His move to Spennymoor Town last week wasn’t just a prolific new signing, but the return of an emphatic club favourite. Scorer of the opener at Wembley in Moors’ 2013 FA Vase final victory over Tunbridge Wells, Gavin Cogdon bagged 132 goals in 289 games for the club, as well as winning two promotions in a silverware-packed seven years.
He arrives back after three years at South Shields that brought 56 goals, five trophies – including another Vase win at Wembley – and a pair of promotions. After the Mariners’ Evo-Stik Premier play-off final loss to Warrington Town last month, it was a surprise for plenty to see him let go, but he will begin next season a league higher.
At 36, the ever-lively forward says he is feeling in optimum condition, and determined to puncture defences up and down the National League North in 2019/20. In this regular ‘Players’ Bar’ feature, he looks back on the lessons of his time in football to date, the personalities who’ve kept it interesting, plus sketchy dressing-room anthems, and the odd terrace favourite in his honour…
Favourite team and player growing up
When I was younger, Liverpool were the first strip I ever had, but then as it materialised, at primary school it was always Man United. I’d probably go with Man United and Ryan Giggs as the ones who were in my head growing up, but I’m weird, because I’ve never really supported anyone. My home town’s Sunderland, so when I’ve went on holidays and that, and someone’s said ‘who do you support?’ I’ve always said ‘I’m from Sunderland so you’ve got to support where you’re from,’ which I’m a bit of a believer in. So I would go with Sunderland as the team I’ve supported and Ryan Giggs as my favourite player.
Favourite game(s) you’ve played in and why – would it be the FA Vase finals?
Yeah well straight away you’ve nailed it with the Vase, just with the prestige of it really. Everyone always wants to play at Wembley, and so I would go with my standout games being Wembley.
That York game with Shields though was definitely something (Shields beat York 3-2 at home in the FA Cup third qualifying round in September 2017, with Gav scoring the winner in stoppage time). Is that right up there as well?
Yeah it’s massive. I don’t know if you’ve seen but there’s a photo kicking about where I’m running away celebrating and there’s two Shields lads, two kids, celebrating and hugging each other. They’re sitting on the sponsors boards and they’re so excited, so that’s always been one of my favourite pictures I suppose as well. The fact as well that York, when I was younger, I mean it still is such a big club, so to play against them and then score the winner at the end, that is up there as well because of that little bit of a memory at the end. I remember as I’ve scored and I’ve come back, it’s Jon Parkin who’s obviously an absolute unit, and there’s a picture of me and him, I’m standing on the halfway line. Just little things like that. It’s a big club and I think that’s why it’s up there as well.
A teammate/coach who taught you something new, made you see the game in a different way, or gave great advice you’ve always remembered
I suppose when I was younger, one of the big ones who sticks in my memory is Steve Golightly. He was at Sunderland academy when I was there and he’s one of the coaches who’s pulled us aside a bit, but I really enjoyed my football and that’s a massive thing for any young player, someone who you want to listen to and someone who makes it really fun. He’s definitely been someone who I always make reference to, because I had him from 11 to 16 and so he was integral.
Funniest teammate/coach/manager in your career (or give more than one example)
There’s so many. John Caffrey, he was a keeper around the lower leagues, and it’s that classic example where everyone says he should have been a pro, but he was just the life and soul of the dressing rooms that I was in with him. Spennymoor years ago, we did like the thickest bunch of teammates, where they had to answer some questions, and honestly, there wasn’t a GCSE between them! Some of the questions were so simple, like spelling words that a five-year-old would be able to spell, and they weren’t joking as well. It was people like Anthony Peacock, Craig Ruddy, Kallum Griffiths who’s now at York; just absolutely thick and I think sometimes they’re the characters that drive dressing rooms forward.
A player you’ve played with whose ability alone deserved/deserves to be at a higher level
I played with him all the way through Spennymoor the last time he was there, and that was Stephen Capper. I think he played for Scarborough for like a season and played against Chelsea in the FA Cup third round. I think that was the furthest he played really, but he captained Ireland all the way up to Under-21s, and anyone who’s played with him will probably say the same name. Probably through somebody not fancying him, I don’t know if it was his height as a left-back, but you look at left-backs now and maybe it was just a bit too early in the game, and if he was playing now he’d have more of a chance. He was two-footed, up and down, he could tackle, but he never needed to because he read the game that well.
Hardest moment/experience as a player
It’s difficult really because I’ve had quite a lot of success wherever I’ve been. I think it’s always hard starting off in a new environment, new club, but I suppose when I got released from Sunderland when I was 16. I think that was one where you could go either way, and I know plenty of people where they say ‘oh he was good enough, he should have made it,’ but they ended up not playing or ended up drinking or whatever else. I went through that spell where you’ve got to enjoy your life, but I look at opportunities in non-league in the North East now and it’s far greater than when I was younger; you had Gateshead and then there was Spennymoor the last time, before the demise, so there was nobody really. I turned down Gateshead a couple of times and I actually signed once and then didn’t go for whatever reason. Going away from my comfort zone, I didn’t do it enough; I suppose I was always happy with a good group of lads and a good environment. I would probably say because I didn’t challenge myself enough, I didn’t get any hard times, if that makes sense? I think if I’d pushed myself more, in harsher environments, then I would probably have given you a bit of a different answer.
There’s shades of Kevin Phillips to how you play! Being at Sunderland at the time you were, he was obviously in the first team, was he someone you actively looked to learn a bit from?
Yeah when I was there and got released, that was the time when Sunderland went through a really positive time, and I was like a Sunderland fan even though I’d got released. I started following them, I was a season ticket holder, so he was the one that you looked at, but I’d sometimes play right-wing or left-wing. I was a centre-midfielder at 11; I think that’s why I’ve got a bit of aggression about us, because I’ve played in harsher positions than up front. When I was like 20s plus, it was always like a small forward would have to play with a big forward, so (Phillips) was the one where you’d look towards that partnership with (Niall) Quinn. I would watch what he would do and think ‘well if you don’t go far away from him then you’re not doing bad.’
What is a typical week like for you, in terms of routine?
I’ll train every day, so it used to be that I’d always train on a morning because it’s easier to get done and different stuff, but now it just fits as part of my day. So I’ll train daily, and everything that I do as a semi-professional footballer, it’s difficult because you train Tuesday, Thursday, you play Saturday, and sometimes you’re away travelling, so you have to change everything to fit around football. So a typical day would be, I’ll get up and train in the morning, an hour-and-a-half, breakfast after, usual day of work, then I’ve got my own facility, so on an evening I’m there as well. I do quite long days, and my two children are in sport, so my wife usually takes them on an evening, because I’m working. I make sure on the big events that I’m there. Jude usually has a game on a Sunday because he’s at an academy, so I make sure that my Sundays are free. Leah does gymnastics, so whenever she’s at a comp I try to make sure that I’m free.
In terms of other interests, is there room for much else outside football, work, family?
I’m a bit of a weirdo, to be honest, so I always try and learn something new. One of the things at the minute is I’m trying juggling. My biggest passion at the minute with my wife is travelling, so because I’m not always with the children, one of the things we say is ‘can we have quality time rather than quantity?’ So one of the biggest things I’m getting into now is travelling and always trying to learn a new skill for myself. I was always able to do handstands when I was young so I’ve even looked at trying to learn the back flip next. There’s always something that I’m trying to learn.
Your record through the years speaks for itself, but what are your feelings heading towards next season? Leaving Shields, is there a sense of having a bit of a point to prove, or are you more relaxed about it?
You probably hit the nail there; I feel I’ve got something to prove. That’s just the pressure that I put on myself anyway, but with Shields, they’d said that due to budget cuts and a few different stuff there wasn’t a contract for us. That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me, other than being released at Sunderland, where I was younger and it didn’t really mean anything, whereas now, the character that I am, I’ve took that as like a fuel. There was a couple of phone calls even before they’d released us, but as soon as Spennymoor came I didn’t even bother speaking to anybody else, because for me now that’s the chance to do everything that I wanted to do. I’ve moved up and I want to make sure that this season goes to plan. Obviously you want to win things, but I also want to make sure that I give a good account of myself. If I put 100 percent in, I know I’m good enough, fit enough to have more than enough at that level to compete. At Conference/Conference North, the pitches are better, which suits me. Although I’m saying I’ve got a point to prove, I’ve got no issue thinking I can’t do it. Deep down I know I’ll be fine, but I just give myself that added pressure to go ‘prove a point.’
Funniest/most memorable/surreal thing you’ve seen at a game
Obviously, Julio (Arca) was a massive pull for Shields, and to play with him was that surreal sort of thing. Bearing in mind I’m from Sunderland, I’ve got friends who are massive Sunderland fans. Suzanne, my wife, her cousins, they’re down in London, but they’re Sunderland fans, and Julio was their favourite ever player. Sharing a dressing room with him and looking at how much he still wanted to win, because I’ve played against players who’ve dropped down levels and you look at them and get the feeling that they weren’t trying, or it didn’t mean anything to them.
Also (Spennymoor Town boss) Jason Ainsley, I know he’s kicked on as a manager, but I actually played with Jason on a Sunday morning side, which was Hetton Lyons. Grovesy (Bradley Groves, Spennymoor chief executive) managed and that’s how I met Brad. I’ve shared a dressing room with Jason, he’s now my manager, but I’ve seen him win games as a player or win games as a manager and do his famous robot dance! I’ve seen Instagrams of the lads when they’ve won this year, like the semi-final of the play-offs, they’re doing it, and that brings back memories. That’s the dressing room Jay’s got, and I went and signed and did the little interview for Spennymoor, I took my son and straight away he’s shaking Jude’s hand. He’s got family values, which I think lads respond really well to, but then I’m saying all that and you’ve got a picture in your mind of him doing the robot in the dressing room or on the bus!
Any myths/misconceptions, or a rumour you’ve heard about yourself in your career that wasn’t true
I think sometimes I don’t know if I’m liked by the opposition, which I’d actually hate to think was the case. I’d like to think anybody that shared a dressing room with us will know I’ll win as much as I can, and that’s what I’ve always been like. I think more so since I joined Spennymoor the first time, because we just got a habit of winning, and I think sometimes that developed into, not like a nasty side, but I’d be lying if I said I’m one of them where I’ll win at all costs. The winning does just matter to us, but away from that, obviously I like to build relationships and I think football’s for that. Hopefully I’ve played my part in helping the clubs grow, but I would hate to think that anyone from the opposition hate us, because I’d like to think I’m a nice lad. On the pitch I probably just generally give out a different feeling. I can have that side where I forget myself and I get into the heat of the game really. Without that, though, I don’t think I’d have had the success that I’ve had.
What about music in the dressing room, have you ever took charge of it anywhere you’ve been?
Yeah I’ve been battered, to be honest. It was one of them where I’ve just stuck something on and the Shields lads absolutely hammered us when I had a go. I can listen to any music. I wouldn’t necessarily have to listen to music before a game, I’m more thinking to myself, but I like a bit of Oasis. That’s the type of music I go with, but the lads at Shields, it was weird, it was more like 1990s dance classics and stuff, which isn’t me. So I’ll be leaving the playlist to the Spenny lads.
Neatly following on from that, Shields fans sang about you always scoring goals, do you remember the first time you heard that one?
Yeah, well at Spennymoor they used to sing ‘Paolo Di Canio’ but they used to change it to ‘Paolo Di Titchio’! At Spennymoor, it was that close, and obviously there were less fans, but it still sticks in your head. Then at Shields, there’s a few more fans so it was getting louder and you’d hear it. They’d sing it when I was on the bench, and I didn’t feel I got a fair crack of the whip the last four months of the season, and I was hearing them, and it does spur you on. You want to come on because you’ve got them in your mind as well. You want to do well for yourself, but I’ve always been one of them where, they’ve paid to come in so I want to do well for them and I feel guilty if we don’t. It’s one of the personal things that I love, when they chant, and that was what was good about Shields, I suppose.
The progress of Spennymoor is there for everyone to see, getting so close to reaching the National League last season, but for anyone who hasn’t yet, why should people come down and support the team?
I think living in Spennymoor, kind of being proud of where you’re from. So many of them came to Wembley, it was such a good day, and that’s continued. Obviously Brad’s trying his best to get more people in there, but because of the standard that’s being played now, I would like to think that more could come and give it a full season. I speak to a lot of people who once they started going to non-league football and did it consistently, they got hooked. You get closer to that environment of the club and I think it feels more yours. My kids, like Jude’s doing alright at football at the minute, and my wife would always bring him to the Spennymoor games, and I think you’re so close to the pitch and the players, from a learning aspect. I’ve always said that if I have another son or a daughter, and they wanted to play football, the first thing I would do at an early age is take them to non-league football, because they’re so close and they’re seeing so much. So I would urge people as well for that reason, for the ones who want their children to come, they should be getting them in early into non-league football. I just think it’s so good for their development really in football.
Finally, what has this life around football taught you the most up to now, and has it changed you at all?
I think it’s made us more driven for success. I’ve loved every minute of it and I suppose that’s why I’m still going now, because it’s given so much for my life and my family’s life. To summarise it in a sentence, it’s given us so much that I kind of don’t want it to end.
Interview by @chris_brookes