Paul Cook – a class act in midfield

Cooky arrived at a difficult time for the club and a very difficult time for manager Stan Ternent. The previous two games, both at home, had been lost 5-0 and 6-0 against Gillingham and Manchester City respectively.

The manager’s position was without question in the balance but two days after the City drubbing Chairman Barry Kilby said Stan was staying and then allowed him to bring in two new players. One was Tommy Cowan from Huddersfield, the other was Paul Cook on loan from Stockport.

They debuted against Preston and it was another defeat as relegation was staring us in the face. It was a much better performance though and it took a stunning Kurt Nogan goal to beat us.

We were unbeaten in the remaining eleven games where Cooky soon established himself in midfield. His was the sort of quality we had been searching for and it was there for all to see that we had signed a player of Premiership quality.

Whatever happened at Turf Moor that week was certainly pivotal, the whole fortunes of the club changed and the signing of Paul Cook was definitely a major factor.

Stan moved quickly in the summer to sign him up on a long term contract and there could be very few who could have disagreed with that. He missed only two games in the promotion season, the 4-2 defeat at Blackpool and then when not fully fit he was rested at Brentford where we won 3-2 to ensure he would be available for the last two games as we went for promotion.

Cooky enjoyed the promotion day and after having yet another good game at Scunthorpe he returned to Burnley and joined the fans in a town centre pub to celebrate.

Following promotion he was still an automatic choice in the midfield and missed only six games all season as the Clarets established themselves back in the First Division. Some fans incredibly had a go at him during a 1-1 home draw against Portsmouth but the following week at Tranmere he received a standing ovation from the knowledgeable Burnley fans. We even saw the introduction of gloves during the season as he chose to keep his hands warm during the winter months.

He had another good season but there was even better to come from the midfielder in 2001/02. As the Clarets stormed to the top of the league Cooky was surely in the best form of his life. He was turning in some masterful performances and giving us some wonderful moments to savour.

Who can forget the goals against Walsall and Crystal Palace at home or the free kick at Coventry that led to Glen Little’s goal? When Steve Davis dropped out of the side through injury, and with Kevin Ball out suspended, there was only one place to look to hand out the captain’s armband.

Then on the last day of November 2001 I received a phone call to tell me that Cooky had signed for Wigan on loan. It was so ridiculous it just couldn’t be true. Here was a player playing on top form for a team in top place in Division One suddenly joining an average 2nd Division side on loan. It couldn’t be right.

It was though and the reason was given that we couldn’t at that stage offer him a contract beyond the end of that season. We had let our best midfielder go because over some contract problem, risking our position at the top of the league.

We won the next three games without him but the decision that still baffles me to this day did cost us. He did his loan at Wigan for a month and then returned and signed a new one year contract. There appeared to be neither sense nor reason in it and ultimately I believe it cost us dearly.

Despite being back at the club he was more or less overlooked as our season collapsed and we moved from one disaster to another. He started only three games in the second half of the season, played 90 minutes just once in a game we won, and spent the rest of the time unable to get into the side.

After an opening day defeat this season he returned against Wolves, a club where the fans to this day still adore him, but lasted only a few minutes before seeing Jeff Winter’s red card.

But he has fought his way back and played in just about half the games during this season. Again he had the captaincy for a period and was leading the side during one particularly good spell leading up to the FA Cup tie at Watford.

In the recent home game against Bradford City he was substituted after less than half an hour following a bad foul on the half way line. Needless to say referee Webster gave nothing. The injury was bad enough to rule him out for the rest of the season and so that game against Bradford proved to be his last in a Burnley shirt.

Paul Cook has been a class midfield player for Burnley and a great influence on the side, the statistics certainly suggest so.

Since Stan Ternent took over as manager we have averaged 1.51 points per league game, an average that would give us 70 points per season. Since Paul Cook was signed that average has gone up to 1.60 points per game and a 74 points per season total.

However if you look a the games that Paul Cook has started during that period (140 out of 194) the average increases even further to 1.73 and that sort of average would give 80 points per season.

Those figures clearly show that Burnley have been better for having Paul Cook at the club and even better when he has been out on the pitch.

Stan has made a number of excellent signings as Burnley manager but for me Paul Cook has been the best of the lot. He has been very influential in our climb in the last four years. He is a great organiser, works his socks off, is a superb passer of the ball and is such an influence on the whole team. A class act.

Quite how we got him from Stockport for nothing I will never know but we should be thankful that we did. What we can do now is say thanks to him and wish him all the best in whatever he does.