Bradford City v Walsall: Andy Cook finds right ingredients at Valley Parade

ANDY COOK might just pause for a brief moment of reflection ahead of kick-off today.

Plying his trade at a big club whose natural abode is in the Championship – with the surroundings of their home stadium and support base duly reinforcing that fact – the Bradford City striker has come a fair way since some tough days earlier on in his career.

Now 30, the County Durham-born player is grateful for his lot and how things have mapped out. He may also feel a debt of gratitude to today’s visitors to Valley Parade in that regard.

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It was Walsall who finally handed him a passport to the Football League at the seasoned age of 27 in the summer of 2018.

Thick of the action: Andy Cook, white shirt, in action for Bradford against Lincoln City in the EFL Trophy in midweek. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

A haul of 18 goals in his first – and only – season with the Saddlers in 2018-19 provided plenty of evidence to suggest that EFL clubs missed a trick in not offering him a chance before.

It also crystallised Cook’s faith that he would always score goals if given the ammunition. It is a belief that has never waned.

His exploits in front of goal for the claret and amber have further emboldened his viewpoint.

In that regard, the marksman, who signed a two-year deal with the Bantams in June following a successful loan spell last term, is busy making up for lost time in the EFL.

Andy Cook and Lewis Montsma challenge for the ball. Bradford City v Lincoln City. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

His first crack at that chance at first club Carlisle United did not pan out the way he envisaged.

Cook was a prolific scorer in the Blues’ youth team under the shrewd command of Eric Kinder, alongside the likes of Gary Madine and Brad Potts.

But while those two fellow north-easterners quickly became favourites at Brunton Park and earned moves up the pyramid, Cook did not so much as make a professional appearance and it was in West Cumbria and the south of the county where he was given his chance at Workington and then Barrow.

A two-season spell on the opposite coast in the National League at Grimsby Town followed before he was released by the Mariners at the end of the 2013-14 season.

Andy Cook signed permanently for Bradford in the summer (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

At just 23, his career was at a crossroads. But he took the knock and fronted up amid familiar surroundings at Barrow.

His pride at leaving Grimsby may have been hurt, but he always kept the faith. As all good strikers worth their salt do.

Cook told The Yorkshire Post: “I was frustrated I did not get my (Football) league chance earlier than what I did; I was 27 when I made my debut in the league.

“But I never felt I would fall out of love with it (football) because I was scoring. I love scoring goals. I was in teams that were doing quite well at the time and I was always happy.

“For me, when I left Grimsby was the toughest time. I dropped to the Conference North and on a personal note, it was one of those where I wanted to stay in the Conference (National).

“I had to do what I had to do and obviously, I scored the goals and I got promoted in my first year back at Barrow and we got in the Conference and that was it.”

Goal-laden spells at Tranmere and Walsall followed and after an unrewarding time at Mansfield, normal service is now resumed for Cook at Bradford, with family members who stuck with him in the hard times being part of his story. A fair few of them will be present this afternoon.

He added: “I have always been in football since I was 16. My family have backed me all the way since I was about 10.

“They took me to wherever I wanted to play and I always had the backing. Even now.

“When things don’t go my way, they back me and it is good to have. My parents were buzzing as much as me when I came here. It’s an ex-Premier League club, isn’t it? A massive fanbase and the ground is massive.

“I’d say they were just as happy as me. There’s a few coming on Saturday. My missus and my mum and dad come to every game.”

Grateful for his time in the Midlands with Walsall he may be, but once the whistle goes this afternoon, any sentiment will quickly go out of the window.

Cook’s record against former employers stands up very well and the Saddlers would be wise to be wary this afternoon.

He struck the key second goal in City’s 2-1 victory at the Banks’s Stadium in February and a fortnight ago, he was at it again to score the winner in his side’s dramatic 3-2 win at old side Mansfield in front of a sizeable travelling army of supporters at Field Mill.

On whether that moment was provided added spice given his unsuccessful time with the Stags – who allowed him to go out on loan to City last season – he observed: “Yes, of course...(But) I didn’t have a point to prove because I know what I am doing. Did they think they knew what I could do? I don’t know...So it was nice to get the goal.”

And on facing another old side, he continued: “Personally, I did well and got 18 goals in all competitions (there) and it was my first season in the league, but unfortunately we got relegated. The goals felt good for me, but for the team, it was disappointing.

“They gave me my chance to play in League One, which I am grateful for. I might not have got my chance. I felt like someone would take a punt as I was scoring twenty-plus goals every year and I got lucky enough for them to take the chance.”

While his time at Walsall was personally productive, the stain of relegation to League Two was an obvious downer.

It contrasted markedly with promotion highs with two old clubs in Tranmere and Barrow.

A cherished third with City is something he is now hankering for as Cook aims for another go at League One and while he feels the stars can align in that regard, he is wise to the notion that the hard yards in autumn and winter determine the promotion contenders from the pretenders.

“When I got toTranmere, it was the same and I could feel that togetherness and I can feel it here,” said Cook.

“But it is early days and we don’t want to get too carried away.”