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Jul 17, 2017, 6:46 AM
Post #127 of 127
*** GOAL ***
Les Cocker (Wolves, Wellington Town pre Telford, Arcadia Shepherds of South Africa, Kidderminster, Stourbridge, Dudley, Darlaston and Lower Gornal)
Not to be confused with the similarly named Leeds and England trainer.
This Les Cocker died earlier this year, aged 77.
In 1957-58 he was on the winning team in both F.A. Youth Cup (Wolves) and F.A. County Youth Cup (Staffordshire) but although he was also an England Youth international he was to make just one Football League appearance.
How’s this for an apparent fall from grace? (2010)
On February 4, 1961, Les Cocker underpinned his status as an FA Youth Cup winner with Wolves and an England age-group international by making his Football League debut.
Five weeks later, he signed permanently for Wellington Town.
It sounds a nightmare descent, but the move was quite palatable to the 21-year-old, who was to have his best days in senior football when he headed for South Africa several years later.
So why did he happily accept a career path that looks sharply downward on the face of it?
“I had a job in engineering as well and was happy to pursue that alongside playing a good class of non-League football,” he now says.
“Other clubs, such as Shrewsbury, were interested in me while I was at Wolves but I felt very wanted by Wellington and they were in the Southern League premier division.
“I had felt messed about by Stan Cullis at times and had only played that one game in the first team because Jimmy Murray was ruled out at short notice.
“So I jumped at the chance of going to Wellington and stayed there for five years or so.”
Cocker’s one and only Football League appearance came when he lined up at inside-forward in a 2-1 defeat at Blackburn nine months on from when the two clubs had met, with a contrasting outcome, in the 1960 FA Cup final.
He was a wing-half in his earlier Molineux career but the fact that Ron Flowers and Eddie Clamp filled those roles at Ewood Park on either side of skipper and centre-half Bill Slater underlined how difficult breaking through in that area was always likely to be.
Cocker still lives with wife Wendy a few miles east of Wellington, in Newport, but it was a call from the Southern Hemisphere that took them far away from their Wolverhampton roots in the middle of the swinging sixties.
Wolves were well known in South Africa, having toured there to great acclaim in 1951 and 1957 and recruited the likes of Eddie Stuart, Des Horne and Cliff Durandt from the republic with considerable success.
But this was a new trend…..a player well known at Molineux heading the other way to make a living.
“Brian Punter, who got as far as the Wolves reserve team, followed me out to South Africa and lads like Barry Stobart, Johnny Kirkham, Mickey Lill, Fred Kemp and Terry Wharton also went but I think I was the first,” Cocker added.
“I was out there when England won the World Cup and I thoroughly enjoyed it, although our children were only something like four and two.
“We were very well looked after and the money was pretty good. All the players were part-time professionals and I had an engineering job as well, so our standard of living was excellent.
“Clubs over there had wealthy owners and there was also a lively social scene which we enjoyed.
“I remember we drove once to the Drakensburg Mountains, where the Zulus are from, and saw Victoria Falls and Kruger Park, so we made the most of the experience.
“I played in Pretoria for Arcadia United, who were in the top division, but it’s a big country and we were flown to the away matches in Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and so on, although Johannesburg was only just down the road.
“We did pretty well in my two seasons and reached a cup final which we lost.
“We had gates of around 15,000 and a club called Highlands Park in Johannesburg were after me when we had our first return trip home paid for after the second season.
“But Wendy was terribly seasick for most of the two and a half weeks on the journey from Cape Town and always missed her family a lot, so we never went back.
“Career-wise, it would have made sense to return to South Africa but you have to put your loved ones first and I went off to play instead for John Charles at Hereford and then did the rounds with Kidderminster, Stourbridge, Dudley, Darlaston and Lower Gornal.”
Cocker, not to be confused with the late former England and Leeds trainer of the same name, ran his own engineering business in the West Midlands but is now retired.
Moore and Greaves – The Broken Hearted (2010)
Cocker’s Role In Duo’s Despair
Nine days ago, we told the story of how Les Cocker became a trend setter by leaving Wolves and Wolverhampton behind in search of a new football life in South Africa.
In this the accent switches to how the former Molineux hopeful not only lined up as a team-mate of Bobby Moore in England’s youth team but also broke his heart as an opponent – and in the same summer that he had the last laugh on Jimmy Greaves.
“A lot of people remember that Jimmy was playing and regularly scoring for the Chelsea side who we beat in the FA Youth Cup final in 1958,” Cocker says.
“He was their star man and I remember he was in tears when we went up to receive the cup and our medals at Molineux.
“He had dominated the first leg and Stan Cullis gave us a rollicking over how we’d played when we lost 5-1 down there.
“But the manager was away on a first-team tour when we played the second leg and it was as if we were being punished. None of our kit had been put out and we had to go rummaging for it in the whicker baskets.
“Maybe he had told the staff not to molly-coddle us. He probably had a right shock when he heard Ted Farmer had scored all those goals and we won 6-1 in the return.”
What is not so well known is that Cocker, who had scored away to Aston Villa and Stoke in a victorious Youth Cup run in which Wolves played no fewer than 12 matches, was celebrating again later that summer.
Having gone with the club to a youth tournament in Germany and scored five goals in four games from wing-half, he skippered Staffordshire against London in the final of the FA County Youth Cup.
“This time it was Bobby Moore who was in tears,” he added. “He was playing for London, so was Barry Bridges, but we beat them 8-0 over two legs – first at QPR and then at Walsall.
“I then played a lot of games with Bobby in the England youth team and remember turning up for my debut and finding a good-luck telegram from Billy Wright on my peg.
“I wasn’t the only Wolves player in that side, though. Brian Perry, who had scored in the final against Chelsea, was also part of it."