Feature

Cook: Non-league game did me the world of good

11 Oct 2018
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AFC Bournemouth defender reflects on his character-building loan spells before reaching the Premier League

Ahead of Non-League Day on 13 October we spoke to Premier League footballers who played in the non-league game before their rise through the pyramid.

Steve Cook (BOU)

With more than 100 Premier League matches under his belt, AFC Bournemouth's Steve Cook is an experienced top-flight defender.

But, like many other players, he had to work his way up to that level.

The 27-year-old vividly remembers the times when his former club Brighton & Hove Albion loaned him out to Havant & Waterlooville, Eastleigh, Eastbourne Borough and Mansfield Town in the Conference, now known as the National League.

Strange times

Cook saw a different side of the game and, as he freely admits, his time at Mansfield was particularly challenging and character-building.

"It was a strange period," he says. "It was very expensive for me to play because I was travelling to Nottingham two or three times a week. I was losing money, really, because I wasn't on fantastic money at the time.

"But in any walk of life and any job you have to sacrifice before you make it to the top, so it's no different to many people in the world.

"In football, people think it's all fast cars and great nights out. But when you dig deeper, a lot of players in non-league now are probably doing similar.

Eastbourne high

"At the time I probably only really enjoyed a few of the spells, especially at Eastbourne Borough. It was close to where I lived and we were winning at the time, so that was nice.

"The other experiences I had were enjoyable, don't get me wrong, but it was more of a learning curve."

With the value of hindsight, however, Cook believes his experiences were invaluable before Gus Poyet, the then Brighton manager, gave him his chance in the first team.

"The last one at Mansfield, I probably looked at it and wondered where my career was going to go, so that was probably my most recent memory of non-league football."

Strong grounding

"But, I look back now and it has done me the world of good.

"Without them I probably wouldn't be sat here because you don't really want to go back, because of the travelling I had to do.

"Luckily, I got an opportunity from Poyet and I was more than ready to take it."

Non-League Day is an event which celebrates football beneath the top five tiers of the English football pyramid and encourages Premier League fans to visit semi-professional and amateur clubs in their local area.

Non-League Day celebrates football beneath the top five tiers of the English football pyramid. For more on Non-League Day 2018, go to nonleagueday.co.uk.

Also in this series

Part 1: Foster: Traffic jam gave me my big break in non-league
Part 2: Barnes: Non-league was central to my development
Part 3: Arter: Non-league coach restored love of the game
Part 5: Bettinelli: I'll always have fond memories of Dartford

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