As the Football Association’s Council ratified a decision to curtail the Northern Premier League season earlier this week, it marked the official end to a second season in charge of Premier Division side Atherton Collieries for Brad Cooke. Formerly a captain at the Skuna Stadium, the 34-year-old re-joined the club in a managerial capacity following the departure of Michael Clegg in December 2019 but is yet to oversee a completed campaign due to the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic crisis.
Given that Cooke’s side hadn’t kicked a ball competitively since late October, this season’s incompletion came as little shock to most. Their last league game saw a 3-0 triumph away at Stafford Rangers on a damp night when only 30 fans were permitted to travel amidst the beginning of a second national lockdown.
He said: “In a weird way, I’m glad that this season has been signed off now because it’s good to finally get that closure. We can now close that chapter and look forward to next season which hopefully we will be able to complete.
“It’s surreal that I’m now two seasons in and I haven’t seen one through yet. Even though that’s the case, I genuinely feel like I’ve done about ten seasons in the manager’s dugout. I’ve done four pre-seasons now and not one has lead to the end of a campaign.
“It’s good for me though because I’m young and I’m learning. Away from football, I’ve been through the most difficult period that I could have imagined for personal reasons and when you put it all together, it’s good experience moving forward.
“The whole COVID scenario has been frustrating but it’s given me plenty of time – along with the rest of the management team at Colls – to reflect and plan for what we hope will be a successful season next time around.”
Cooke’s side had made a good start to their league campaign prior to a forced stoppage, sitting ninth in the table after eight games, picking up 13 points in the process.
Having battled relegation in their first season of seventh tier football – prior to last March’s null and voided league – the Colls showed signs of progression, boosted by a stable playing staff.
Cooke now says he hopes that can carry on whenever their next campaign gets underway.
He said: “When I first came in, we had a very high turnover of players with a lot of our squad following the former manager to Ashton United. I brought in my own players and we could’ve done well this season with the new squad that we’d assembled.
“I’ve spoke to the players about next season and I’d like to think that we’ll be pretty settled.
“People will be drawing up lists, like I am, and my players will be on those lists but as soon as the forms come out, we can start seeing people signing on the dotted line.”
A restart date for the league is yet to be confirmed, but Cooke’s Colls are kicking on.