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: The Football Shirts Book – The Connoisseur’s Guide by Neal Heard

When it comes to winners and losers in the beautiful game, forget the trophies, the players, the managers, we all know the real competition is in the shirts. And this is a competition all fans get a say in. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing better than your team rocking an absolute beauty – even if the football on the pitch doesn’t match – and even more so if your rivals are sporting an absolute stinker. Undoubtedly, throughout the course of footballing history, there have, without question, been the good, the bad and the very, very ugly. Although, in truth, most football shirts are neither universally revered or hated – there will be some fans who think the bruised banana is the epitome of cool and others who think shirts couldn’t get much worse. But the thing about football shirts is that they will always cause discussion and debate, and Neal Heard’s, The Football Shirt Book adds brilliantly to that dialogue.

As a football shirt collector and a rather talented designer (his Newport County 2019/20 design deserves a place in this book), Heard is well placed to curate this collection and he selects some 150 iconic shirts that every collector should have or want. His focus is largely on the older shirts after 1966 which have had more time to reach iconic status, but there is a range of clubs and countries represented, with Stockport County lining up alongside Tibet, and Greenbank Under-10s, sitting side by side with Margate FC. With literally thousands of shirts to choose from, I don’t envy Heard the monumental task of whittling the shirts down to a book-sized selection, and inevitably there will be those shirts that fans will find missing. After all, whilst there is a degree of consensus in terms of collectables, judging a football shirt is subjective. The iconic label does help to some degree – who in their right mind could ever exclude England’s 1966 World Cup winning number or Brazil’s 1970 offering, but fans will certainly have their own opinions on which shirts should and shouldn’t make the cut.

The selection of shirts is split into different sections, including those that mix pop culture and football, those that have iconic branding and those that are chosen purely for their beauty. For me, the majority of these sections worked, but it was a shame that, perhaps because of sheer dearth, the politically minded section was a little lighter on offerings – not because I have any political interest, but the stories and aesthetics of these shirts were particularly interesting. Part of me did feel that it would have been nice to have shirt categories visually as well, i.e. hoops, stripes, colourways, and additionally perhaps dedicated pages for particular teams/nations known for iconic strips, but this is just personal preference. Again, purely subjectively, I wasn’t always sure on how or if shirts were ordered in a particular way and felt that a chronological order may have been useful in some instances.

The styling and design within the book are both great and each shirt is given substantial space with only minimal text to introduce it and offer some interesting titbits. For fans who are purely interested in the aesthetics of the shirt therefore, the shirts are clear and well-presented. Indeed, the whole book, in keeping with the sartorial focus of the subject matter, is extremely stylish, including page layout and colour, which really add to the quality of the book. In addition to the shirts themselves, there are some brilliant features which supplement the main sections, including ‘favourite five’ selections from various contributors, as well as interviews with a designer and collector, and I would have welcomed even more of these. I did think the ‘favourite five’ features could have been slightly better displayed with accompanying shirts, especially those not given much focus in the main body of the book, but the feature itself is a really fun one and one that fans can engage with and debate.

Indeed, one of the great strengths of this book is how accessible and interactive it is, so much so that you don’t even have to read the text if you don’t want to, to be able to enjoy this book – you could literally just look at the shirts. Although the book is pitched as a connoisseur’s guide, and shirt enthusiasts will probably have greater familiarity with most of the shirts featured, to me the book works regardless of your knowledge. In fact, for someone unfamiliar with a lot of the shirts, I think the book works just as well, if not better, allowing them to discover shirts for the first time. As something of a novice myself, whilst I have to admit that I disliked more shirts than I liked and therefore fail miserably in the connoisseur stakes, there were a handful of shirts I fell in love with that I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t read the book, and I imagine most fans will find the book worthwhile in introducing them to at least one hidden gem.

A few points where I thought the book could have been improved included having more shirts from the lesser nations, leagues, and teams, but obviously these are not necessarily iconic in a wider context. Goalkeeper shirts, on which designers tend to let loose even more, are lacking – admittedly fewer football fans hanker after a No:1 shirt, but there have been a few iconic ones historically, albeit perhaps for the wrong reasons, including that England 1996 away monstrosity. However, as I said earlier, it’s clearly an unenviable task trying to whittle down the thousands of shirts on offer, and whether your favourite team is featured or not, whether your favourite shirt makes an appearance or is conspicuous by its absence, whether you love the choices or hate them, this book is a great starting point for anyone interested in the world of football shirts and wanting to not only learn about some of the most iconic jerseys in history but also sharpen up the sense of their own preferences.

So whether you’re a shirt collector or just a casual observer, a season ticket holder or an armchair fan, an England supporter or an Estonia supporter, a Premier League follower or a Primeira Liga follower, this book will certainly be of interest and will get readers responding, be it in agreement or disagreement with the shirts on offer.

(Ebury Press. September 2017. Hardcover 144pp)


Jade Craddock


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2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 4 – Tuesday 13 August 2019: Stockport County v Barrow

I’m old enough to remember Barrow being in the Football League back in 1972 when they failed re-election into the “old” fourth Division. Though the reasons for not being re-elected were many, three factors have been highlighted, (1) Barrow’s geographic isolation, (2) Hereford United’s FA Cup victory against Newcastle United, and (3) the decision of the Barrow board to introduce a speedway track around pitch at Holker Street, as a means of off-setting financial difficulties. With Barrow out of the Football League, they joined the Northern Premier League for the start of the 1972/73 season, the club having spent a total of 51 seasons in the Football League. They’ve actually played at their Holker Street ground continuously for 110 years – another ground I need to visit!

In mid-August Barrow were playing away at Edgeley Park, home of Stockport County and so a midweek trip to see the Bluebirds was in order. My connection to Stockport is as with other clubs I’ve adopted, through a work colleague. I say that, but it was probably more accurate to say that I knew Mark through work, as he was based in Manchester. Through him I started to follow Stockport’s results. Like Barrow, they too have dropped out of the top four tiers of the pyramid and both now ply their trade in the National League, the division below League Two. My main memory of Stockport was their trip to the League Cup Semi-Finals when they narrowly lost to Middlesbrough in 1996/97 season. The First-Leg at Stockport saw the Hatters lose 2-0 before securing at remarkable 1 – 0 win at the Riverside Stadium against a Boro’ team containing Australian International ‘keeper, Mark Schwarzer, the Brazilian pairing of Emerson and Juninho, as well as Italian International striker, Fabrizio Ravanelli. It was a brave effort by County who were then in League Two against the Premier League side, going out 2-1 on aggregate. Following the game I discovered that another friend of mines’ husband is a Stockport fan and was also at the game, small world!

A nightmare in parking the car on arrival in Stockport, allied with the fact that the club had decided to go to a ticket-only policy, meant that I missed the first ten minutes of the match and the opening goal of the game. It appears that I’d missed some early excitement as Ben Jackson had already forced a fine save from Barrow ‘keeper Joel Dixon before the home side fell behind in the third minute. Scott Quigley had raced clear one-on-one with the County goalkeeper and slotted home by the time I took my seat. From the restart, Stockport immediately went on the offence for the rest of the half. Dixon further denied efforts from County’s Adam Thomas and Elliot Osborne, with Frank Mulhern and Paul Turnbull both having good chances to level the game before the break.

Into the second-half and the Hatters continued with the pressure and got their rewards just three minutes after the break when Mulhern flicked in an inviting cross from Thomas. Four minutes later and the home crowd were on their feet again as Jordan Keane found the bottom corner with a powerful drive from distance. The crowd had gone from the early frustration of the first-half to the enjoyment of taking the lead within the first seven minutes of the second-half.

From that point it was an absolute cracker of a game and Barrow hauled themselves level through a John Rooney (younger brother of our Wayne) free-kick on 67 minutes. However Stockport weren’t to be denied as Thomas converted a low cross from substitute Jake Kirby for the home team just three minutes later. That goal came with twenty minutes still remaining, but County saw it out in a five-goal thriller to secure a first win back in the National League.


Tuesday 13 August 2019

Vanarama National League

Stockport County 3 (Mulhern 48’, Keane 52’, Thomas 70’) Barrow 2 (Quigley 3’, Rooney 67’)

Venue: Edgeley Park

Attendance: 4,183

Stockport County: Hinchliffe, Miniham, Palmer, Turnbull, Cowan,Keane, Thomas, Dimaio (Kirby 63’), Osborne, Jackson (Arthur 88’) Mulhern (Bell 72’)

Unused substitutes: Ormson, Curran

Barrow: Dixon, Barry, Granite, Kay (Dyson 59’), Brough (Brown 10’), Hird, Taylor, Rooney, Angus, Harrison (Hardcastle 46’), Quigley

Unused substitutes: Hindle, Greaves


Steve Blighton

2013/14: Skrill Conference North – Harrogate Town v Stockport County

Sometimes it’s just not your day. Last Saturday the intention was to go and make a first visit to the CNG Stadium to see Harrogate Town take on North Ferriby United. However, the ‘train gods’ intervened meaning that the necessary connection couldn’t be made to make kick-off and so a detour to Throstle Nest ensued for the Farsley AFC v Darlington 1883 fixture.

CNG Stadium – Harrogate Town AFC

This Saturday the plan was to get to one of the numerous FA Cup Preliminary ties in the Yorkshire region, but at the last minute, on impulse the decision was to make another attempt to visit Harrogate Town for their fixture against Stockport County. All was going well as having made the appropriate connection, arrival into Harrogate was achieved eighty minutes before kick-off. Momentarily the thought of getting a taxi to the stadium was considered, but given that the walk was only about a mile and it was a warm day, then it was a journey by foot that was undertaken. Last week a study of Google Maps had been undertaken to see what the route was, however, having made a snap decision today to make the trip to Harrogate, no further look over the directions to the ground was made. The recollection from the scouting mission of the previous week was that the journey involved walking from Harrogate Station across The Stray to Wetherby Road culminating in total a mile and a quarter trek to the home of Town.

The finery that is grassed areas of Harrogate were soon reached and on stepping foot on the verdant expanses another companion was gained when an innocent looking Stockport fan decided that this errant scribe was a likely looking Saint Christopher. With a confident stride the predicted fifteen minute journey began. However the assured measure began to wane when some twenty minutes later the ground had not been reached and advice was sought from a local shop. The good news was that the owner had a local street map; the bad news was that he pointed out that the stadium was now two miles away. With directions now memorised it was going to be a mad dash to make it for kick-off as it was now ten past two. To his credit, the County fan just shrugged, smiled and put his best foot forward. What had been planned as a pleasant sunny stroll was now a heads-down sweaty route-march.

At five to three the teams emerged onto the pitch with loud applause from the crowd as the ground was finally reached. Given how close to kick-off it was and what looked to be a large crowd with a significant travelling support in the ground, it was no surprise that the programmes had sold out. The food kiosk was doing a roaring trade as supporters spilled out of the bar and the referee blew his whistle to start the game.

First-half: Harrogate on the attack.

The home team were quickly on the offensive and created the first chance of the game with their first attack, when Ashley Worsfold fired over from twelve yards out after Stockport failed to clear. However, County responded and dominated the game over the next thirty minutes, winning a number of corners and creating some excellent chances. One such opportunity fell to Adriano Moke, but the Stockport number seven screwed his shot horribly wide. Another chance fell to County striker Phil Jeavons whose curling free-kick was well saved by Craig MacGillivray. However that was as good as it got for the visitors, as a three goal blitz in four minutes blew away Stockport. First on thirty seven minutes from a move started from the back, Adam Bolder had time and space to fire home past Ian Ormson. Two minutes later from a long ball out of defence, Chris Hall battled with two Stockport markers and the ball broke to Michael Woods who clipped it forward before expertly firing home a half-volley. Woods was again involved on forty one minutes when after a surging run into the box, his pass found Chris Hall who cleanly finished to put Town 3-0 up. This sparked fury amongst a number of County fans who made their feeling known to the Stockport manager Ian Bogie from behind his dugout.

At the half-time whistle many of the disgruntled visiting fans headed to the bar and it was noticeable that a number did not emerge when the second-half kicked off. The second period did not contain any of the drama of the first-half, with Harrogate best chances being a Chris Hall header and a Michael Woods effort that was cleared off the line. As the home team eased up, the final quarter belonged to Stockport and good chances were created for Howard and Verma. With four minutes remaining, the visitors got reward for their efforts when fullback Kyle Jacobs was twice involved, finally delivering a cross which Iain Howard collected and then swivelled on to fire home. It was just a mere consolation for the vast number of travelling fans who at the whistle once again vented their anger towards the County management team. For the Harrogate fans it was positive start to the season as they had just witnessed a third win from their opening five games.

Second-half: Stockport defend.

Just as the second-half had been pretty quiet so was the journey back into Harrogate without incident. Sadly for Stockport the day did not get any better when Ian Bogie resigned a few hours after the final whistle. It must be a difficult time to be a Hatters fan, who will know that as recently as 2001/02 their club was playing just one league below the Premier League. On 27 August 2001, County travelled to Birmingham City and lost 2-1 in front of a crowd of 18,478. Just twelve years later 918 witnessed their latest defeat which leaves them second bottom of the Skrill Conference North. You think you’ve had a bad day? Try being a County fan right now.