(John is pictured above. He is pictured last on the left of the front row.)
John Cook played primarily at left of midfield and centre-midfield during his time at Spurs as a youth player in the early 1970’s. An energetic midfield player, John Cook had the chance to sign for local club West Ham United as a youngster, but instead chose to join Bill Nicholson’s Spurs. After leaving Spurs John went on to play for the likes of Grays Athletic, Tilbury and Walton & Hersham before going on to have a successful business career. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of catching up with John as he looked back on his time at Spurs which is almost 50 years ago.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
John: I used to live in Dagenham and my earliest memories were just playing football every minute of the day. I used to live opposite a park and I played for a team called Rippleway Newham and they were a fabulous team with six different levels of age groups, and so I used to play for them. So from my youth I was playing for Barking Boys a year earlier and then I played for London Boys at 15, and playing for London Boys I can remember playing at Upton Park. We were playing Liverpool Boys at Upton Park and interestingly all of my family were West Ham supporters, and so it was great to play at Upton Park. I can remember after the game which was a floodlit game, that we came off the pitch and went up to this sort of reception area where they had teas and coffees, and I can remember Ron Greenwood coming up to myself and my dad. He said to us that he knew that I was thinking of going to Spurs but we’d like you to sign for West Ham if you’d like to, but I declined and the rest is history.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
John: The scout there at Spurs was called Dickie Walker and he would say all the right things to my dad, and I was an only child. He used to come and watch all the games that I played for my district teams which was Essex Boys and London Boys and so he used to always be there. He used to take my father to watch games and a chauffeur car would come and collect him from Dagenham and take him to a game. Interestingly I wasn’t looking to travel that far but Gary Anderson was in my district team along with me, and so we both decided to go to Spurs and travel together. We used to get on the train from Barking to South Tottenham and then the bus from there to White Hart Lane, so it was quite a long journey for us. Training at Spurs was great with Tony Want and John Pratt, and I went on to sign apprentice professional with Spurs in 1972 which was exciting beyond belief as I always wanted to be a professional footballer. Although Pat Welton didn’t warm to me at Spurs and there is no two ways about that, and whatever I did in training was not good enough, even though I got great encouragement off of the players, who would tell me that I was a good player and that I could succeed. So my time at Spurs was an interesting 16 months and we had a very good side and I did enjoy my time there, but obviously the time came when my contract ended and Bill Nicholson decided that he wasn’t going to sign me for the next year. So that was devastating at the time.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Jonn: He was only at Spurs for a little while but Graeme Souness was an incredible player and to me he epitomised the true footballer. His grit, determination and skill were brilliant, and in training it was just wonderful to watch him do some of the skills that he did, as well as his passing and his tackling. Graeme was to me the all round footballer and it was a shame that he left the club and went to Middlesbrough and the rest is history. Also, Alan Gilzean even though he played as a centre-forward had skill that was unbelievable and I can remember watching him one morning at Cheshunt, and he had ten footballs on the 18 yard line and he chipped every single one onto the crossbar. In today’s world he would be a brilliant player even though he wasn’t fast, but because his knowledge and his talent was just sublime. That’s how the Spurs team played back then and actually the training drill for the Spurs first team was quite straightforward and very direct and I can remember watching it so many times. It was Jennings out to Phil Beal or Cyril Knowles, and they would roll it out generally and get it to Martin Chivers who would generally chest it down to a midfield player like John Pratt or Steve Perryman, and then they’d be off. It was a routine that they used to practice and practice, and practice and so that was always interesting. So Gilly and Souness were my heroes at Spurs and in any team.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
John: I either played at left of midfield or centre midfield, and so I was quite industrious and I felt that I was always good at going from defence to attack. So my strongest position was left of midfield and cutting in and having 25 yards out efforts on goal with my right foot, and so left of midfield was my favourite position. I continued to play that position after leaving Spurs, and I’m only five foot, seven, so I wasn’t a tall player but it was always my position and so I could kick with both feet and I was a pretty good tackler, and I also had a strong engine.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
John: I think that John Pratt was just great and he had so much time for us and so he was just great, but also playing with some of our own players was great. I used to love watching John Margerrison and he was a strong player, also Danny Clapton and Chris McGrath were other players who were good to watch. So it was good to watch them because playing with your peers did influence you in the way that you played, and Danny Clapton and Chris McGrath were a year older than me and so that one year made a lot of difference. So playing with those guys was really inspirational and enjoyable, and I learnt a lot from them. Also, Steve Perryman is in the top three of my influences at Spurs because I played in his position and he was the ultimate professional.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
John: As I say Souness was a classic and I’d watch him regularly in training when I could, and I’d sit on the sidelines after we’d finished training along with the others and watch the reserves. At Cheshunt you had the first team pitch and then you had the pitch where the reserves would play, and the interesting thing at that era was that you had the reserves winning the Football Combination by something like 15 or 20 points, and the reserve team at that time was absolutely unbelievable. They won everything and in fact I can recall a funny situation where there would be a match between the reserves and the first team and this happened on a number of occasions, and the reserves might have been three or four up and Eddie Baily would stop the game and do a penalty shootout just to see who was going to win. So the reserves were just brilliant and Souness was my hero at Spurs.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
John: So when the day approached when I knew that I wasn’t going to be signed to a full professional then I recall that Southend were looking for youth players from the London clubs, and so I was offered the opportunity to go to Southend but I didn’t go. Once I left Spurs I ended up having a trial with Leyton Orient and I spent about two or three weeks training with them to see if they were going to sign me as a pro, and they only wanted a couple of players but they were looking for a midfield player. Unbeknown to me at the time the guy who was trialling at the same time as me to sign pro ended up getting that position was in fact Glenn Roeder, who went on to be a great footballer and a good manager. So I didn’t make it at Leyton Orient because of Glenn Roeder taking the position from me, and then from there I decided that I was going to have six months out of football because I was somewhat despondent. So at 17 I packed my bags and flew to Corfu in Greece and I ended driving speedboats on Dassia beach hotel, and so as a 17 year old you can imagine that I had great fun. And funnily enough Graeme Souness turned up at my hotel where I was working and we had a bit of fun, and so that was quite nice. But when I got back home from Corfu I had a run of many clubs in the amateur world to be fair, and so at 18 I joined my first club which was Grays Athletic who I spent a season at. I then went to Tilbury who I also spent a season at before going to a club who I had my best period at which was Walton & Hersham in Surrey, and I played with a guy called Brendan Bassett who was an England amateur international, and so anyway I spent two seasons there, and I really enjoyed that period of time. Then my last amateur club in top rank was Dagenham & Redbridge who I played for, and at 26/27 I decided that that was my lot at that level and so I ended up playing top class Sunday football, where I ended up playing with Peter Taylor over in Essex.
Peter Taylor was a great player and you talk about players who had skill but Peter’s left foot was the best that I’ve ever seen, and so I played with him for a season and I loved it, but really that was it in terms of my football prowess.
Having to leave Spurs must have been incredibly difficult for you. How did you find that?
John: On reflection it was probably one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me in terms of rejection, and rejection is what it is. You know that you have got the skill, you know that you are as good as some of those players and you believe in yourself but then it’s just taken away from you, and for a couple of weeks your life feels like it’s on hold, and it’s like what are you going to do now. It’s an awful feeling and I feel so sorry for youngsters coming through the ranks now because I went through that, and it was an awful time.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
John: I mentioned earlier about playing for London Boys at Upton Park and my family being West Ham supporters through and through. If I’m brutally honest in hindsight which is a wonderful thing, then I should have shaken Ron Greenwood’s hand and signed for West Ham, but I didn’t. So my time at Spurs was a great learning curve and a great opportunity to grow John Cook as a person, but it was disappointing and maybe I could have done better. I watched Mark Wright the other night on television and he’s not a lot different to me as he’s an Essex lad who has come through the ranks but he also had that sadness, but did I apply myself 100%? Maybe not, and maybe I could have done better. In my Barking team there were three of us who turned apprentice pros, and they were me, Gary Anderson and a guy called Richie Powling who was the centre-half with Tony Adams at Arsenal for four seasons, and so he did the best out of all of us. I can remember playing for Barking Boys against Huyton Boys in the English Schools semi-final under floodlights, and there were 11,000 people there watching that game at Anfield. I can remember when I was just about to come out on the pitch and I got a telegram from Bill Nicholson wishing me well, and so when you get that adulation as a youngster then you think that it’s going to transpire in to your adult life, but unfortunately life isn’t like that. I’m never going to reflect back on if only I’d done this or if only I’d done that, yes I have regrets on certain things but it made me the man that I am today.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
John: I suppose it was when I played at Anfield with Barking, and it was 0-0 with about 20 minutes to go and there was 11,000 people there including our families. We had a free-kick from about 26 yards out from the Kop end and I was the free-kick specialist, and I just put it in to the top right hand corner, and to score that goal at Anfield was just the most amazing thing, and so that was the most memorable day of my life.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
John: Truthfully the best player that I have ever played against was Brian Flynn who was a Welsh player and future Wales manager, and I played against him and we were marking each other and he made my life a misery that day. He was unbelievable and so he was the best player that I’ve ever played against on a pitch.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the various Tottenham youth teams?
John: I think that obviously every Saturday morning playing at Cheshunt was always a great feeling but I can’t look back and say that game was special, because every game that I played at Cheshunt or away was always special, and it was great to put that white shirt on, as well as those blue shorts and white socks. That was just wonderful to put on, but I’ve got no particular game but it was just euphoric every time that I put the Spurs shirt on and that is the honest truth. Also going back after the game and having to watch the first team play which we always had to do as apprentices and pros if they were at home, that was always a memorable thing. So a Saturday for me playing football in the South East Counties League at Cheshunt and then coming to watch the first team play in the afternoon was the perfect day.
Who was toughest player that you ever came up against?
John: I think that the hardest guy that I played against was a little guy at Spurs called Phil Holder and he was one of the hardest players that I’ve ever played against. But in training it had to be Graeme Souness, but in match games he was the hardest player that I’ve ever played with and against.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
John: At the time me and Bobby Scarth were always close and I was also good friends with John Margerrison, and also Roger Gibbins who was a good player who did well. When you look at our youth team and you think about who made it you had Roger Gibbins, John Margerrison Keith Osgood who was a good player and defender. So to be fair we were a really strong group and we were all a pretty tight knit family.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
John: I think that you’ve got to be very grounded and realise that there’s thousands of footballers that want to be a professional footballer, and so my thoughts are keep your feet on the ground and work 100% because the only people that make it are the people who don’t come off the training ground when the whistle blows. So stay on there and do extra things, and so you only have to look back on players like Ronaldo, Messi and Beckham and even Glenn Hoddle, and all of these players have stayed on the training ground longer than they need to or have got there earlier. So it’s all about determination and it’s all about focus, so just push yourself because it’s only a small window to get to being an apprentice and then a pro. Once you’re a pro then you’ve just got to keep working hard, and so my advice is to just keep working hard and being determined and put 110% effort in, because today 100% is not enough.
After all these years how do you look back on your time at the Lilywhites and is Spurs a club who you still hold close to your heart?
John: They are the only club that I watch and they are the only team that I watch on television, and I’ve still got a great soft spot for Spurs more than any other club because I spent a lot of time there from being a 14 year old training there as a schoolboy to becoming a professional. So I’ve got a lot of love for Spurs and I wish them all the very best, and they are close to my heart.