[Yesterday I drafted up something of a tribute post to Dave Cook, Chairman of AFC Fury, who sadly passed away last Saturday. Given the sensitive nature of the topic, I wanted a second pair of eyes to take a look before I published it. So I sent it to Cordwainer Bull who, after giving it the seal of approval, generously offered to supply a few thoughts of his own to “add as a post-script”. But upon reading the brilliant words Monsieur Bull put together, my effort suddenly seemed a bit pathetic by comparison! So I have made his the main piece, and I’ll add what I was going to say in the comments. – Enzo.]
By Cordwainer Bull
I can’t think of a club administrator in New Zealand who would have experienced the vicissitudes of football as much as Dave Cook.
Chairman Cook, an insurance agent, was the driving force behind Mt Maunganui AFC arising from a core of wharfies and powering their way from the Bay of Plenty second division, via the old northern league fourth division south (champions in 1982) to a Chatham Cup final and northern premier league title in 1986, and on to the national league.
There should also have been a national league title in 1989, but for a missed penalty.
What an incredible feat that was – eight divisions in eight years. In conjunction with his equally distinctive and singular head coach Eddie Edge, Dave took a team from pub football to the cusp of the national league title and Chatham Cup within a decade. Amazing.
In the mid to late 80s Mt Maunganui were the most exciting show in the country, with Cook, along with his loyal secretary, Gael Dixon, the ones making it happen off the pitch.
Unfortunately for Dave, the Karmic tapestry later equalised, and he also presided over the collapse of the very same club, riven by a financial implosion, and major auditing questions which even prompted TV current affairs reportage.
And it prompted club members to “mount” a challenge to Dave’s 15-year presidency.
Mount reported a loss of $81,000 at their 1997 AGM and the fact such a high profile club was in such trouble – and possibly unable to meet its debts – sent shivers right through New Zealand Soccer.
If the club’s accounts were a shambles, it speaks volumes of Dave’s staunchness to the cause that at the time a term loan of $66,000 was secured by a second mortgage over his own property. And Dave regularly paid club bills out of his own pocket.
But former club junior co-ordinator Dave Clarke stood against Cook, with members of his ticket – dubbed the Dave Clarke Five – successfully challenging for all positions.
It was also a time when Mount’s lease on Links Ave, where Dave had wheeled and dealed for years to build a first class facility, was coming to an end.
Dave later attributed his (and Mount’s) demise to a ropey constitution. “You can’t have a constitution where the equivalent of the tea lady can replace the chairman,” he told me years later.
That’s debateable. But in this respect Dave was always top value as a controversial media pundit. He lobbied furiously for rivals Waikato United to be dumped from the national league following the 1996 season.
Cook of course argued he was looking at it from “a football perspective” not from any advantage his own club might gain from Waikato missing out, and questioned the durability of a proposed amalgamated Waikato-Melville entry .
“A brand new amalgamation is unproven. Nine out of 10 of them fail anyway and you can’t keep shoving stuff under the carpet . . .”
Those words about shoving stuff under the carpet were later to haunt him.
But first, in 1996 Dave also made football headlines as a player. In his early 50s, he started in a number of northern league matches for a Mt Maunganui team which was desperately short of players – and money. Possibly the oldest outfield player to compete at that level.
When Mount duly went belly up, the council handed a wonderful facility over to Tauranga City in 2000, who as a nod to history, changed their name to Tauranga City United.
Not that that ever pacified Dave.
In 2001 he formed and financed Western Bay United (at Maramatanga Park), which competed in the Waikato Sunday Soccer League, and featured his two sons.
The club name was ultimately changed to AFC Fury. Dave set about trying to make history repeat with another surge through the divisions 20 years on.
If Dave is to be remembered by anything in more recent times, it is perhaps the removal of the guest player terminology from our football regulations today.
When Fury were denied promotion to the northern league at the end of the 2013 season, it was because they were adjudged to have transgressed guest player rules.
Dave argued this concept of guest players – introduced in the days of the likes of Mick Channon and Trevor Brooking playing in the old national league – was an anachronism in the modern world where touring students came fruit picking in the Bay of Plenty.
Dave and Fury lost the case. But how many people noticed when “Guest Players” then quietly disappeared from all regulations before the start of the 2015 season?
I had a love-hate relationship with Dave over three decades.
As a journalist I would marvel at his ability as an administrator to defend the indefensible, but also had a grudging admiration for his tenacity and passion for the game.
The great thing was we were not friends in the conventional sense. It meant there was never any need to be polite, or to hold back from criticism, and you could debate purely within the realm of football ideas or ideals.
To his credit, Dave was often sceptical of my motives.
“You bastard, I know you’ll stitch me up,” he barked back in the late 90s when I sought his opinion for a story on the absurdity of Chatham Cup entry rules.
“But I’m going to talk to you anyway, because it’s more important for people to be thinking about these things.”
Vintage Dave. But he was also a mass of contradictions.
When he took the microphone post-match he could be eloquent, charming, funny, or boringly loquacious.
But he always had something for public consumption.
One week at Links Ave after making a speech he took the mike and tried to get everyone in the clubrooms to accompany him singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Painful
The very next week he was busy explaining how the whole notion of after match speeches was unprofessional and should be totally removed from our culture.
Dave had a deep knowledge of the game, its rules and intricacies, and allied with his drive, it made for a powerful football combination.
In later years Dave agitated for the formation of what he called “Citidel” – a network of club chairmen which would serve as a bulwark against the daftness of our football bureaucracy and promote initiatives which would better serve the game.
Unfortunately few others had the energy and drive to match Dave on that front.
Dave was often an easy target for criticism, but he at least had the personality to brush it aside.
He is best remembered as someone who lived out his passions and cut his own track in football. He was certainly not afraid to have a pop.
Ultimately Dave was a blue skies thinker, an ideas man, and it was always fascinating to hear about his latest fundraising scheme.
These days most club administrators have the personality of a frozen mackrell. That’s understandable, because the job does grind you down, and you become distanced from the actual production of the game.
In an administrative sense, it’s quite possible we may never see a character like Dave Cook again.
[Cordwainer Bull is a former Waikato United programme columnist. His hobbies include chewing straws and watching lantern slides from long ago. His favourite player was Altan Ramadan.]
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A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/