Half A Century On And Still Going Strong
On this website, we don’t only home in on the high-profile figures. California-based Charles Bamforth used another recent trip back to the UK to catch up with a man whose name resonated deeply with him in his years of growing up as a Wolves fan in the 1960s.
As a grammar school lad in the 1960s, I pined to play for the Wolves. Little did I realise that, at that very time, there was a youngster wearing a no 3 shirt in the Wolves second team who was living that dream.
David Cooke, the very blond left-back who supporters of a certain generation will remember so well as a fixture in the Central League side, had the pick of many clubs to join, among them Manchester United.
These clubs had noted the talents of a youngster playing centre-half for Northern Grammar Schools and the England Grammar School sides, as well as getting toughened up by turning out for Sutton Town in the Birmingham League.
Another in that England representative side was Geoff Bromilow, who went on to play for Bolton. David recalls playing against Darlaston Grammar School and outjumping Graham Hawkins to score with a header, although the game went to a replay and ‘Harry’ Hawkins himself netted two on that occasion in a 5-1 win!
“My father was adamant that I had to stay at Waverley Grammar School to finish my A levels,” Cooke says. “All these clubs wanted me to sign as an apprentice professional, including my favourite team, Birmingham City. My hero was their centre-half Trevor Smith. Wolves were the only club who gave me the chance to play as an amateur.”
David was scouted by the legendary George Noakes and went to Wolves to train on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with his first game coming in the fourth team.
“But that was the only game for the club I would play in a no 5 shirt. My second game was in a friendly at Alvechurch, where they were opening a new set of gates!
“Being left-footed, I was put at left back and was the only new player in that particular team, so Stan Cullis came along to watch. Afterwards, he told me I had done well, which was a great boost. I remained at left-back throughout my career.”
Like any other player, though, David Cooke was not exempt from the forceful Cullis tongue.
“We won an FA Youth Cup match 6-1 but I gave away a penalty,” he added. “In he came, put his foot up on the bench and gave me the treatment: ‘What were you floppin thinking about giving away a flippin penalty?’”
Cooke, as an amateur, was part of a very strong third team who won the Midland Intermediate League and Cup in his first season and the League in the second year. He was still a schoolboy when handed his first chance in the second team in January, 1965, two months after his 18th birthday.
“Joe Gardiner collared me at training on the Thursday and told me I would be playing at Derby on the Saturday. We met up at a hotel near the High Level station for lunch and I walked there with Jack Dowen, who had been the first person I met when I joined the Wolves.
“Our new goalkeeper, Dave Maclaren, was staying at the hotel. Jack was great; he gave me the low-down on the winger I would be facing, Don Roby, and pointed out exactly the way he would play.”
In telling me this when I met he and his wife Yvonne over coffee at a hotel near Heathrow Airport a couple of weeks ago, David pulled out the programme for that game from the collection he brought with him.
“My father went to every game I played, home and away, and my mother saved all the programmes,” he said. The team, who lost 2-1, makes nostalgic reading: David Maclaren, George Showell, David Cooke, Fred Goodwin, Graham Hawkins, Ken Knighton, Terry Wharton, Fred Kemp, Peter Knowles, Bob Hatton, Paddy Buckley.
Having finished his A Levels, Cooke was able to sign full-time professional forms for manager Andy Beattie in July, 1965. In due course his brother Peter played for a year at the club.
“But they played him at left-back, too, even though he scored a load of goals at centre-forward and went on to play for Alvechurch and Halesowen.”
David does not precisely recall exactly his first pay packet. “I think it was £15 – plus my train fare from Birmingham. I still lived at home.”
The nearest he ever got to the first team at Molineux, apart from playing in the annual Coloureds v Whites fixture, was when Beattie’s successor Ronnie Allen summoned him into the office to say there was some doubt about Bobby Thomson for the following day’s Second Division game against Portsmouth and that he would be in if there wasn’t an improvement in the fitness bulletin. But the England international made it.
“I didn’t get on with Ronnie Allen,” he admitted. “I still had one year left on my contract but he told me I would not be getting a game. so I went to see Jack Howley, who said they were sorry to see me go as they released me.
“Fred Davies was keen that I follow him to Cardiff and I went down to stay with him at his home before meeting Jimmy Scoular. However, they were heading off on tour and couldn’t fit me in. In the uncertainty, I decided to join my friend Doug Griffiths in signing for Stockport, where Fred Goodwin already was, back with his home-town team.
“Unfortunately I injured the medial ligament in my knee in a pre-season game against Chesterfield. In those days, it was a case of spraying it and saying ‘get on with it’. There was no physio at Stockport like we had with George Palmer at Wolves. That knee gave me trouble for the rest of my career – and I had it replaced five years ago.”
Cooke made just three League appearances in 1968-69 before heading into non-League.
“Jim Kelly, who had played for Blackpool, was chairman of Fleetwood in the newly formed Northern Premier League. He was an insurance broker, so my career went to one of part-time footballer while learning the ropes in insurance, with Norwich Union. The manager of the branch in Preston was a Wolves fan who had watched me play. The interview consisted of ‘What was Ron Flowers like?’ and so on!”
David Cooke became a career employee at Norwich Union, moving from place to place as he advanced in the company, taking roles such as Corporate Pensions Manager in Norwich. Wherever he and Yvonne travelled, David also took his football career.
“At Fleetwood, my team-mates included keeper Kenny Cooper and John Best, both of whom went on to have significant playing careers in America. And there was a smashing player called Fred Wilder, who lined up alongside Alan Ball for Blackpool’s reserve side.”
While still living in Blackpool, where he met local girl Yvonne, David played for Bangor City, Lancaster City and Stafford Rangers, with whom he reached the fourth round of the FA Cup in 1974-1975, before losing to Peterborough, who included Freddie Hill and old friend Paul Walker, formerly of Wolves. The game was played in front of 31,160 on a Saturday night at Stoke’s Victoria Ground.
“We played Burton Albion in that run and they had Ian Storey-Moore, Frank Wignall and Peter Ward up front!”
Next stop for the insurance man was Brighton and his first managerial stint with Isthmian League Worthing, where Chris Cattlin was one of his coaches. The day job next took him to Croydon, so he signed up to manage Tooting & Mitcham and then Bromley. Next was a posting to Birmingham, where he managed the Birmingham University team (including Andy Comyn, later of Derby and Aston Villa), who reached the final of the Universities
Athletic Union, defeating Loughborough on the way. David also coached Worcester, alongside his buddy Doug Griffiths.
The next and final posting with Norwich Union came at Braintree, where Dave and Yvonne have lived ever since. It was time to go scouting…..
“I started with Wimbledon under Stuart Murdoch and, of course, we became Milton Keynes Dons during my time there,” he added. “Then a colleague, Gary Seward, re-introduced me to Jack Chapman, who he had played for at Blackpool when Jack was the youth-team coach.
“Jack got me the job with him at Bolton, initially working for the academy under Geoff McDougle. Then I moved to scouting for the first team, mainly of the upcoming opposition, under Sam Allardyce and Sammy Lee.
“At this time, I took redundancy from Norwich Union and joined Sam at Newcastle but of course he only stayed six months. Dennis Wise was there on the executive team and I know he tested me early on and I came through. Smart guy, Dennis. I know lots of folk aren’t keen but he’s a good lad.
“He promoted me to take charge of opposition reports. I did that successively for Kevin Keegan, Chris Hughton, Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer. Basically, we were formulating tactics. I had three scouts out and about getting the necessary information. On a Sunday evening or Monday morning, I would head up to Newcastle ready to discuss the findings with the manager. We’d produce dvds for the players to study.
“One lad Dennis Wise and I brought over from the States as a 12-year-old was Emerson Hyndman. After we left, the club they didn’t follow through on him. Fulham have. What a player!
“After a while, though, I wanted to get more into scouting generally, so I joined Sam Allardyce at Blackburn. I soon became the senior European scout. We never moved from Braintree, so Stansted was very convenient. Yvonne would come with me and have some great holidays. Mind you, she bounded out of a lift one day and nearly knocked David Beckham over!
“Not all my recommendations came to fruition. I pushed for Robert Lewandowski, the Polish international, for instance, but they wouldn’t sign him.
“I followed Sam to West Ham in a similar role. I would go into his office and there he would be laid out. ‘Right, Cookey. Who have you seen?’ I used to say to him that it would be just great if he took over at Wolves. That would be the dream move.
“Among those I hunted down was Mamadou Sakho. I remember trudging two miles through the driving snow for that one – I couldn’t get a taxi! I remember banging on for nine months that we should get Alex Song.
“Neil McDonald was Sam’s assistant, as he had been at Blackburn, and I took him on one of these trips. I told him of a great restaurant we had to go to, only to find that it was closed down. He’s never let me forget that.
“Martyn Glover, who had been head of player recruitment at Upton Park, was keen that I should follow him to Leeds but there was no vacancy. So I have recently joined up with Neil at Blackpool. I will be covering everything south of Shrewsbury while Peter Glover (no relation of Martyn) will take the north.”
I asked David how long will he carry on for – and, smilingly, I suggested to Yvonne that she might be interested in the answer to that. “Ah, but he is so dedicated,” was her reply. Ninety minutes shot by as we reminisced with much laughter.
“There was the time that the Wolves third team were playing Brierley Hill,” he added. “It was one-way traffic down the slope and Phil Parkes had little to do. So someone came on and gave him a cup of tea. He got fined for that!”
There was also opening the batting alongside Terry Wharton for the Wolves Cricket XI. And playing for the Tom Finney XI, Stan Mortensen XI or Jim Kelly XI (all three featured the same players!) in Stanley Park, Blackpool, against the likes of the Showbiz XI, Tommy Steele included. “There would be 10,000 folks there and someone like Cilla Black kicking off.” Whisper it but David also played a couple of years for the ex-Albion team.
“And I am disappointed in you, Charlie, that you have missed one ex-Wolves keeper in your work! I went in goal for 15 minutes once, taking over from either Fred Davies or Evan Williams, I can’t remember which.”
Which must be just about the only thing David Cooke does not recall from a career of over 50 years of dedicated service to our wonderful game.