Everton’s signing of Irish international full back Billy Cook on the last day of 1932 simultaneously represented both a major transfer shock and coup. In leaving Glasgow Celtic it was the first time in its history the Scottish club had lost an established player mid-season. For Everton it meant they had acquired one of the best defenders in Britain.
Born in Coleraine, Cook had been plucked from the anonymity of junior football by Celtic in February 1930 and plunged straight into action for the Glaswegian giants, making his debut within a week of signing. It was soon clear that Celtic had a major talent on its hands. In his first full season he won the Scottish Cup and the following year, in September 1932, he made his international debut for Ireland against Scotland at Windsor Park. Scouts had started to come in their droves, and when Everton sent up their former player, Hunter Hart, to watch him he reported back to the Everton board ‘that he was the best two-footed back he had seen for years’. Everton immediately dispatched their secretary to Scotland with powers to sign him for up to £4000. Everton got him for £3000.
Everton immediately pitched him into the New Year’s Eve league match against West Bromwich Albion. Everton lost 2-1 and the local newspapers were critical. ‘Stork’, in the Liverpool Post and Mercury, claimed Cook was played out of position on the right. ‘His kicking with his left foot was prodigious and sure,’ he wrote. ‘His tackling was keen, and as time goes on he will realise that speed is an essential in English football.’ It was a theme ‘Pilot’ picked up on in the Evening Express. He believed Cook’s arrival did not solve Everton’s ‘full back problem’. He wrote: ‘His display against West Bromwich showed conclusively that he is a natural left back, and not a right back ... His left foot kicking was magnificent, but rarely did he trust his right to punting. It was the same with tackling. When Cook cut across to the Albion right flank his interception was good, but when he had to make a right hand tackle he was inclined to turn his back to his man and content himself with sliding the ball into touch.’
The unfortunate Cook had been an Everton player a matter of hours when such hasty judgements were wired to newsdesks. But by the time Everton played Leicester City in the FA Cup third round a few weeks later, ‘Bee’ in the Liverpool Post and Mercury reported how he improved in front of his eyes: ‘Cook played better the longer the game progressed, and finally he did many clever things to make one forget the daring he displayed when in the first half he back-heeled a ball, although he was in his own penalty area.’
EVERTON beat Leicester 3-2 at Filbert Street and there was growing momentum behind the FA Cup run as the club sought to overcome a disappointing league campaign. Before FA Cup matches the team would be secreted in the spa town of Buxton as they made their preparations. Bury were seen off 3-1 in the fourth round and Leeds 2-0 in the fifth. In the quarter-finals Luton were cannon fodder, beaten 6-0, and West Ham were edged out 2-1 in the semi-finals.
It set up a final versus Manchester City, but Cook had a more pressing engagement and had to leave the training camp days before the final. He returned to Scotland to see his wife and newborn baby daughter for the first time before returning to Derbyshire and the Everton training base.
HE was by now a firm favourite and an ever-present since his arrival. Of one match in the run-up to the final, the previously dismissive ‘Pilot’ wrote: ‘the big man of the game was Cook, the Everton right back. His sparkling, tenacious work roused the crowd and constituted the one bright spot in the display.’ Before the FA Cup Final he added: ‘They are thinking of entering him for the Grand National next year as he will go through anything. Besides negotiating a “Brook” will be his special Wembley task.’
The Brook in question was City’s exquisite outside left, Eric. Cook entirely subdued him and Everton were 3-0 winners. He had outdone even the meteoric start to his Celtic career by becoming a cup winner in less than six months.
Standing just 5ft 7in tall, but weighing 111⁄4 stone, Cook was short and robust. Double-footed and endlessly enthusiastic, he was the sort of pocket hard man fans love and opposing supporters loathe. Contemporary accounts of his play suggest that he was like a prototype Stuart Pearce. ‘Though he took some time to settle down in the English style he has now developed into one of the best backs in the League,’ wrote one correspondent. ‘Tackles and kicks with great gusto, and he thoroughly enjoys his game.’
Cook was a leader among a team of strong characters and would succeed Dixie Dean as captain in 1937. After his own training duties he drilled the youngsters with customary relish. ‘He was a hard man. He would give you a kick at times,’ the youth team goalkeeper Fred Roberts told the Denbighshire Free Press as an octogenarian in 2011. ‘He said: “Right, Ginger. Show me what you can do!”’
Jock Thomson succeeded Cook as captain ahead of the 1938/39 season, but he was the seniorplayer when injury deprived his fellow full back of captaining Everton to their fifth title the following April. Then war intervened and changed everything. Cook was stationed in India and when league football returned he was nearing his 38th birthday. He played briefly for Wrexham before embarking on a managerial career that took in all points from Bergen to Baghdad, Lima and Wigan.