian music hall song, “Nellie Dean” that paid tribute to both Dixie and his wideman.
‘That’s another goal you’ve scored, Dixie Dean,
Another goal for our team, Dixie Dean,
For when Troup sends it o’er
Above them all you’ll soar,
It’s a goal, we love you, Dixie Dean!
Invariably it was a Troup corner from which Dean got his legendary sixtieth Everton goal of the 1927/28 season. ‘Troup’s determination equalled that of Dean himself,’ wrote Potter. ‘His ever-alert football mind went back to his days with Forfar North End at the Market Muir before the First World War. There he was always told about corners, “If ye’re geaeing tae float it in, mun, hit it higher than ye think ye need. The wind’ll get a haud o’ it, and yer man’ll be better able tae judge it. He’ll hae time tae get in alo’ it’.” This is exactly what he did.’
From the corner Dean rose in front of the Arsenal goalkeeper, Bill Patterson, and above the defence and headed powerfully home. Goodison erupted as history was made. ‘You talk about explosions and loud applause,’ Thomas Keates recalled. ‘We have heard many explosions and much applause in our loud pilgrimage but believe us, we have never heard before such a prolonged roar of thundering congratulatory applause as that which ascended to heaven when Dixie broke his record.’
Dean’s place in history was secured, but the supporting role of his teammates was often overlooked. Yet Dean was always sure to pay tribute to his supply lines. ‘Out of those sixty goals I scored this season I must have scored forty from centres by Troup, most of them with my head,’ he later said.
Troup remained a regular through the 1928/29 campaign but thereafter the continual injuries he suffered began to take their toll and his fellow Scot, Jimmy Stein, supplanted him. ‘Old Harry Cooke used to take him down to the dressing room when the shoulder came out of place, jerk it back and the shoulder would come right again,’ recalled Dean.
In February 1930 a delegation from Dundee visited Merseyside in an effort to entice the veteran reserve back to Scotland. Everton sought £500 for Troup, but the Dundee directors had a better offer: first option on their outstanding left half, Jock Thomson. If Everton did not take up that transfer, they could accept a £200 fee. Troup returned to Scotland and a month later Everton took up the option to buy Thomson. Thus as one of the most successful associations in the club’s history ended, so another began.
Potter, David, Wee Troupie, Tempus Publishing, 2002