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Talking To Chris Kirk
Talking To Chris Kirk

Exclusive Interview: John Cockerill (Part Three)

By: Chris Kirk
Date: 03/01/2008 (Last updated: 03/03/2008)

THE third part of Chris Kirk's exclusive chat with arguably one of the greatest footballers Grimsby has produced. This four part interview first appeared in BAWC Issue Nine.

Home > Features > Interviews > John Cockerill

How proud were you to have been involved with a team getting to Wembley twice that year?

To get to Wembley was brilliant. The first time against Bournemouth was the best. The play-off final was just more tense, I think because there was more riding on it. The Auto Windscreens game was just an enjoyable day out for the whole town, really, and the players were more relaxed. They felt the pressure a bit more in the second game. Northampton were direct and a threat from set-pieces but we were by far the better footballing team. I felt by getting promotion, we were back up where we belonged again.

We needed to strengthen again, and we managed to get a couple of players in to keep people on their toes, and give us more quality.

In that first season we held our own, and that was probably down to having a very good home record. Teams didn't like coming to Blundell Park. We would lose the odd one, but we won the majority of games at home. It makes a difference and takes the pressure off a bit when you go away, and if you nick the odd win, then that's great.

Were you shocked when Alan Buckley was sacked so early into the next season?

I remember we had drawn at Portsmouth which wasn't a bad result. I came in on the Monday and we trained as usual, and on the Tuesday my phone went and it was Alan. We chatted for a bit, then he just said he had been sacked. I just couldn't believe it. He was sacked on the morning of a game, I think against Carlisle. I went to see the board who told me they would be looking to appoint another manager soon but could I look after the team for now. We won that game 2-0, and we carried on as normal that week. I didn't know anything but the players were asking me if I knew anything by the time we got to the game on the Saturday. I was then asked to go to the ground to meet the new manager - Lennie Lawrence.

Now, I always got on well with Lennie. Some people had different things to say about him, but he was always a decent bloke and he has become a good friend to me. I didn't know who they had in mind but they knew who they were after, and Lennie was available. My brother knew him when playing for Lincoln in the late 70s and early 80s, when Lennie was a coach there under Colin Murphy. When I met with Lennie he said he knew my brother, but not me, but had heard good things about me, and said he would like to work with me.

We originally agreed to see how things went and to review them after three months, but that conversation never really came up.

What was Lennie like to work with?

He was a very experienced manager and he knew what he was doing. He wasn't afraid to bring in unknown foreign players but many of them did a good job. The club wasn't keen on paying out transfer fees but didn't mind paying for loans because they weren't a long-term commitment, so that was what he had to work with.

He brought in one or two players like Phil Jevons, who was the only big signing really. ITV Digital was paying for it and that was how they budgeted for these things.

In that second year we didn't start so well but we had a good cup run, beating Liverpool and playing Arsenal, but we struggled at home. Alan Pouton and Livvo were both injured and they were two strong players who we missed. To be honest, that took its toll, and just before Christmas when Fenty and Furneux came in, we both got done, to be honest.

Did you fear the worst at that point?

Lennie kept saying that he had seen this all before and when new owners come in, they want their own man, and it happened quite a lot in football. Lennie never felt comfortable once they were involved. I think we had lost 1-0 at home to West Brom, and we were in the ground the next day. I was on the other side of the ground from Lennie and he rang to say he had been sacked, and they were coming over to see me.

I was gutted, to tell you the truth, and it was a sad, bad day for me. I felt very bitter about it. It takes quite a bit of getting over, something like that. You can go on for too long thinking about these things but you've got to get on with your life - I've found that's the best way to handle it.

I was angry the most with the way they had treated me, after nearly 15 years with the club. Without blowing my own trumpet, I thought I deserved better. Again, I was driving home thinking about what I could do next, because I hadn't even considered it.

After about a month of feeling really down I decided I had to get on with the rest of my life. Lennie was at Cardiff by this time, and he rang me in the January and asked me to do some scouting for him as I wasn't working.

I hadn't really thought seriously about what I could do. A friend who is a builder asked me if I wanted to help him for a bit, so I did that for six months. I needed it and it was good to get away from football, and to be outside in the fresh air. I was still doing a bit of scouting for Cardiff, but when Lennie got finished there, I went and did some similar work for Micky Adams at Coventry for two years, until Iain Dowie took over. That was where my work in football ended. Scouting was not the same as the day-to-day involvement, and I miss that the most. Now I get to spend more time with my family so I'm enjoying that at the moment.

Fourth and Final Part Tomorrow

This interview first appeared in BAWC issue nine…for more information on the only current Mariners paper based fanzine email

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