Cockerill: ‘My deal to join Fulham was done in half an hour down the local pub’

This is my interview with Glenn Cockerill about the incredibly successful 1996/97 season. It was published in the matchday programme against Derby on Saturday.

Glenn Cockerill may have made only 36 competitive appearances for Fulham, but he played an important role in guiding the club to the Premier League.

After saving the Whites from relegation in his first season as a manager, Micky Adams set about putting together a strong squad on a relative shoestring.

He needed someone with a strong character and knew Cockerill well having played alongside him at Southampton. The partnership proved fruitful, as Fulham gained promotion from Division Three in 1996/97.

“I know Micky was my manager,” the midfielder said, “but he was probably my best mate at the club. My nickname for him was ‘Tarzan’, I don’t know why.

“We both lived in the same village and drank together. My deal to join Fulham was done in half an hour down the local pub, The Jolly Farmer in Warsash.

“He just wanted somebody to socialise up the dressing room and I think by the end of pre-season, my job was accomplished.”

However, that strong team spirit was not just forged in happy times. Cockerill feels the turning point for the campaign took place after a match the players would have wanted to forget.

“The game that stood out for me was our first away trip of the season, to Hartlepool. On the way home, me and Morgs [Simon Morgan] had a chat at the back of the bus. I said ‘come on, I’m here to dig in with you lot’.

“It was a long, long trip home because we’d been beaten, but from that day, I had a feeling that the team would go on and achieve something. We won the next five games.”

Cockerill had been a regular in the Southampton side for the best part of ten years. However, he started to fall out of favour.

“I was in and out of the team in my ninth year and was offered another year to get my testimonial, but I knew I wasn’t going to play every week because the Premier League was getting quicker.

“I was playing against people like David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Giggsy and I didn’t want to stick around just to pick up a testimonial game.”

A few seasons with Leyton Orient followed before the move to SW6, where he became Fulham’s oldest-ever debutant, a record that still stands.

Although having a spread of goalscorers was vital for promotion, Cockerill notes the meticulous work done on the training ground to ensure they had the tightest defence in the division.

“We did so well because there were probably four of us who couldn’t move! But no, we were well-drilled. Micky and Corky [Alan Cork] did a good job with us all and did a lot of work on shape, especially with the back four. We also had a top-class keeper [Mark Walton].”

The arrival of Mohamed Al-Fayed ushered in a new era on the Thames, as the arrival of more high-profile names meant that Cockerill was no longer in the frame.

His love affair with the club was rekindled however when he became U19 coach in 1998/99. During this time he met his current wife Angela, who was working at Motspur Park as the academy director’s PA. The couple have three children.

It is not so easy for Glenn to go to Craven Cottage anymore, but despite this he has not forgotten the role the fans played in the on-field success.

“My nine-year-old boy Brody plays football on a Saturday, so I tend to watch him and see the results on TV.

“We were very close to the fans. They were terrific all season, home and away. I believe they saw something different for the first time in many years at Fulham.”

Little did anyone know the adventures that lay ahead in the coming years.

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Morgan: ‘1996/97 was the start of the Fulham revolution’

Simon Morgan spoke to me prior to Fulham’s match with Derby this weekend. This interview went in the matchday programme.

How did the 1996/97 promotion compare to the subsequent two?

They were all brilliant in their own way. 1996/97 was the start of the Fulham revolution and it was probably the most unexpected promotion. We weren’t the most gifted group, but we worked hard and had a tremendous team spirit, so it was a very special year.

Did Micky Adams drive the expectation to get promotion?

Micky drove us, definitely. He took us to Epsom Downs in pre-season; that’s when he was just running us every day. He said ‘remember Gillingham at the end of last season, they came to our place, they were celebrating promotion, why can’t it be us this year, why can’t we celebrate?’. From then on, we just rode the wave of optimism and kept it going all the way through the season.

Was the role of the fans crucial that season?

Absolutely crucial. I remember the first game of the season. The country was on the crest of a wave after Euro ’96, we had a decent crowd on the first day and they were really supportive. I think they appreciated that while we were never going to be the best team in Fulham’s history, we’d make sure we were the hardest-working. There was a band of supporters who followed us away and our away form was tremendous during the season.

In the wake of the campaign you wrote a book, On Song for Promotion. What was the reason behind the name and when did you decide to write it?

You’ve got my wife to blame for the title! Right from the start of the season, we always had a sing-song. Mark Walton and Glenn Cockerill were the big crooners of the group. The wife said ‘you’ve got to put something about singing because that’s all you lot ever did’ so that’s where On Song for Promotion came from. I wrote the book over the summer with the help of Dennis Turner, God bless him. We dragged the club kicking and screaming out of the bottom league and set it on its way to 13 consecutive years in the Premier League. Apparently, everyone’s got a book in them, that’s what I was told. Micky Adams has done one as well. If me and Micky can write one, then anyone can.

You had the best defence in the whole league that season. What work did you do to make yourselves a solid defensive unit?

Everyone in the team worked so hard, with and without the ball. We all wanted to be involved in keeping a clean sheet, the same way we all wanted to be scoring at the other end. That was just the team ethic that Micky and Corky [Alan Cork] instilled in the team more than anything else.

You returned to Fulham as head of community development. Was it always in your mind to go into that sort of role?

I was always more interested in the administrative side of football than coaching or management. As all the players that I ever played alongside will tell you, I didn’t like training. The thought of going out and coaching on a cold, Monday morning just didn’t appeal to me, so a nice, warm office was much more to my taste. I did a business course when I was a player, so when I left Fulham for a year, it was always with the agreement to come back and then start working on the administrative side. It was a great experience working at Fulham and I’ve now been at the Premier League for ten years and in my current role for the last three [as head of football relations].

Have you seen much of the current side?

I saw them a few times at the end of last season and was very impressed. Obviously I was disappointed that they weren’t able to get through the play-offs and get promoted. I know, working at the Premier League, that Fulham were a great favourite and we all want them to get back into the division as quickly as possible. There’s been a bit of a hangover this year, but hopefully the club and the manager will be able to turn things round as soon as possible.