Precious Catch-Up In The Border Country
There are some football friends you don’t see for years but with whom you quickly pick up from the last meeting.
It was in November, 2016, that our path had last crossed that of Paul Cook – on the occasion of the Friday-night Molineux dinner to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Steve Bull’s arrival at Wolves.
The Liverpudlian was Portsmouth manager at the time and took advantage of the fact his side were playing at Cheltenham the next day to drop by to honour the record-breaking striker.
Six and a bit years on, we left the country this week to surprise the former midfielder on a match night – and weren’t disappointed.
Ok, it was only just over the border at Wrexham but the reception we were given by a man now in his second spell in charge of Chesterfield was everything we hoped it would be.
Cook and his squad are going through a difficult spell following nine National League games without a win but he still clearly lives by the mantra: ‘Every day spent working in football is a good day’.
He is unfailingly cheerful, pleased to engage with fans, honest, enthusiastic and in love with the game. He doesn’t do spin or whitewash over the facts.
He recognises that Chesterfield are currently struggling for goals, prone to conceding early ones at the other end and in a poor run. But he insists they won’t ‘park the bus’ in search of better results and will go and attack teams even as formidable as current National League leaders Wrexham.
“We had 26 attempts on goal against Oldham on Saturday and somehow lost 1-0,” he said, mindful that the same chances were going in during the 16-game run of 11 victories and only three defeats that had the Spirites pushing hard for automatic promotion up to late January.
Now, with Wrexham and Notts County both on hugely impressive runs of results, sights in North Derbyshire have been lowered to securing a place in the play-offs for the second successive season.
Chesterfield were beaten 2-1 at the Racecourse Ground on Tuesday and are on a dangerous slide. Cook recognises that supporters look around for someone to blame at such times and accepts that might be him.
His touchline antics are hardly in the shrinking-violet category and are very watchable. When he’s not cajoling, reorganising or ranting, he’s having a word with the fourth official. He’ll talk to anyone! Inwardly, he probably had a smile at the ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning’ taunts of the home fans but he remains true to his beliefs and will sink or swim doing things his way.
He has recently added Kieron Dyer, who was one of his coaches at Ipswich, to his backroom team and is looking beyond only short-term goals.
Hand in hand with concentrating on the promotion race, he is continuing to urge his board to upgrade the club’s training facilities for the future development of players.
Chesterfield have been out of the Fooball League for five years but were in League One as recently as 2017 and have a nice newish stadium.
Eyebrows were nevertheless raised last winter when Cook dropped into non-League so soon after being sacked by Ipswich 20 League games into the season.
Had he sat tight, his CV is strong enough to suggest that approaches would have been made to him before long from League One clubs at least – he had, after all, been strongly linked with jobs at Sunderland, Nottingham Forest and Birmingham in the previous year or two.
But this serial promotion winner, as Wrexham’s programme called him, decided that waiting and wondering wasn’t for him. He returned to the club at whom he had enjoyed considerable success a decade or so ago when former Wolves youth coach Chris Turner was his boss in the boardroom.
Prior to this second spell, he had led Sligo Rovers into Europe and to runners-up spot in the league, taken Chesterfield and then Portsmouth to the League Two title and inspired Wigan to the winning of the League One championship. It’s a record to be proud of and, at 56, we trust he has plenty more in the tank.
As a player, Cook made more appearances for Wolves (214) than for any of his clubs and, although he no longer lives in Telford, he is due down from his home in ‘Andy Mutch country’ near Southport to attend an evening on March 30 that has former Molineux director Doug Hope as its centrepiece.
The Wolves supporters who reaquaint themselves with him there almost three decades on from when Graham Taylor sold him to Premier League Coventry are in for an entertaining evening.