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Every Manchester United player ever: Reg Allen

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Today, we take a look at the career and life of Reg Allen: commando, Manchester United goalkeeper and post-war record-breaker.

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There just aren't enough footballers called Reg these days, are there? More Reginalds, please, parents of Britain. More Reginalds.

Although, if we're being honest, this Reginald was actually called Arthur. Back in the mists of time, when Gianluigi Buffon was yet to slip into this world, the record for most expensive goalkeeper of all time was held by one Arthur Reginald Allen, a West Londoner. The fee amounted to £11,000, was paid by Manchester United to Queens Park Rangers, and was pretty much a success: though Allen was aged 31 when he moved and was only first-choice for two seasons, the second of those, 1951-52, ended with United winning their first title since the second world war.

All of which might be the least interesting thing about him. Allen made his debut for QPR just before the outbreak of war, but as soon as war broke out, three games into the 1939-40 season, he volunteered. He played in a few exhibition games during training but was then posted to Dover, where he picked up a taste for war:

We had many exciting experiences with German aircraft which rather whetted my appetite for further action. About this time the Commandos were being formed as an advanced striking force against German occupied Europe. This was my idea of soldiering; so I volunteered and was sent to the wilds of Scotland for intensive training [...] The vigorous Commando training allowed no time for sport, especially as I and ten others were picked to form the nucleus of a special branch of the Commandos, which later became known as the Special Boat Service.

Unfortunately for him, Allen spent more time in training than he did as an active soldier. Six missions into his career as a commando — he recalled the year as 1941, though other sources say 1942 — he was captured in North Africa while attempting to sabotage a German ship, and spent nearly four years as a prisoner of war. Following a failed escape attempt, which involved a jump from a moving train, he was taken to Stalag 344 in Nazi-controlled Poland where he spent most of the rest of the war. Quite naturally, he took charge of organising the prisoner six-a-side games; quite perversely, he insisted on playing up front. The better to understand the other enemy, perhaps.

After being liberated by the advancing Russian army he returned to England and, after a long convalescence, reclaimed his position in goal for QPR. He kept 20 clean sheets in the 1947-48 season as the west Londoners won the Division Three South, then 13 the following season as they finished mid-table in Division Two. QPR also made a run to the quarterfinals of the 1947-48 FA Cup and took Derby County, two divisions above them, to a replay. Allen broke his finger inside the opening half hour and spent the rest of the game out on the wing.

Then came the call from Manchester. Though United's first-choice keeper Jack Crompton had been outstanding in the 1948 FA Cup final, Busby had tried to take Allen to United at the end of the war and when Crompton broke a wrist in 1950, Busby brought him north and immediately threw him into the first team. Allen played 40 games in his first season, as United finished four points behind title-winning Tottenham, then 33 the following campaign as United went one better.

It seems, however, that he never quite escaped the shadow of those long years as a POW. The Independent's obituary of Crompton notes in passing that Allen was "frequently brilliant but periodically unwell", and in 1952 he lost his place in the first team after a dressing room breakdown. He retired a few years later and lived out the rest of his life in Hanwell, Ealing, where he largely vanished from the public eye. He died in April 1976, one month short of his 57th birthday.

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Arthur Reginald Allen (3 May 1919-3 May 1976)

80 games (1950-52), 0 goals, First Division champion 1951-52