SU­PER COOPER

Mark Cooper has got the Robins of Swin­don Town rock­ing again

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Sam El­liott

IT’S March 2013, and Mark Cooper is won­der­ing why he both­ered get­ting out of bed. The only thing that fills him with dread more than glanc­ing at the league ta­ble is the ex­am­i­na­tion of his lat­est credit card state­ment.

AFC Telford United are prop­ping up the rest of the Foot­ball Con­fer­ence, and their new man­ager? Well he’s had that sink­ing feel­ing long be­fore he agreed to try and sal­vage the un­sal­vagable.

And he’s even pay­ing for the priv­i­lege. A wage? Not likely. Not only are the Bucks un­able to af­ford to pay him for his time, he knows his trav­el­ling ex­penses aren’t go­ing to be set­tled, ei­ther.

If a week is a long time in foot­ball, then the year-and-a-half which have passed for Swin­don Town and their man­ager will feel like a lifetime.

The County Ground is no longer the asy­lum it once was. It’s num­ber one pa­tient Paolo Di Canio is long gone after his mid­night flit saw him break in dur­ing the dead of night tak­ing what he claimed was right­fully his.

They’ve changed the locks and handed the keys to the man­ager’s of­fice to some­one who’s got the Robins rock­ing for the right rea­sons.

Des­per­ate

“I was the cheap op­tion,” said Cooper, the for­mer Ket­ter­ing and Dar­ling­ton man­ager and son of for­mer Eng­land left-back Terry, capped 20 times by his coun­try.

“I would say 99 per cent of the sup­port­ers wouldn’t have wanted me as their man­ager when I was given the job – they’d had Paolo Di Canio; they wanted a name – and what they got was me!

“I would have been the same if I was sit­ting in their seats. I could eas­ily have be man­ag­ing Telford in the Con­fer­ence North, but foot­ball is lit­tered with sto­ries like my one.

“Telford were bot­tom of the Con­fer­ence when I took over last year. I only had five games and we lost four of them. Why did I take the job? I was just des­per­ate to get back in­volved I sup­pose. I shouldn’t have done it, I wasn’t get­ting paid, Shrop­shire is hardly lo­cal and the money sit­u­a­tion was that tight I didn’t even get petrol money.

“I just missed foot­ball. Telford rang me and asked if I could come and help them out so I thought why not? I had to man­age out of my own pocket, but I know how hard it is to find work in the game, so I thought what harm could it do?

“There’s another say­ing us man­agers agree on. You’ve got a bet­ter chance of get­ting a job if you’re al­ready in one. I wanted to get my hands dirty at Telford again, I almost didn’t care about pretty much pay­ing to do the job my­self.”

Then Cooper took the phone call that changed ev­ery­thing. It was from Kevin MacDon­ald, the re­centlyap­pointed man­ager of Swin­don he had known from his Non-League days – and he wanted some help. Talk about the right man at the right time.

When, five months later, the 53year-old MacDon­ald failed to at­tend a pre-sea­son friendly at For­est Green, Cooper was thrown in at the deep end – and be­fore long the job was his.

And what a job he’s mak­ing of it. Swin­don were 36-1 with some book­mak­ers to win the League One ti­tle this year, but not any more.

His young play­ers – the el­dest in the line up last week­end against Sh­effield United, a 5-2 vic­tory, was 24 – are chal­leng­ing in a league jam­packed with big bud­geted and his­toric pow­er­houses. They are the sea­son’s sur­prise pack­age.

Cooper preaches ex­pan­sive foot­ball. Where Di Canio was more di­rect, Coops likes his team to build from the back.

“It was a bit of a cul­ture shock at first with how we played, it is pretty ex­treme,” said the 45-year-old Cooper. “It’s risk foot­ball, it can be slow at times but we’re get­ting that iden­tity.The sup­port­ers now feel part of it. It’s our way of do­ing it – to­gether.

“It was a mad­house when I first came here, def­i­nitely. The play­ers were used to Paolo, he was very full on and when Kevin came in things were a lit­tle more re­laxed. Paolo had a lot of suc­cess – but in the long run the club had to pay for that.

“It was in fi­nan­cial dis­ar­ray. That’s not me hav­ing a go, but if Lee Power, the chair­man, hadn’t come in and sorted the mess out, the club wouldn’t have been here.

“The debts were huge and he wrote some big cheques, and prob­a­bly still has his pen in his hand. Some play­ers were on mas­sive money, and they had to leave, we had to re­build.

“The play­ing bud­get came right down and ba­si­cally it is all about see­ing how we get on. Last year stood them in good stead, but look­ing back so far this sea­son we could have had even more points. That’s me be­ing a lit­tle greedy per­haps, but we’re in that kind of place, a good place.

Tantrums

“I’m de­ter­mined to make ev­ery sec­ond count at Swin­don. I’ve got to grab this op­por­tu­nity with both hands. Man­age­ment slaps you in the face very hard, you’ve got to be pre­pared to take a whack or two.”

Town have swapped Ital­ian cat­walk style for the sub­stance of youth, the ex­change of touch­line tantrums and over-pay­ing for play­ers for a fam­ily, grow­ing up to­gether.

Cooper added: “The spirit around the place is bril­liant, the academy is re­ally pro­duc­ing and the staff here are out of this world.

“The play­ers are fan­tas­tic, too. They all live close to­gether, they all go out to­gether and they’re all the same age so they so­cialise – not so much club­bing I hope, but the cof­fee, cake and FIFA nights they put on!

“In my day the overnight stays were about the man­age­ment mak­ing sure you weren’t sneak­ing off for a quick pint the night be­fore away matches. Now it’s about go­ing around the rooms mak­ing sure their PlayS­ta­tions and X Boxes are switched off so they go to sleep!

“They would be up till 4am play­ing them if we didn’t. It’s all changed. I sup­pose I play the fa­ther fig­ure a bit, but I like that. Turn that c

“They are boys that are make ca­reers out of th lower leagues are ofte play­ers that have gone di­rec­tion, ones that have Premier League, tasted of­fer and found the League One or Two for a rea­sons.

“None of our play­ers h pled that part of foot­ball want to sam­ple it, that’s th thing. They are so drive want to make some­thi them­selves. They are cur ly prov­ing to ev­ery­one good they are, and co pos­si­bly be in the fu­ture

Cooper, his club and h play­ers look like they’re just get­ting started.

OLD AND NEW: Paolo Di Canio kicks out in the Swin­don dugout Right: Cooper’s young Swin­don team cel­e­brate a goal in last week’s 5-2 win over Sh­effield United

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