Interview: Charlie Cooke

by Mark O Toole

I think some players that Chelsea bought in the 1960s found that it was difficult, not only  to break into the team, but to be accepted by that team that had been together since youth level.  One player really did though, Charlie Cooke. Charlie was a fantastic, skilful guy and the fans loved him and rightly so – Charlie was an entertainer, he was our George Best.

-          Bobby Tambling, Chelsea all-time leading scorer.

Charlie Cooke joined Chelsea towards the end of the 1965/1966 season and became an integral part of a Chelsea side that was the quintessential ‘cup team.’

Despite winning an FA Cup and a Cup Winner’s Cup, as well as having many other memorable Cup runs, Chelsea were as much  known for their party lifestyle that encapsulated the ‘swinging sixties’ as for their stylish play.

In era when skilful Scottish wingers such as ‘Jinky’ Johnstone and Jim Baxter were commonplace, Charlie carved a reputation for himself as one of the best of his generation. In 2005 Cooke was named in Chelsea’s Best Ever XI as part of the club’s centenary celebrations.

Following spells at Crystal Palace and a second stint at Chelsea, Cooke moved stateside where he played in the nascent North American Soccer League.

He then set up Coerver Coaching with partner Alfred Galustianin 1984 based on the teachings of innovative Dutch coach Wiel Coerver, which focuses on nurturing technique in young players.

Mark O’Toole caught up with Charlie Cooke on one of his teaching courses in Galway.  Here he opens up about that Chelsea side, their rivalry with Don Revie’s Leeds and whether youth players from Ireland should move over to England at.

You joined Chelsea in 1966 from Dundee and your first match was against Barcelona in the Fair’s Cup Semi-Final. That struck me as unusual, what are your memories of being thrown in the deep-end as a young winger just signed from Scotland?

It was kind of unusual, I think the very first game I was supposed to play was the weekend before, but I was injured. It wasn’t a great game, but we weren’t expected to do all that well, so yeah… it was very unusual.

 

That was at the end of the season so I never really consider it the start to my career at Chelsea. The big start was the following season. England had won the World Cup during the summer so that brought big crowds, people knew they were seeing big stars then.

 

Our first match was against West Ham at Upton Park, it was a sunny August day, Bobby Moore was playing and I happened to score the winner so I consider that was the real start for me.

 

The match against Barcelona was at the end of season and we were subsequently knocked out of that competition, so I like to consider that match against West Ham that World Cup-winning season the real start to my career at Chelsea.

Interestingly you also played Leeds in a FA Cup semi-final at the end of that 65/66 season too. You set up the winner for Tony Hateley in that match to book a final berth against Tottenham, but did you realize at the time that this was the big rivalry that was going to define your Chelsea team?

We beat them to get to the final against Tottenham where we played s**t, I was ever-so disappointed about that.

 

It was a huge rivalry; I mean we got to know each other very well over the years.

 

You’ve got to remember too, it was beginning of Don Revie’s term there and of a lot of the gamesmanship and all that kind of stuff.

 

It was the beginning of getting on referee’s backs and complaining about decisions. People always go on about referees getting a difficult time, but our teams believed in challenging referees on nearly every decision made. The referee would have conversations throughout the match with you back then and they were good guys and that, but that opened them up to receiving hostility if you want call it that.

 

Certainly the Chelsea-Leeds games were always hotly contested and hard fought games and the referees were always on the wrong end of it all the time.

Do you think that was the beginning of referees getting harassed and the type of abuse they get from players in football today?

No I think things were a lot worse treatment back then.

 

I think when players look back at whole matches today they see that referees are proven right more often than not, whereas we didn’t have the benefit of that so the default position was for players of the same team to circle the wagon and complain.

 

I think Don Revie’s teams were prone to that, but that’s not to say that other teams like us didn’t do it too!

In John Giles’ Autobiography last year he said that, although your Chelsea team could beat anyone on your day, you enjoyed being seen as “playboys” too much and consequently never had the mettle to mount a concerted title challenge…

I think it’s probably true. We were a team to hit the heights on many a game, but to have absolute consistency? We probably didn’t have that – we’d be the first to admit that.

 

There’s no question to it though we were a tough team to beat when we put our minds to it, but I think Johnny is correct in saying what he did.

Reading that book and others there seems to be a grudging respect between the two sides…

We respected each other and didn’t think otherwise. You’ve got to remember we shouldn’t have won the first leg of the 1970 Cup final at Wembley.

 

It was played in terribly heavy conditions. Jack Charlton got a s**t goal from a header from a corner-kick, then we got a s**t goal from a Peter Houseman shot that went past Gary Sprake, so we were both kind of lucky.

 

We were very luck to come out of that first game alive and have a chance at a replay because Leeds should have beaten us and dominated the game.

 

Having said that when we went up to Old Trafford eighteen days later [for the replay] they got in front again, but they still couldn’t hold the lead! That’s three times they couldn’t hold it against us and we won that one and we think we won it in the end deservedly.

 

So if it’s implied that there was a “grudging” respect, that’s just not true. We did the business at the end of the day and that’s the bottom line.

 

Pull Out Quote: We had a fantastic respect for that Leeds team – probably the best possession team in the world at that time, no question!

 

So any doubts about whether we respected them – we respected them absolutely and totally.

Former Premier League referee David Elleray reviewed the final and said if it was reffed today under modern rules, he would have given out six red cards and twenty yellows. What do you think of that?

[Laughs] You can say that again! Definitely correct.

 

There were some unbelievable lunatic tackling, but that was par for the course for those Chelsea-Leeds games, there was definitely a pretty good rivalry going.

You joined Crystal Palace and then came back and rejoined Chelsea in 1974 under your old team mate Eddie McCreadie who was much the same age as you. Did you find that difficult?

Never a problem for me, I had the greatest respect for him.

 

In fact, I told him to go for it, when there was talk of change of leadership at Chelsea and there were all sorts of name being thrown about, every name under the sun.

 

I said ‘Eddie why don’t you apply for that man? You could do a better job than any of those guys.’

 

This was partly because he already had an intimate knowledge of the club and the playing staff. It didn’t surprise me when he did really well.

 

So I’m not taking credit for him getting the job, but I definitely did mention to him before it that he should apply.

 

I think at that point he wasn’t necessarily thinking of applying, but I think I helped him a little bit.

Do you think there might have been a lack of respect towards of André Villas-Boas?  You and Eddie McCreadie were friends, but you were still able to play for and do a role for him, but Villas-Boas didn’t  get that same respect with some of the players his own age while at Chelsea according to some sources.

Well me and Eddie were friends before and after that and could talk to each other, I don’t know what the relationship between the manager and players was like, but I do think age could be a factor in it all.

 

The main problem is the overall instability that casts doubts.

 

Pull Out Quote: Some of the older players should be worried though as their careers at Chelsea are on the line too now, although all this may be forgotten if they go out and do the business against Napoli.

One of the other relationships you had while at Chelsea was with Peter Osgood. You always seemed to set him up for goals like in the aforementioned 1970 FA Cup Final and you also set him up in the 1972 League Cup Final.  You’re currently coaching with Coever Coaching helping improve different teams, including in Galway with Mervue United recently. Can you coach that kind of relationship between a winger and striker like yourself and Peter? Are you able to coach intimacy like that between two interrelated positions?

I think there are an awful lot of things you can help coach and help players improve on. I think a lot of things are down to the players too, to their own individual strengths and weaknesses, their own personalities.

 

I think for elite players there are exercises that allow you to get to know a team mate’s positioning and patterns of play, but it’s primarily through experience and playing together.

 

That’s the type of understanding me and Peter had. To equalise in the 1970 final against Leeds, I got the ball in the midfield from Ian Hutchinson and I thought ‘It’s an hour into the game, we better do something or else this game will get away from us.’

 

So I’ll just chip it in there past Jack [Charlton] and Peter will be making the run, so I’ll see if I can get it in there. It was one of those balls that I hit perfectly – if you did it a hundred times it wouldn’t get there usually and when Peter got there he just splayed himself out horizontally and BOOM! He put his hand up in the air to celebrate and the place erupted.

 

But that move wasn’t practiced on the training pitch; it came from the experience of playing with each other and reading each other.

Above: Cooke’s pinpoint assist for Peter Osgood to equalize against Leeds in the 1970 FA Cup final replay at 1.40.

Do you think in that case people should have a bit more patience with strikers as to learn to play with the midfielders that are learning to supply them? I’m thinking for instance of Fernando Torres and Juan Mata at Chelsea or Andy Carroll and Charlie Adam at Liverpool?

Yes well that’s been happening forever, but it’s more intense now. Players throughout history have suffered goal droughts.

 

You see today when a player signs for big money, everybody knows that they’re meant to be the most dangerous man on pitch… including the opposition so they mark these big name signings out of the game these days.

 

Pull Out Quote: So big name signings are a lot more marked out of it these days. They should probably get a bit more time and a bit more credit especially for the stuff they’re doing off the ball for their team mates.

Another former Chelsea player Pat Nevin is on record as an analyst on Newstalk national radio over here as saying something similar about Torres. He thinks he’s not getting enough credit for his overall play…

Well I’m in good company there. I’d agree completely with Pat. I think Fernando Torres for instance has been making dome great runs and off the ball and movement for his team mates this season despite the lack of goals.

Yet despite all the millions spent and big name strikers that have come into Chelsea in recent years, your old team mate Bobby Tambling is still the club’s all time top goal scorer.

I tell you whenever I think of Bobby Tambling I think about that left foot his – talk about a ‘Golden Left foot’! He used to crank that foot, some of those goals he scored I still can’t believe them. What a finisher!

What’s you role these days at Coerver Coaching?

Well we do work with individual teams concentrating on improving tactics and primarily improving techniques with young players in a manner that helps them improve their confidence.

 

We coach the players and the coaches and try to get both to focus on getting better rather than results, ironically that’s the approach that gets you success a lot more quickly.

 

A lot of the problems with developing new players in our countries is that coaches are concentrating on new tactics rather than trying to improve the skills of the players and we have a few drills that helps do that.

In the League of Ireland a lot of players like James McClean, David Meyler  and Kevin Doyle moved over to England and have been more successful than the players who have moved over when they’re fifteen or sixteen years of age.  Do you think there’s more of a benefit of staying and learning your trade in a competitive minor league like the League of Ireland and learning your technique, or should you move over to England at first chance?

We think players should be improving their technique and can improve their technique in semi-professional leagues, however by the time they hit sixteen or seventeen, they should have all the technical skills that they need.

 

I think if you’re hitting your early twenties it’s a bit late and scouts will be wondering why you haven’t moved over yet.

 

Then again I think the proper techniques should be impressed on kids at a younger age now too.

Further information on Coerver Coaching courses can be found on coerver.ie.

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