Gateshead FC

A recent move to Gateshead has suitably stirred the imagination for Jordan Cook. Impressed by the Heed’s approach under Mike Williamson, the former Grimsby Town forward aims to help them add more of the decisive attacking touch. For what he sees as justified hopes of a promotion challenge, not to mention finally playing his football again in his native North East, the 30-year-old was delighted to join.

The Tynesiders have a player that few would argue – but for injury misfortune and a dramatically-altered footballing backdrop this year – belongs in the EFL. The one-time Sunderland youngster, though, has all his focus on climbing the National League North. Although the Gateshead squad have been tackling an enforced spell of self-isolation, Cook’s prior involvement with his new teammates more than whet the appetite. Here’s an in-depth look with the man himself into his footballing life and times so far..

 

As we speak now, you’ve been self-isolating. What’s filling the time?

Yeah, one of the lads tested positive last Tuesday, so we’ve got a few more days to go. Just keeping myself fit; you can’t really venture out or anything, so just home workouts really that we’re getting sent from (assistant manager) Ian (Watson).

What about the TV series/films, have you been diving back into all that?

I’d nearly watched everything already! Living away, I probably watched nearly all of Netflix. Just rewatching Entourage at the minute, because it’s been years and years since I’ve watched that.

Being back in the North East, what’s the set-up? Are you in your own place, sharing, staying with family?

Yeah, I’m in my own place. I bought a house just over a year ago back home. When I signed for Grimsby, it’s only about two hours fifteen from home, so I was able to get back quite a lot. That was probably the closest I’ve ever been to home while I’ve been playing football, since I was at Sunderland. Moving to Gateshead, it’s 20 minutes away from where I live, so that’s even more ideal.

What did Mike Williamson say about coming and signing for the club? ‘Be closer to home and get back to doing what you do best’?

Yeah, it was basically that. The big pull for me was obviously being back up home, and I know Gateshead are playing the right way, possession-based football. Mike just said he wants someone in and around the box to put the chances away that they’ve been creating. It’s easier said than done, obviously, but that’s what you’ve got to have confidence in yourself to do. I know I’ve played at a higher level but it’s just getting games in and going back to enjoying football, without any niggling injuries.

People speak highly of you from your time at Grimsby, what impressions did you take away of the club?

Oh, I loved my time there. In all honesty, I wished it had lasted longer. It was just timing; with people out of contract, and this COVID situation coming up, it was quite hard for clubs, at any level really, to keep players on who were out of contract. I think I got on well with the fans, they knew what I was good at and that I put everything into every game, scored some goals for them. I just wanted to play longer for them. I’ve got nothing but positive things I could say about the fans, the club, even the gaffer, Ian Holloway. I never really got to play for him, because I was injured towards the end of the season, but I liked the staff. As a club, it’s quality; properly family-based, all top, top people, right down through all of it. I really enjoyed my time there.

Did you grow up a Sunderland fan, in a Sunderland family? Whereabouts was it you grew up?

Yeah, I’m a diehard Sunderland fan. My whole family, all my best mates – there’s only a couple of Mags who are my friends, to be fair! I was at Sunderland since I was seven, so it was a dream come true to progress through the ranks and get around the first team. A lot of the time, people put Hetton, but it’s actually the next village along, Easington Lane, where I’m from.

Being around that Sunderland team, were there any more senior players who went out of their way to give advice, or have a laugh with you?

Yeah, when I was about 18 and started to be around the first team, there was me, Jordan Henderson, Martyn Waghorn, Jack Colback, all of us, and there were so many good pros. I was lucky enough to train with ones like Bolo Zenden, Anton Ferdinand was really good with the youth lads, because I think he had a good experience coming through at West Ham. There’s too many to mention, to be fair, it was a top set of lads. Obviously they weren’t the best team in the Premier League but they were a good team, and they relied a lot on how well they got on together.

What about Asamoah Gyan, could you have a chat with him?!

Asamoah was class. He was one of the happiest blokes you’ve ever met, every single day in training, singing, dancing, but he was a serious operator when he was on the pitch. He was a proper player; he could hold the ball up, get in the box, score goals, all different types of goals. I’d say he was probably one of those where, because he was such a big player, being a young lad, you don’t really go over to and start talking to.

Obviously Steve Bruce as well, who gave you those games in the first team (Jordan featured three times for Sunderland, making his debut at Old Trafford against Manchester United). How much interaction would he have with you in general, besides ‘get ready, you’re going on’?

A lot of people ask ‘who’s the best manager you’ve played under?’ and I always say first of all that it would probably be Steve Bruce, because he gave me my debut for the first team and believed in me, kind of thing. It was obviously just a hard situation for Sunderland, struggling his third season, and it was harder for him to put the younger lads in. As a man-manager, I thought he was quality. He was so honest; if you were playing crap, he would tell you, and he’d be very straight with what he wanted you to do, or the team to do. I think some people in football can complicate things and have too much going on in a game.

When it came to joining Charlton, did it feel like a big jump at the time, making a longer-term move that far from home?

I think everyone around me was more worried than me. I was more excited, because I didn’t even see it as ‘I’m moving to the opposite end of the country’. It was the time when the (2012) Olympics was on as well, so it was nuts. Charlton had just got promoted, and I’d played a couple of times against them when I was at Carlisle in League One, and played really well. Chris Powell was really interested in me for a long time and it was similar to Steve Bruce; English manager, basically set in his ways how he wanted to play, wanted attacking football. It wasn’t the best time in my career when I went to Charlton, because I didn’t think I performed well, and I didn’t think I played in the positions where I was going to when I signed. As a club, though, again, fans amazing, quality players. It was a really good experience and it proper took me out of my comfort zone, living by yourself in a big city, being away from home for the first time. It was all pretty much fine, it was only boring when you weren’t playing.

In your career overall, have there been any teammates you’ve had an extra level of understanding with on the pitch?

Yeah, to me it’s quite easy, it was Romaine Sawyers when I was at Walsall. We just seemed to be in sync every game, every training session. Romaine was technically perfect, dropping deeper, and I liked making runs for him to find me. When I made a run, nine times out of ten, it was on my little toe! He’s obviously gone on to do so well for himself and he deserves every little bit of credit he gets, because he’s definitely one of the best I’ve played with.

What about positionally, if you could choose your ideal role and the system that was in, where would it be?

With this system at Gateshead, three at the back – 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 – playing up front with another striker, but where I can obviously have the licence to go and drift and run the channels. I think that’s what Mike wants me to do, and he plays like a top three, so three lads who are interchanging, and they’re quite narrow, so any one of them three positions is perfect for me. I just wanna be in and around the box to get shots off and little passes off to create goals.

What would be the type of approach from a manager that gets the best from you? More encouragement, or does getting you rattled work better?

I’d say it’s definitely a mix of both; I know that’s sitting on the fence a bit. There’s games where I know I’ve played rubbish, and I’ve had a manager big me up even more, and I went on to score the winner. But there’s games where I’ve been rubbish and I’ve been bollocked, and I went on again to set a goal up or do something well. I’ve had managers who’ve absolutely rinsed me and I’ve gone on and done well sometimes, or gone on and done worse, so it’s both.

If you think about when in football you’ve felt in your best form, the dressing room was great, you were happiest on and off the pitch, which spell springs to mind?

It was when I was on loan at Carlisle, I’d say, because I was younger, I was just getting on with playing, not thinking about anything in the outside world and had no worries. I knew I was going on loan from Sunderland to get games to try and impress and come back and play for Sunderland. Carlisle had such a good team at the time. It was Lee Miller up front as like a target man, who was perfect to play off, François Zoko on the left, who could just do something where you’d be like ‘how has he just done that?’ A great midfield as well, with a few lads who went on to do well. I was only there for a few months, but as for being happy, it probably was Carlisle. Carlisle fans were class with me and I loved my time there.

What about the most difficult?

Probably had a couple. The last half a season of my contract at Charlton was quite tough, because I was frozen out. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t play well, when I played right-mid and left-mid, but they weren’t my positions, so it was quite hard to thrive. When the new ownership came in, they kept bringing lads in who’d been in Belgium, who I didn’t think were good enough, and probably most other people didn’t, but the owner owned both Standard Liège and Charlton. There were a few of us frozen out, and it happens in football, but it wasn’t nice being so far from home and you know you’re training every week with no reward.

Was it the ‘bomb squad’, where you’re getting made to train with the youth team etc.?

We were still training with the first team, so it wasn’t like a pure bomb squad where they have no interest in you whatsoever. Management still wanted you to train and that, but you couldn’t go out on loan because of the timings. You didn’t get told that you’re never going to be involved, but you had that sense of ‘the squad’s too big, they’re bringing players in from the chairman’s other club, who are obviously gonna be playing in front of other lads.’ That’s why I was so buzzing recently for the fans when the new guy’s taken over, who’s got proper interest in building the club up.

Who are some examples of the big characters you’ve been around? Anyone you roomed with, for example?

Yeah, when I was at Walsall, I roomed with my mate who I lived with at the time, Anthony Forde, who’s at Oxford now. At Luton, it was Glen Rea, Luke Gambin, and we all lived within about a hundred metres of each other, in different places. Them two are nuts; Glen Rea’s funny as anything.

Was there anyone who was into the pranks, or slide-tackling people on the dancefloor on nights out?

Dale Stephens at Charlton; you had to be careful around Dale! Typical northerner, like me. People might say I was a bit of an idiot but I’ve definitely calmed down a bit from when I was younger! Dale was funny. At Walsall, Milan Lalkovič, he was so funny. He still has me in stitches now, just with a random Snapchat or Instagram video he’ll send us. He’s high on life, Milan, he was quality. At Sunderland, Anton (Ferdinand) was class, big character, and very underrated as a player, I thought. I think if you’d put him in a top team he would have done even better. I always respect people who’ve helped me in my career and he was class for me.

Ever had to sing when you’ve joined a new team, and if so, which song(s)?

Every single time, yeah. I don’t know if we have to do it here, because no one’s mentioned it! I’m that used to it now, but at first, at Sunderland, I couldn’t eat, I was so nervous. I sang ‘Mr. Brightside’ (The Killers) at Sunderland, then every other team, I think I’ve sang ‘Follow Me’ by Uncle Kracker. Most people know it so you’re praying to God that a few of them join in!

So set that scene, you’re singing The Killers at Sunderland, is it on an away trip? When you’re up there getting ready, whose glare are you noticing?!

I think I was 18/19, it was away to West Brom, and we flew there from Newcastle in a private plane. I was like ‘this is unreal’. A couple of lads when we were in the airport were like ‘have you got a song ready?’ It was obviously panic stations then, ‘I can’t sing at the best of times, how am I supposed to sing in front of the manager and everyone?!’ Everyone sat down for dinner, and I just looked at my food and I had no appetite whatsoever! I was nervous, sweating, everyone’s finished their dinner and you hear the dreaded knife tapping on the glass. Standing on a chair in front of players who have been in the Champions League and played for massive clubs, a few of them battering you a bit, and you’re trying your best not to panic and forget the words. I managed to get through it and it was alright, to be fair.

Was that before Steve Bruce, was that when Ricky Sbragia was in charge?

That was Ricky Sbragia. It was Neil Bailey as well, who was the reserve coach, and he was probably the one I looked up to, because he was quality for me.

At least it wasn’t Roy Keane watching it…

To be fair, with Roy, it probably would have been better, because the young lads all got on with him. I think he actually liked us because he knew how hungry we all were, and he loved how the youth team and reserve team were all together. I was more bothered when it was Ricky, because Ricky could banter you as well!

Away from football, what else have you got going on at the moment? Any other ventures, or just general interests?

Yeah, involved with a few things, and now I’ve signed for Gateshead I can hopefully get involved with a night course at university. I’m gonna try and get my electrical engineering sorted and go on from there, because I’ve got a few mates who are doing really well for themselves, who are involved in that. My dream is to get involved with refurbishing property and selling it on, but I want to get my electrical engineering done so I’ve got a base to work from.

Finally, as you look ahead now with Gateshead, what is your overall outlook at this point, on the next months, into years?

Obviously my aim is to help Gateshead get promoted and do whatever I need to do to make that happen. It’s come at the worst time, having to isolate, because I was getting back into training for the first time with a team since COVID stopped everything last season. My dream is to play in the League for a lot longer. I had discussions with Mike and Ian before I signed and they understand, but as soon as the offer came in from Gateshead, I was definitely interested, because of the way they were playing, and it’s close to home. Obviously the situation with COVID as well, I see myself as quite lucky to get offered a contract, because there’s that many footballers out of contract. It’s definitely one where I’m buzzing to sign. From the few sessions I’ve had, they look like they’ve got a great squad, look really lively, so I can’t wait to get involved in the games now.

Interview by @chris_brookes

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