THIRD TIME LUCKY?
Can Barrow boss Paul Cox finally bury the ghost of Luis Suarez with an FA Cup third round victory?
THERE aren’t many people who had the FA Cup at their wedding. But, then again, there aren’t many people who had a few days quite like Barrow boss Paul Cox. Three years ago this very week, Cox’s Mansfield Town were preparing to take on Premier League giants Liverpool in the FA Cup third round. Winners of the famous competition on seven occasions, the five-time European Cup champions were set to give Daniel Sturridge his debut, name Jamie Carragher in defence and call upon a certain Luis Suarez from the bench. But 48 hours before the biggest day of his management life he had... the biggest day of his life.
When he was Eastwood manager, Cox and partner Natasha would have a little wager on the Cup games. It grew into a tradition after the Badgers made it to the third round stage by beating Wycombe Wanderers in 2008. So at Mansfield Cox promised they would tie the knot if his Stags beat Lincoln City in a second round replay. They did and it was a date a t the alter. Talk about an FA Cup love affair. “I’m very superstitious,” Cox says. “When we were at Eastwood we did the same. Every time we were in the FA Cup my wife said, ‘Right, we’ll have a bet. You get through this, I get to have something’. In the early rounds at Eastwood it was a nice pair of shoes or something like that, and it went on. “At Mansfield we’re really good friends with (owners) John and Carolyn (Radford) and we went out for a drink one night. The two girls said. ‘If you beat Lincoln in the replay and get a big club, you’ve got to get married’. “We sat there that night and Liverpool came out of the hat. I’ve never seen my wife so ecstatic. It was surreal. We got married with TV cameras there and the FA Cup was at the wedding reception. Some of my wedding snaps are with the FA Cup!” Mansfield pushed Liverpool all the way under the spotlight, losing 2-1 in a game that had a moment of controversy involving the notorious Suarez. The Uruguayan star came off the bench to put the visitors two goals ahead, but it was the unpunished use of his hand before he rounded keeper Alan Marriott that really upset the Stags. “I opened a present from my wife a couple of Christmases ago and it was Luis Suarez’s autobiography,” Cox says. “I raised my eyebrows as if to say, ‘Why have you bought me this?’ One of the pages was highlighted and he’d written a few paragraphs on me. “I knew after the game, the football world would want his head on a plate. I know he’s got up to things that annoy people, but when you come up close to him you see what a fabulous player he is. He’s one of the worldclass strikers around at the minute. “I was asked about the incident and I didn’t take a cheap shot at him. I don’t think he actually realised the goal was going to be given. I think he appreciated that. We were disappointed to lose a game, but the experience and memories come from this competition. It’s the best in the world and produces so many moments. “When you look back on your football life, they’re the ones that stand out. When you’re sat around a table having a few pints, they’re the stories you talk about. It’s fabulous.” Now his National League Barrow are at the same stage for the first time in their history. Rochdale may be in good form in League One, but having already beaten Bristol Rovers from the same division to get this far, the Bluebirds will turn up on Saturday with confidence. That and the unbeaten run that stretched to a remarkable 26 games on Boxing Day before yesterhad day’s crushing defeat at Gateshead – with Cox refusing to shave or cut his hair until it’s broken. “We know how tough it’s going to be, Rochdale are on fire at the minute,” Cox says. “I’ve been to watch them, we’ve had them watched again and we’ll see them twice more before we play them. “We probably need Rochdale to have an off-day and we play to our full potential, but it’s the FA Cup. That’s what it’s all about. “Bristol Rovers was probably the most relaxed I’ve seen us play. We went into the game to enjoy it. We the pressure in the first round when we played Taunton and everyone expects you to win. We’ll work extremely hard to cause an upset and reach the fourth round, but our minds are firmly on enjoying it. “Going back to Mansfield, I stopped enjoying football at a certain point. But you kind of rediscover yourself. I enjoy coming into work every day, the way the lads are at training. We’ve got a good group, some great young players and experienced boys who know Non-League. “There’s a good feel in the camp. We’re looking at strengthening but they’ve got to be the right people because, in terms of group dynamics, there are fabulous personalities in there.
“That’s what’s making me smile. I’m working with a group who are not just good footballers, but good people as well. There are always times when you question players but every time I do they ram the words back down my throat, which I enjoy too. We’ve been consistent for 26 games, the challenge now is, ‘Can we repeat it?’ If we do, I’ll look like Captain Caveman still and the boys will have propelled themselves into a position where they’ll get the adulation they’ve worked hard for.” It’s not lost on Cox that Mansfield were able to use their meeting with Liverpool as a springboard to the Conference title the same season. They were 13 points off top spot but a 12-game winning streak saw them to the summit and into the Football League. But, what’s the bet with Natasha this time? “Believe it or not, she’s damaged her wedding ring,” he says. “We’ve not talked about this round yet because I already owe her that from the last round. She’s been the lucky charm. It’s the third club now and the third time I’ve got there. I’ve had some great times.” Here’s to more.
PARTY POOPER: Luis Suarez controversially ended Paul Cox’s FA Cup dream three years ago PICTURE: Action Images