Serial Winner Savours Latest Triumph

Cook Flying High Once More

Paul Cook in front of the TNT cameras after Chesterfield’s defeat at Halifax six days ago.

Graham Turner was eager for updates on his former Wolves players and said quizically: “And I suppose you’re going to tell me Paul Cook is a strong disciplinarian as a manager!”

Turner was by now in the autumn of his career at Hereford, where I had gone to interview him on camera for the 2006 Official History of Wolves dvd.

His own temperament as a player and captain with Chester and Shrewsbury was as solid as they come and he took the same virtues into management. Cook was, shall we say, more maverick in his Wolves years and very ‘laddish’.

The implication from the man who had brought him to the West Midlands from Norwich in 1989 seemed to be that the Liverpudlian had required careful handling as a player here; his social life, in particular.

Which is why Turner observed with interest from a distance as Cook’s own emergence as a manager began with Southport in June, 2006 – and brought a first sacking half a season later.

Eighteen years on, Cook is being fated for leading Chesterfield to the Vanarama National League title with five matches to spare and has become a serial winner.

This is promotion number four for him and was secured on what would have been his dad’s birthday. He took the Spireites up as League Two winners in his first spell there, lifted the same title with Portsmouth three years later and helped make Wigan League One champions in 2017-18.

On top of that, he inspired Sligo Rovers to the winning of the League Cup and FAI Cup and twice led them into European football, oversaw Chesterfield’s journey to a losing Wembley final in the Johnstone Paints Trophy and has been at the helm for any number of other near misses, play-off heartbreaks and cup giant-killings.

It is some record, blighted by a single relegation – and that for Wigan at the end of the 2019-20 Championship season came only after they had been hit with a 12-point deduction for going into administration.

The question of whether he should have been given more chances higher up the English game is a valid one but Ipswich’s sacking of him was done with indecent haste and he is thought to have gone close to the Sunderland job when Lee Johnson was appointed instead.

Chairmen and chief executives at a certain level are likely to have him on their radar again now but he is a legend in North Derbyshire and don’t be surprised if Chesterfield do what Wrexham have done and follow their return to the League by immediately challenging hard for another promotion.

The Spireites don’t have Hollywood owners but they have a terrific set-up and custodians who have generously funded the club.

They took well over 2,000 fans to their clash at Halifax last Wednesday and were roared over the line on Saturday by a crowd of 9,907 at the title-clinching 3-0 home win over Boreham Wood. The final goal was their 100th in the league alone this season and, with 95 points on the board, they are very well placed to bring up another century.

Cook on the sidelines at The Shay, having decided a t-shirt was plenty warm enough for a mid-March night.

I picked the wrong match. Thinking they might be crowned champions six nights ago, I headed for The Shay, only for a 1-0 lead after 35 minutes to turn into a 3-1 half-time deficit and a 4-2 defeat. The fact that their goals-against tally is worse than nine other clubs in their division underlines how easy on the eye they have been.

The game in West Yorkshire opened my eyes a little more as to what makes the manager tick. Upon being greeted with the news that my application for a media pass had apparently been overlooked, I was bailed out by a Liverpudlian within earshot who explained that he and his friends had a spare corporate ticket because of a no-show.

Inside a stadium that has changed beyond all recognition since Wolves played there twice in the Fourth Division in the late 1980s and in the League Cup a decade and a half before that, I was introduced to a large group of Cook’s friends.

One or two of them were amazing soundalikes – not surprising as they were also from Kirkby, were Anfield fanatics almost to a man and had known him at school. 

It was some entourage and many of the same mates had also been present at the 2-2 draw at Oldham the previous weekend when Chesterfield suffered another slight stutter in their inevitable march to the title. 

Three times this season, they have won seven games in a row, they have led the table since September 16 and their six-year exile from the League has been a procession in complete contrast to the thrilling head-to-head between Wrexham and Notts County 12 months ago.

The word out of the highly impressive SMH Group Stadium is that a major part of Cook’s recruitment has been in targeting the right type of character.

Former Wolves midfielder Michael Jacobs is one of those to have been signed and he was included as one of six changes at the weekend from the Halifax game.

Cooky in the kit we most associate him with.

Cook himself has gone on record to say he wishes he had been more aware of the need for sensible nutrition during his five-year Wolves stay, although he regards that special type of ‘refuelling’ to have been largely par for the course in the game then. 

Despite the collective hangover in North Derbyshire these last few days and his insistence that he was looking forward to ‘a couple of Peronis’, we are led to believe he has little truck as a manager with those who aren’t wired in to the team ethic.

All of which conjures up this interesting question for when we can sit down with him at length and ask him why he thinks he has been such a success in the dug-out: ‘Would Paul Cook the manager have signed and tolerated Paul Cook the player?’




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