Ex-Tranmere midfielder Paul Cook out to check former club’s progress with Chesterfield
REVENUE generated by an FA Cup run might just provide the lifeblood that sustains Tranmere’s unlikely challenge for promotion this season on one of the lowest budgets in League One.
Paul Cook, a Scouser and passionate Liverpool fan who once played at the heart of the Rovers midfield, is determined to deny it to them.
Cook is the manager of Chesterfield, Tranmere’s second round visitors on Saturday. He is making such a good job of turning around the League Two club’s on-the-field fortunes that no one at Prenton Park is underestimating the strength of the threat they pose.
“He’s a good manager,” Tranmere’s Ronnie Moore says of the 45-year-old from Liverpool. “Paul knows what he is doing. He was a cultured player and he likes his teams to play football. He’s got Chesterfield flying.”
Cook says: “I’ve always had my own ideas on football. I don’t fear being sacked and I don’t fear failure, doing things wrong. At the end of the day, I’d like to be remembered, no matter where I manage, for having an enthusiastic approach and trying my best. I think that when you do that, supporters will always hold you in high esteem.”
Cook’s 60-plus games for Tranmere between 1996 and 1997 make up just one chapter in a playing career spanning more than 20 years and 731 games for eight different League clubs.
He first tried his hand in management with a less than successful spell at non-League Southport. He lasted five months in the job, prior to his dismissal in January 2007.
Cook then began to build his managerial experience and reputation in Ireland with Sligo Rovers.
He led the club to three domestic cup successes and into European football while acquiring an understanding of how to manage on a tight budget.
Cook was therefore a good fit for Accrington Stanley after Jon Coleman’s departure left the Lancashire club looking for another man to build a team on a shoestring. He was appointed manager in February 2012.
Within a matter of weeks, Cook persuaded Les Parry, then recently relieved of his duties as manager of Tranmere, to return to football as physiotherapist at Accrington.
Parry said one of the strongest reasons for agreeing to sign up for the job this season was his belief that Cook is on the way to becoming one of the country’s top managers.
The directors of Chesterfield also thought highly of Cook, persuading him to leave Accrington in October to sign a two and a half year contract.
The new man has made a promising start. The Spireites head to Prenton Park on the back of three straight League One wins that have lifted them to within three points of the play-off zone. Now the talk around the Derbyshire market town is of a swift return to League One, following relegation last spring.
Cook says he learned a lot from the managers he played under. “I was lucky that I played for some fantastic managers,” he said. “I started with Harry McNally at Wigan. He was such a character. He wouldn’t have survived in present day football, he wouldn’t have survived with the players, he wouldn’t have put up with the players. He wouldn’t have entertained it in any shape or form.
“Then I went right through with Brian Hamilton, Dave Stringer and Graham Turner at Wolves, then Graham Taylor at Wolves after he’d just come from being England manager.
“I went with Phil Neal to Coventry, then Ron Atkinson and Gordon Strachan. I played for Gary Megson at Stockport, John Aldridge at Tranmere and up to Burnley. I look back on my time at Burnley as possibly the happiest of my life because I played for a manager, Stan Ternent who understood you.”
Cook added: “I helped coach Accrington for Jon Coleman and Jimmy Bell when I was coming to the end of my career. I was player-coach.
“I took a job at Southport when they were going from part-time to full-time. I didn’t know anything about budgets and money, I just thought that footballers grew on trees and you just put them on the pitch and it was easy to do.
“At the time Southport appointed me, it was a wrong decision. I think they should have gone for a far more experienced manager, who knew the leagues instead of going for myself, who was only coaching at the time.
“I didn’t know you had to operate on a budget a lot less than any other in the league, so that never worked out.”
Cook’s desire to manage rather than work as a coach or in an academy took him to Ireland. He says he looks back on his five years with Sligo with fondness, even though the parting of the ways was not as sweet as it could have been.
The chance to move closer to his roots and family by returning to Accrington in 2011 was too good to resist. Cook said: “In the last few months of my time in Ireland, I’d turned down a chance to go and manage St Johnstone’s in Scotland. Accrington was a no-brainer, it was home. I was coming back to Liverpool and a chance to see my children growing up a lot more.
“Accrington is a really special club, it’s got fantastic people who work there. Every day that Accrington are in this league is a testimony to the people who put in work there. They don’t have the budget, stadium or infrastructure of other clubs, but it doesn’t stop the people working really hard daily to make the club better and they have fantastic people there.
“I had great people there, Liam Richardson, Les Parry and Paul Hodge, and I was backed by Rob Heys who is a great chief exec.”
Even so, Accrington’s ambitions will always be set by the tiny size of the operation. Not so Chesterfield with a smart new stadium and a board of directors eager to take the club back into League One.
“Chesterfield was a great opportunity for me, “ Cook said.