We write this with sadness as the news that Bradley Cooke has decided to leave the club for pastures new sinks in. It’s a day we always knew would happen but one that we liked to pretend would never arrive. However the following prose will be a celebration of our hero’s Colls career.
Our former manager, Steve Pilling, aided by Gareth Hall (Jasper) swooped in for Brad at the back end of February 2012 when he exited Ashton Athletic, and he made an instant impact, scoring on his debut in a 2-1 NWCFL home triumph over Formby on the 3rd of March. Immediately we realised we had an Atherton based player of pedigree on our books and within a short time he had helped us win our first Bolton Hospital Cup since 1987.
In both the 2012/13 and 2013/14 campaigns we started excellently and played some of the best football the club had seen, but we lacked consistency and couldn’t quite achieve that elusive holy grail; a position in the top two to seal promotion back to the Counties top flight.
Despite this, Brad was one of our standout players and he really should have been playing higher up the pyramid. By this stage he had worked his way up to the club’s captain having taken over the role from his mentors Andy Walker and Ross McNair who both retired.
Some may not realise that Brad actually left the club in the 2014 close season and infamously posed with Gaz Peet wafting a scarf bearing the moniker of his new team Nelson. However, that deal wasn’t sealed when one of his best pals, Michael Clegg, landed the Colls hotseat. Of course, one of his first acts was to persuade Brad to extend his career in the black and white stripes.
And what a four seasons they have subsequently been. A record breaking NWCFL Division 1 championship season, a NWCFL League Challenge Cup, a NWCFL Premier Division title and then the NPL League Cup in it’s 50th anniversary campaign. In short, a major trophy in each campaign, and Captain Cooke was an integral factor in this ‘beyond our wildest dreams’ rise. He always wore the armband with pride and he made things tick in the engine room, adding more than the odd goal. 40 goals in 265 appearances is not a bad record! Being ever so versatile, the midfielder also played in defence, had an odd outing as an emergency striker and who will forget ‘The Cat’ donning the gloves at Radcliffe Borough in the Lancashire Cup and making the match winning penalty save. An all rounder!
He was Cleggy’s man on the pitch and the player’s link with the committee. He is and was a fans favourite. A few weeks ago when a flag was commissioned for the Integro Cup Final, it was a no brainer that the design was in homage to the skipper. It was unfortunate that his last action in a Colls shirt was the challenge which got him banned from the Cup Final. We did appeal the sending off, even though it was unlikely to be overturned; such was the desire to see Brad play in the showpiece. It wasn’t to be.
During the interval at Alfreton, Brad posed with his flag and a large number of our fans who were present. It was a truly wonderful photograph and with retrospect a poignant moment. What made it more special was the fact that many of those who were in the photograph did not follow Colls back when Brad joined; but undoubtedly a massive reason why they now do is the fact come lose, win or draw, the captain has always made time for those who had come along to support the team… even if it was their first visit.
As well as the amazing highs, Brad has also had some gut wrenching lows. Hitting the crossbar at Cleethorpes Town in the FA Vase will live with him forever. As is well know, he has also had more than his fair share of sendings off. He tells us he cannot change his game now and we wouldn’t want him to. We always forgave him because he was our man. He will be missed by everybody at this club but our loss is going to be another teams gain. Which team will announce his signing with a tweet of him with their scarf wafted over his head?
Good luck our friend and thank you x
Emil and Gibbo