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Gloucester City manager Mike Cook is excited by new season

Gloucester > Sport > Football

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Wednesday, 24th July 2019, 09:00

Mike Cook Mike Cook

Gloucester City’s supporters will be hoping that the club can continue to move forwards at a fast pace even though they will be taking a sideways move in terms of which division they will be competing in in 2019/20.

They produced play-off form in the final four months of the last campaign to pull well clear of the drop zone in National League South and will be looking to maintain that momentum when they kick-off the new season in National League North – they’ve been switched for geographical reasons – on Saturday 3rd August.

Their huge upturn in fortunes coincided with the appointment of Mike Cook as manager in January and there is understandably a new mood of optimism around the club as they look forward to the new season.

And it’s not just the team who have got the supporters walking around with smiles on their faces because it also appears that this really will be the season when the club will return home to their Meadow Park ground after being in exile for more than 12 years following the floods of 2007.

Yet when 50-year-old Cook took charge of the club some seven months ago things certainly weren’t looking so rosy with the club near certainties for relegation in many people’s eyes. They were on a wretched run and had pretty much forgotten how to score a goal.

But by the end of the campaign things had turned around to such an extent that they finished three places and eight points clear of the drop zone, including winning their final game 2-1 at second-placed Woking.

“It was really pleasing to get those rewards because we only had four months,” said Cook as he reflected on last season. “We had a bit of luck in a couple of games but we made the most of it.

“We played really well at times and to go to Woking who were proper up for it and win was a great result.”

Indeed it was and it was richly deserved after all the hard work that Cook and current coaches Mike Green and Andy Hoskins had put in.

Cook, who also works very closely with co-chairmen Eamonn McGurk and Alex Petheram, has got history with Gloucester because he was assistant manager to Chris Burns in the early noughties, one of the more successful periods in the club’s near 140-year history.

These days Cook has a top job working for the Professional Footballers’ Association – he’s a regional coach educator for the South West – and it’s a role that takes him all over the world.

When he spoke to The Local Answer he was in Nice working at the Women’s World Cup, and his job has taken him the last three men’s World Cups in South Africa, Brazil and Russia.

But although he is something of a globetrotter – he was also in France for Euro 2016 – he remains very much a Stroud man and the one-time Archway School pupil still lives in the town of his birth.

And while he has to juggle his full-time job with managing Gloucester he is proud that he has not missed a game since becoming the main man.

“Obviously the club were aware that I may miss the odd Saturday or Tuesday because I’m out of the country quite a lot,” he said, “but it hasn’t happened yet.”

So what made him take the job?

“The more people said that the Gloucester couldn’t be saved from relegation the more I wanted to take it,” he said, “I wanted to prove it could be done.

“I knew that if we prepared right, were organised and the players were well coached we had a chance.

“Fortunately after a couple of weeks the players got it.”

Much of that work on the training ground – Cook called it “schooling exercises” - involved finding ways to score more goals.

That’s easier said than done, of course, but Cook has learned a lot in his role with the PFA – he’s been lucky enough to watch some of the greatest players perform on the biggest stages – and he’s keen to use that knowledge to good effect.

“I want to get the ball down and play a bit of football, I want to play out from the back when we can,” he said.

“I don’t want my team to be gung-ho, I want to be a bit more switched on. In England we kick it and run around a bit like headless chickens.

“In Germany and Brazil they think we’re nuts!

“If you’re 2-0 up, pass the ball about, look after it, think how you can affect the match.”

The club’s supporters will be hoping that Cook can continue affecting games in 2019/20 even though Cook himself expects National League North to present a tougher challenge than National League South.

“There are some big teams in National League North,” continued Cook, who has brought in a number of new players in readiness for the new campaign. “York, Darlington, Hereford – that will be a real derby game.

“Those games will be proper games in front of a couple of thousand of fans, there will be a proper atmosphere.

“I think the physicality will be stronger but I like a challenge.”

He certainly does.

“On my first day back at Gloucester I was told that if we got relegated the National League would only give us £250,000 towards the new stadium,” he explained, “but if we remained at the higher level we’d get £750,000, that’s pressure!”

If Cook sounds like a proper football man that’s because he is. A midfielder back in the day, his playing career was cruelly cut short by injury at the age of 22 after spells with Coventry, York, Cambridge United and Wycombe.

After being forced to retire he worked as a Football in the Community officer for both Cambridge and Cheltenham Town during which time he also managed Cinderford Town for a couple of years.

He was at Cheltenham for 10 years before taking on his current role with the PFA and while he says he’s not looking for a full-time role in football management, he added: “I’ve always got ambition.”

More immediately one of his ambitions is to see Gloucester City return to Meadow Park.

“Going back to Gloucester was one of my main considerations when I took the job,” he admitted. “It was one of my first questions. I wanted to know that it was something that was going to happen.

“I know how important it is to play there because when I was assistant to Chris Burns we had a successful, young side.

“If the club weren’t going to be able to move back I wouldn’t have taken the job.”

For at least the first half of 2019/20 the club will continue to play their home games at Evesham United – a 45-minute drive for supporters living in Gloucester – but the plan is for the club to be back in Gloucester in early 2020.

“I’ve been to the site and it’s all looking good,” said Cook. “I think January might be optimistic – you only have to look at how long it took to get Tottenham’s ground ready – but there’s definitely an opportunity before the end of the season.”

And once that happens there’s a much greater chance that the good times really can return to Gloucester City, something Cook would love to be a part of.

He is working without a contract – his choice – but says he’d be “really really pleased” if he was with the club for the next five to 10 years.

“That would be fantastic,” he said, “I’m trying to help the club out. I said to Alex (Petheram) that I’ll stay with the club as long as I can and as long as they want me.

“Hopefully we can get a promotion but we’ve got to put building blocks in place for that to happen. You do need a lot of money but it’s amazing what you can do with a bit of good coaching.”

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