Book Review – Cocker Hoop: The Biography of Les Cocker, Key Man for Ramsey and Revie by Robert Endeacott & Dave Cocker

Book cover.

The great Leeds United side of the late sixties and seventies and the England World Cup winning team of 1966 are remembered for the men that managed them, Don Revie and Sir Alf Ramsey respectively. But there is an individual that connects both, and whose name is not so familiar – that of Les Cocker. And whilst there are various books about Revie and Ramsey detailing their respective playing and managerial careers, the story of the assistant to both these giants of the English game is pretty much unknown.

That wrong has been righted with the publication of, Cocker Hoop: The Biography of Les Cocker, Key Man for Ramsey and Revie by Robert Endeacott & Dave Cocker. Endeacott is a well-known writer of a number of books, many about his beloved Leeds United, and co-authors this book with Les Cocker’s son Dave. Given then that one of the co-authors as a die-hard Leeds fans could be seen to be wearing white rose tinted glasses and the other co-author is the book subject’s son, some may question how dispassionate a book this can be.

Following a generous Foreword from ex-Leeds United player John Giles (as he signs himself in the book, rather than the Johnny familiar in his playing days) about his time working at the Elland Road club with Les Cocker, there follows an Introduction from Endeacott. Here, his distain for the film The Damned United is detailed given its portrayal of people and events, including Cocker. Now as a non-Leeds United fan and given my view that the film is deeply fictionalised for cinematic effect, I don’t have the same misgivings or deep rooted anger towards the film as many of the Elland Road faithful have. However, with Endeacott having expressed this, from this point on for me as a reader, there was a nagging feeling that the book felt like it had to come up with a justification to dispel the ‘fictional’ Cocker figure.

So who was the ‘real’ Les Cocker?

Readers are told his story in a traditional timeline, with the opening chapters looking at his childhood and family as the young Cocker grew up in Stockport, following his birth there in March 1924. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Cocker was too young to join up, but in 1941 was called up for National Service. In 1944 D-day 06 June, Les suffered a head wound which saw his returned to England to recover. Like many men of the time, we discover that he didn’t like to talk about his wartime experiences and in understated fashion referred to his injury as, “just a graze” indicative of a stoic nature.

With the war over, we discover that Cocker had a professional playing career, beginning in 1945 and finishing in 1958 as a forward with local side Stockport County and then Accrington Stanley. Probably the most significant part of his transfer and which was to ultimately create his future career was the agreement that Accrington would pay for his FA coaching courses and Treatment of Injuries course.

What is engaging and works to provide real insight into Cocker are the interviews that Endeacott provides within the book. One such and relating to Cocker’s time at Accrington as a player, is with the ex-Lancashire and England player and until recently Sky Cricket Commentator, David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd. Accrington born Lloyd speaks with affection about Cocker the player, “he was a marauding centre-forward, I mean fearless, all action, all effort…yeah, he was a dirty bugger but a really nice bloke.” This interview forms part of Chapter 2, taking Cocker’s story up to the point of him accepting his first coaching role at Luton Town in 1959.

Chapter 3 sees him make the move to Leeds United in July 1960 who along with Cocker’s previous employer, Luton Town had been relegated from the First Division at the end of the 1959/60 campaign. In another of Endeacott’s insightful interviews, former Leeds player Gerry Francis, provides an early assessment of Cocker’s impact at Elland Road. “Les was a very good coach and trainer…he was also very strict. If you did not train as hard as he thought you could, Les would be tough on you.” Leeds though struggled in the 1960/61 season and in March 1961, Don Revie took up the reins at the club as Player/Manager, keeping the Elland Road club out of the ignominy of relegation to the then Third Division.

Meanwhile Les was starting on a path to connection with the England national team set-up, becoming trainer to the Under 23 side in November 1961. The remainder of the chapter takes readers through to the 1963/64 season, when Leeds won the Second Division title to return to the top-flight of English football, with John Giles highlighting that Cocker’s skills didn’t simply extend to coaching, with Les also taking “care of the medical side of things for the players too, in the afternoons. Les was a huge contributor to the success of the club.”

1965 FA Cup Final programme.

Chapter 4 sees Leeds start to make their make on the English game with a first appearance in the 1964/65 FA Cup Final, although ultimately losing 2-1 to Liverpool. There is also a telling story offering another view to the alternative as Cocker as just a tough trainer. In a Under 23 friendly in Vienna, Alan Ball was sent off with Les providing a consoling arm to the distraught player. England senior manager Sir Alf Ramsey noted this as “it showed that he (Cocker) would influence, for the better, the player’s future conduct” and was no doubt part of Ramsey’s decision to promote Cocker to trainer of the senior England squad and therefore a key part of the 1966 World Cup preparations.

The lead up and the tournament in 1966 dominate Chapter 5, with an excellent interview with the Three Lions right-back of the time, George Cohen, providing a great inside view of the England set-up and Cocker’s contribution during that historic time. Once again readers get to see another part of Cocker’s range of skills, with Cohen stating, “he (Cocker) knew what an individual needed, he was very good that way, spotting areas that a player might need to work on.”

Chapter 6 1967 to 1970 – Leeds’ time and turn for glory?, centres on the Elland Road club finally bringing major silverware to LS11, with the League Cup, First Division title and Inter Cities Fairs Cup adorning the trophy cabinet. It highlights Cocker’s contribution to success and how he understood the support that injured players needed in their rehabilitation during a period when Leeds were playing for a number of trophies at home and in Europe. The chapter also looks at England’s preparation for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico and the unsuccessful defence of the Jules Rimet trophy.

Chapters 7 & 8 look at the period up to 1973, with Leeds picking up more silverware in the shape of the 1971/72 FA Cup but missing out on the First Division title as runners-up in 1970/71 and 1971/72. Cocker again continues as the no-nonsense and loyal assistant as part of Revie’s backroom staff. However, for the England national side dark clouds gather as they miss out on qualification for the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany.

Programme from 1973/74 First Division title win.

1974 and past it? focuses on the period of change both from an England perspective and that at Elland Road. April 1974 saw Sir Alf Ramsey sacked, prompting all the backroom staff including Cocker stating they would resign in a show of loyalty to the ex-England boss. However, Ramsey whilst appreciating the gesture, talked them all out of the course of action. Indeed throughout the book, the FA is not seen in a good light, with the institution in one incident more concerned with looking after the FA Council members than those on the frontline. Leeds went onto win the 1973/74 First Division championship and with it, put Don Revie in a position as favourite to take the England job. Interestingly, the book details how Cocker “urged him (Revie) not take it as it was the worst international squad Les had known in his career; there were too many ‘ordinary’ players around.” Despite Revie’s recommendation of John Giles as the new manager, the board went with Brian Clough, and in doing so, Cocker left to take up a role as Assistant England Manager.

Chapter 10 looks at the three years for Les in the England senior camp. It shows how the world of club and international football differ with the lack of regular contact that was enjoyed at Leeds not able to be replicated for England, and as Endeacott reflects, “recreating such wonderful alchemy was a romantic but implausible idea at international level.” With Revie unable to work his magic for the Three Lions and the FA it seems working behind the scenes to bring in another manager, he resigned in in 1977 taking up a role as the manager of the United Arab Emirates national team. Cocker the ever-loyal assistant joined his ‘gaffer’ in Dubai.

The final chapter, The UAE and then ‘Donny’, sees Cocker complete the two-years of his contract in the Middle East, leaving Revie to stay on and later manager Emirati clubs, Al-Nasr and Al-Ahly. Cocker returned to England as assistant to Billy Bremner at Fourth Division Doncaster Rovers, “working there voluntarily, being paid only for his travel expenses.” There is another well conducted interview from Endeacott, with Glynn Snodin who was at Rovers at the time (and later went on to play for Leeds), explaining that Cocker’s enthusiasm and input was the same whatever the level of the game, “if you needed help, Les was always there for you. He’d tell you things but ask you things as well, he wanted your opinion, he wasn’t just about ordering you about.” Tragically, Les was to die suddenly of a heart attack, only 55 years old, on 04 October 1979, a shocking loss to his family and the world of football.

Co-authors Robert Endeacott and Dave Cocker have provided a wonderful tribute to Les Cocker in this book, with Endeacott’s insightful interviews and knowledge of Leeds United combining with Cocker’s family anecdotes and stories of the time. It shows Les Cocker as a talented individual, whether as a coach, assistant manager or trainer, loyal, hardworking, wanting nothing more than to make players and the team the best they could be. A great read for the Elland Road faithful, but also for anyone wanting to get a view of football from the 1960s and 1970s.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. July 2022. Hardcover: 256 pages)


Buy the book here:Les Cocker

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Book Review: Another Bloody Saturday – A Journey to the Heart and Soul of Football by Mat Guy

With the recent demise of Bury Football Club with its expulsion from the Football League after 134 years, this book first published in 2015, is a timely reminder of what loss means both in the footballing and human sense.

Author Mat Guy takes a diary format look at his journey through the 2014/15 season (with a couple of flashback chapters to 2006) as he seeks to celebrate, “all that is great with the game of football, as seen through the eyes of a club and fans rarely bothered by satellite television cameras and the riches of the elite game.” It takes him from an early season Europa League Qualifier in North Wales, to the Wessex League Premier Division over the Festive period, via the Faroe Islands and North Cyprus, with Accrington Stanley featuring large in the books twenty-six chapters.

From this book, it is evident that football for the author, like for so many other people, has become deeply embedded in his psyche. For example, the game and attending matches on his own brought solace for Guy when his father took his own life. Whilst the affection he had for his grandfather is warmly described in memories of the trips they took to watch Salisbury City play. However, like the authors’ father and grandfather, the club was taken away from him, when in 2014 the club was disbanded and with it the very physical presence of their ground Victoria Park and the memories it evoked.

The sense of loss is at the centre of the book, as is though the desire to once again feel the connection and almost child-like joy of attending games as he did with his grandfather.

Does Guy achieve this? Well, the author certainly takes in the full gamut of the football experience as the tradition, passion and volunteer spirit that enables non-league clubs to exist is detailed with his trips to games in the Wessex League. He also explores the rise of the Women’s game as he takes in a World Cup Qualifier, the 2014/15 WSL Cup Final and the momentous friendly international between England and Germany at Wembley.  

The stand out chapters though are from 2006 as Guy reveals to the reader football experiences that the average fan in the UK will never get to, in trips to the outpost of the Faroe Islands and Northern Cyprus for the ELF Cup (Equality, Liberty, Fraternity), with Crimea, Gagauzia, Greenland, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Tibet, Northern Cyprus and Zanzibar, the participants.

However, nearly a third of the chapters are devoted to Guy and his fellow travellers as they find a new ‘home’ in the guise of Accrington Stanley. It is somehow fitting that for the author his connection to the game and what he feels is at the heart and soul of the match experience is found in a club that folded back in 1966, only to be reborn in 1968 and once more find its way back into the Football League. Guy is won over by the honesty, the friendliness and eccentricity of the those who follow ‘Stanley’ home and away and the people working to keep the club operating.

The finding of the connection at Accrington and indeed the writing of the book and the different experiences along the way, are no doubt a cathartic experience for Guy, who acknowledges in the final chapter that despite the loss of Salisbury City and the memories of his grandfather at Victoria Park, “it’s time to stop mourning, because it is all here in spirit.”

Right, now for all those associated with Bury FC, they will be consumed by grief and will be mourning the loss of their team and what it has meant to the town. All they have right now is memories, but Another Bloody Saturday gives us hope that there is a new future born out of the spirit of the past.

2014/15: Capital One (League) Cup – Leeds United v Accrington Stanley

Arriving at the ground an hour before kick-off with the intention of grabbing a pint and having a leisurely read of the match programme, I was greeted by the sight of the East Stand turnstiles not open and people stood outside in the rain. There were puzzled looks all-round as time ticked closer to the 19:45 start with the gates still locked and no communication as to what was happening. Then just before 19:00 some turnstiles were opened, although no explanation was forthcoming as to what the problem was. But hey why should that happen, we’re just the paying customers…

Having lost their opening Championship fixture to Millwall, Leeds made a number of changes with Stuart Taylor, Lewis Cook, Gaetano Berardi, Tommaso Bianchi and Matt Smith coming into the starting eleven. Like their hosts, Stanley also lost their opening day fixture, 1-0 to Southend United and manager James Beattie made two changes to the team with Jordan Mustoe and James Alabi coming into the side.

Razzle-dazzle at Elland Road

The game was effectively over by half-time with two excellent finishes from Leeds new boy Souleymane Doukara. The Championship side played some neat passing football and dominated their League Two opponents. However, there were times that Leeds looked less than composed at the back and in midfield Bianchi was often wasteful with his distribution. The second-half was a pretty ordinary affair and it wasn’t until Accrington pulled a goal back on eighty four minutes that the game came to life. More drama came just before the end of normal time when Gaetano Berardi was sent-off for a poor challenge and meant it was an anxious last five minutes of time added-on.

So no banana skins for Leeds, instead a first competitive win for Head Coach Dave Hockaday and progress to the Second Round. However, the faithful at Elland Road will be more concerned about collecting Championship points, starting with a win against Middlesbrough this Saturday. Oh and hopefully the gates will be open on time…

2013/14: Sky Bet League Two: York City v Accrington Stanley

Football is all about routine for fans and this Saturday that seemed to resonant even more than usual as games up and down the country were involved in marking the 25th Anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy.

With my son back from University we took the opportunity to get to a game together. So it was great to take the train from Leeds and pass the time catching up on his ‘new’ life as a student and some football talk. The conversation continued as we blended into the background with the tourists in York city centre en-route to Bootham Crescent.

With programmes purchased, we dropped into the ‘Pitchside Bar’ at the ground and enjoyed a couple of pints as QPR v Nottingham Forest played out on the big-screens in the background.  There was a great ‘buzz’ in the bar as home fans mingled with those from visitors Accrington Stanley – York fans hoping for a home win that would keep their play-off hopes alive, whilst Stanley fans were looking for a result which would go towards ensuring their Football League survival.

With kick-off creeping nearer it was time to go into the ground. We opted to stand in the away end and within minutes of entering the terrace were getting something to eat. I’ve watched football for forty two years, but today I enjoyed the best pie at a game – so a special mention to Wrights pies of Crewe – Chicken Balti, absolutely fantastic.

As a mark of respect for the 96 who died at Hillsborough, kick-off here and across the country was delayed to 3.07. The reasoning behind this was that at 3.06 in 1989 the Liverpool v Nottingham Forest FA Cup Semi-Final was stopped and with a minutes silence observed today, this would take kick-off to 3.07. At Bootham Crescent, the mark of respect was met with an impeccable silence; the only sound to be heard was the chorus of birds in the trees behind the Popular Stand.

Then a blast from the official’s whistle and the normal match-day sounds resumed.

League Two has been a keenly contested division this season and has meant that there hasn’t been much to differentiate between sides chancing a play-off spot and those trying to avoid the relegation spots. So it proved today, York were unbeaten in twelve games (their last loss being in the final week of January), whilst Accrington had won four in their last twelve, but had lost to relegation threatened Northampton last weekend.

Stanley were not overawed by their hosts and in the first-half had chances through Luke Joyce, Piero Mingoia and Kayode Odejayi, in a battling display during the opening forty five minutes. The Minstermen though created their own fair share of opportunities with Ryan Brobbel, John McCombe and Calvin Andrew going close for York. However, it remained 0-0 at the break.

York came out stronger in the second-half and were rewarded just after the hour, when Odejayi was perhaps a little unlucky to be penalised for handball in the area. Michael Coulson converted from the spot and City had the lead. Accrington though didn’t buckle and continued to put York under pressure with good chances falling to Naismith and Odejayi. York though should have killed off the game when Calvin Andrew could not apply a touch to Will Hayhurst’s cross.

With the fourth official signalling four minutes of time added on, fans of both clubs started to drift away. Those that did missed the Stanley equaliser. From Lee Molyneux’s corner, City keeper Pope misjudged the flight of the ball and Shay McCartan had an easy header into the goal. The home fans were silenced and it nearly got worse, when in the last minute Pope saved from Naismith to ensure that the game ended 1-1.  Accrington though deserved their point. It could prove to be a costly result for York, as they dropped out of the play-off spots, with four games remaining.

With the game over it was time to make our way back to the railway station. There was however time for a pint and idle chat about the game and results across the country.

As football fans we perhaps take for granted our own match-day routines – the people we go with, the places we meet, the banter, the beers, the high and lows. And like life itself, we shouldn’t – instead we should stop and consider how lucky we are.

25 years ago, fans set out on a sunny day in April to attend a game at Hillsborough, 96 didn’t return, never again to enjoy another match-day.