Only three men have scored more than 200 goals while representing Middlesbrough Football Club. George Camsell leads the way in a league of his own with a record of 345 goals in 453 appearances that will likely never be broken. Third on the list is the legendary Brian Clough who notched 204 times in just 222 games.
In between those two Boro behemoths sits a less familiar and rarely celebrated name. George Elliott was Boro’s original goal machine, finding the net on 213 occasions across 365 games, during the early 20th century yet he isn’t revered like Camsell, Clough or even those behind him in the club’s all-time goal chart.
It’s time to find out why and to explore the life of a man who made Middlesbrough famous on the pitch and infamous off it.
Elliott was born on the 7th of January 1889 in Sunderland to parents George Sr. and Mary, the third child in what would become a large family of 11, not uncommon for the time. George Sr. was a mariner by trade and the family moved to Middlesbrough in 1901 when he took up a job with the American Anglo Oil Company.
Not much is known about George Elliott’s childhood, though the family were living in Denmark Street, part of Middlesbrough’s industrial estate.
As a teenager, Elliott played amateur football for local sides Redcar Crusaders, South Bank and Grangetown with his exploits on the local scene earning him the attention of Middlesbrough, who offered him a professional contract in 1909.
Elliott’s mother and father did not want their son to pursue a career in football (oh how times have changed) so that he could concentrate on learning a trade, but George signed the contract anyway, making his Football League debut in September of 1909 against Sheffield United.
Initially an inside right, Elliott appeared 16 times for the Boro in his first season at the club and scored four goals. The first of his 213 goals for the club came in a 4-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday on 8 January 1910.
Playing with notable names like Tim Williamson, Alf Common and Steve Bloomer, Elliott helped the team to narrowly avoid relegation from the First Division, securing a 17th place finish in the final weeks of the season.
Elliott and Middlesbrough made gradual improvements the next year as the club finished 16th, with Elliott hitting ten goals in 25 appearances.
The young man’s eye for goal was becoming more apparent and he was soon moved into the centre forward role to spearhead Boro’s attack. This tweak to his game unleashed a new side to George Elliott and the goals began to come thick and fast.
The 1911-12 season saw the club fly up the table to a 7th placed finish just 9 points behind eventual champions Blackburn Rovers who, like a number of Lancashire clubs, were a powerhouse at the start of the 20th century.
This was to be the first of seven seasons where Elliott finished as Middlesbrough’s leading goal scorer, netting 19 times. Highlights included scoring in an early season win over Blackburn at Ayresome Park and hitting the first of 9 hat-tricks he would register while at the club in a 4-2 win over Preston.
Elliott, flourishing in the centre forward position, went from strength to strength the following year bagging 24 goals in 37 games. Described as “a rare schemer, a craftsman of undoubted skill with one of the most deadly shots in the country”, he caught the eye of the national team, earning the first of 3 England caps against Ireland at Windsor Park in February 1913.
The forward’s personal achievements weren’t matched by Middlesbrough however as the club dropped right back down the table to 16th. It was not a good year for the club as it took a 0-0 draw with Newcastle to avoid being whitewashed in local derbies against the Magpies and Sunderland.
Without Elliott, they would have been comfortably relegated to the Second Division, which makes what was to come the following year even more remarkable.
Under the guidance of Thomas H. McIntosh, the team recorded the best league performance in club history before or since, finishing third in the First Division. Only a point behind 2nd placed Aston Villa and 8 behind champions Blackburn, Boro were considered the most exciting team in the country by many that year.
At the heart of it was Elliott, now 25-years-old, who ended the season as the top scorer in the First Division with 31 goals in just 33 games. He led a terrifying trio of attackers ably assisted by Walter Tinsley who himself bagged 19 goals and John Carr who contributed 11.
December, a time of giving and celebration, was particularly bountiful for Elliott. His brace saw Boro beat rivals Newcastle 3-0 at Ayresome Park before he scored on 3 consecutive days in a 3-1 loss to Sheffield United on Christmas Day and victories over Tottenham (1-0) and Manchester City (2-0) on Boxing Day and the 27th of December.
The goals kept coming in 1914 as Elliott found the net on New Years Day in a 3-2 triumph over Derby County which was followed up by a hat-trick against Blackburn in a 3-0 win at Ayresome Park in early January.
Strangely, Elliott only scored once in the final three games of the season despite Boro recording 13 goals against Spurs (6-0), Liverpool (4-0) and Villa (3-1).
The team were widely regarded as future champions in waiting given their attacking talent and with legendary goalkeeper Tim Williamson guarding the other end of the pitch.
However, Boro experienced another huge drop in form the following year as they found themselves in 12th place in a season where Elliott was outscored by Tinsley who scored 26 times for the side, with Elliott managing 17 – now considered a paltry sum by his extraordinary standards.
The outbreak of war saw all professional football suspended until 1919, where Elliott returned to Ayresome Park as a 30-year-old and he treated First Division opposition as the reason he had lost out on some of his prime footballing years.
Elliott scored a career best 34 in the 1919-20 season that followed peace including all four in a 4-0 win over Bradford in April 1920.
26 goals followed in the next campaign as Boro came 8th in the First Division, securing a double over Sunderland in back-to-back weeks with Elliott scoring every Middlesbrough goal in respective 2-0 and 2-1 wins.
Approaching his 33rd year, George struggled with injuries in 1922 seeing his impact on the team diminish with only 13 goals which was his lowest total since his second season as a pro. However, Elliott’s lack of goals and game time were supported by inside forward Andrew Nesbit Wilson who notched 31 times which caused much excitement at Ayresome Park with the thought of Wilson and a fully fit Elliott teaming up together the next year.
While Elliott did score 23 times in the 1922/23 season, Wilson regressed only finding the back of the net 12 times.
That was to be George Elliott’s last great goalscoring season in a Boro shirt and as a football player. Injuries hampered his last two years which saw him only score 11 times in a bit-part role as the club were relegated in his penultimate season. His final goal for Middlesbrough came in a Second Division draw against Crystal Palace on the 29th of November 1924 with his final appearance against Southampton in April 1925.
Despite lucrative offers to extend his playing career at both Newcastle and Sunderland, George Elliott retired in the summer of 1925 with 213 goals and 365 games to his name for Middlesbrough. Elliott’s place in the team was taken by a little known forward from Durham City named George Camsell.
It was in the 12 months after retirement that George Elliott’s name became marred in controversy and his reputation was tarnished.
According to accounts from the Middlesbrough Chief Constable at the time on the 18th of August 1925 “George Elliott made a telephone call to the police station. A friend, he said, had noticed what he thought were rags on the side of the car he had just placed in his garage near Lothian Road, Middlesbrough, but closer examination had revealed the body of a child wedged in the back part of the car”.
The body belonged to Geovanni Serrecchia, aged 11, of 22 West Row, Stockton-on-Tees. Upon investigation by the police, it was determined that Elliott had knocked the boy down while driving late at night without the use of his headlights with his body becoming trapped under the wheel arch.
Elliott was arrested for manslaughter on 31st August and went to trial later that year. The Northern Daily reported on Friday the 13th November of that year that “George Washington Elliott, cargo superintendent, was at Durham Assizes today acquitted of the charge of manslaughter arising out of the death of a Stockton boy.
Mr. Waugh, defending, contended there was no evidence to go to the jury of such gross carelessness and negligence as would justify a verdict of manslaughter. Evidence pointed to the conclusion that the car did not knock the boy down, but that he slipped down and thus got under the car.”
Among witnesses for the defence were three men riding in Elliott’s car. All categorically denied that they knew that anybody was knocked down by the car, that they heard any shouting, or that anything of any kind took place which indicated that the boy had been knocked down or was being dragged underneath.
Elliott said he had not the slightest knowledge that anything wrong had happened until the car was garaged.
Elliott was indirectly involved in another death the following summer when he was the passenger in a car that collided with a motorbike, with fatal results to 19-year-old George Adamson who was riding in the sidecar.
The Northern Daily Mail noes that “A verdict of ‘accidental death’ was returned, the jury being unanimously of the opinion that Mr. Pipe (rider of motorcycle) had committed an error of judgment” on 29th June 1926.
Further motor vehicle issues and bad press came in September of that year when Elliott was fined £25 and had his license suspended for twelve months for being drunk in charge of a motor car, with the former Boro forward narrowly avoiding a prison sentence.
Elliott died on 27th November 1948 at the age of 59.