Football people at all levels of the game are mourning the death of Robbie Cooke last week, at the age of 64, after a battle with cancer...
A livewire forward with a rich goalscoring reputation, Robbie joined Cambridge United in February 1983 and over the following two years scored 17 goals in 75 appearances in all competitions. A friendship forged in the Abbey dressing room later led to him, as chief scout, following former teammate David Moyes to Preston North End, Everton, Manchester United and West Ham United.
Born in Rotherham on 16 February 1957, Robbie made his bow in football at Mansfield Town, having worked his way through the Field Mill youth system. A move to Southern League Grantham Town in 1978 brought him 43 goals in his first season and 39 in his next. Bigger clubs were circling, and in the summer of 1980 he moved to Fourth Division Peterborough United for £12,000.
U’s manager John Docherty was a Cooke admirer and put in early bids for his services, which were denied by Posh. However, in February 1983, after Robbie’s 69 goals in two and a half seasons at London Road, the Doc got his man with a cut-price offer of £10,000. The new arrival was described by his manager as “a fast and direct player who is like quicksilver in the penalty area”.
It was unfortunate for Robbie that his stay at the Abbey, which started when United were in Division Two, coincided with the club’s collapse to the nether regions of the Football League under Docherty and his hapless successor, John Ryan. Nevertheless, after scoring his first goal in amber in April 1983 against the megastars of Newcastle United, he maintained his reputation while playing in a poor team.
He joined Brentford on loan on 31 December 1984 and made the move permanent two months later, a fee of between £20,000 and £25,000 changing hands. “I didn’t want to go back to Cambridge,” Robbie said, “not because of the people there, but I’ve got on well at Brentford. United struggled for most of the time I was there and the situation had gone from bad to worse.” He was to finish the 1984/85 season as top scorer at both clubs.
His time at Griffin park was fruitful – he scored 64 goals in 150 appearances – but a £30,000 move to Millwall in December 1987 was less successful. Thereafter he dropped back into non-League football with Kettering Town, a return to Grantham and spells at other East Midlands clubs. While at Kettering he won two England C caps.
The 1990s saw Robbie coaching and managing at Grantham, Warboys Town and Kettering, but it was when Moyes asked him to scout for him at Preston that his post-playing career took off. It took him to the very top of the game, and his loss is felt keenly throughout the football community.