He’s swapping full-time football for the classroom this season – but former St Mirren striker Cody Cooke holds no regrets over his time in Paisley.
The forward left the Buddies in the summer after a 2019/20 season ravaged by injury. He has returned home to England, signing for National League side Weymouth ahead of the league’s kick off in October.
His last season at St Mirren Park was disrupted by fitness issues. Starting this campaign’s pre-season in Weymouth with a few goals, Cooke is looking forward to getting back playing competitive football again as he explains why the part-time side are right for him.
“It was a range of different things,” Cooke told NTOF. “My initial thoughts were I wanted to move closer to home. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Scotland, but ultimately, I wasn’t going to be up there for the rest of my career.
“Then it was about working out what was best and where I wanted to go. It was a long process; it wasn’t easy with all the that’s going on in the world right now. It just happened that Weymouth was the best for me, they were doing everything to get me on board.
“I did it the traditional way, methodically going through the pros and cons. It’s been a really enjoyable few weeks since I’ve been there so I’m looking forward to cracking on. I’ve scored a few goals but you can say what you want about pre-season.
“It’s the competitive games you get judged on. We are still a little bit away but I can’t wait to get back out there competitively. Weymouth are in the process of going full-time but they have had to delay it by 12 months.
“That was part of the reason as to why I signed initially as I wanted a bit of security for myself and my partner. I’m not exactly a young pup anymore, I’m 27, but I was happy going back to part-time and another job. I wanted that opportunity to make sure I’m stable and that I’m not moving up and down the country on 12-month contracts.
“Part-time was a real positive in terms of being one of only two-three teams in the National League being part-time. I know it’s going to be a lot of travelling and I’m going to make some sacrifices but it’s something that drew me to Weymouth, for reasons outside of football. I’m a qualified teacher on the side.
“I spoke to a few full-time clubs but I sat down and my main focus was that security. I’m going back into my teaching and I’ll only be working a couple of days a week. But I wanted that security in terms of another job and staying down south with my football.”
He’ll be back in the classroom this season alongside scoring the goals that Weymouth will hope do enough to propel them up the National League table. Cooke works in a college now, teaching teens all about sport.
It’s something he’s passionate about and he’s witnessed first-hand how important education is in football. Only a small amount of people make it in the professional world, the former St Mirren man urging youngsters to get themselves a plan B.
“I’m an associate lecturer in college,” said Cooke. “It’s pupils between 16-18, teaching all areas of sport. I taught a full year before I went professional and I’m lucky to go back to my old college and get some hours there. It’s something I’m looking forward to.
“A lot of it comes down to the hours they are putting in outside of school to practice football. I know for me I was having to travel to Plymouth Argyle three times a week which is a two-hour drive there and two hours back.
“That’s time you are limiting homework or other things you can do. It’s not about students not applying themselves properly, it’s about putting hours into something else. If it doesn’t work out, there are other routes people have to go down.
“That’s something I’m passionate about, allowing people other opportunities. The numbers speak for themselves in terms of people who play football and who make it professional. Those corridors have got to be open. People need to understand that not everyone is going to have a career in football and that you need something on the side.
“You see a lot of kids who don’t get professional contracts and they don’t know what to do. When I’m teaching myself, it’s always good not to have all your eggs in one basket. You have got to dedicate so much to make it in football.
“But those numbers are extremely limited and there’s got to be a bit of give in terms of what you can do on the side. If you need to miss a training session to complete a degree, I’m quite passionate about that.”
Looking back on his time in Paisley, some things just never worked for him. Alan Stubbs brought him to Paisley but was out the door inside six weeks, something that did fill Cooke with a bit of dread.
He did feature as Oran Kearney kept the Buddies in the Premiership during the 2018/19 season although barely played during Jim Goodwin’s first term as St Mirren manager. It was a big step for him to come to Paisley, leaving a good job for a bit of the unknown.
But he doesn’t look back on his time in the SPFL with any regrets: “It was a bit of a shock. I was leaving a club that I loved and had been at for seven or eight years. I had a good job on the side and I was getting confident.
“Coming out of those two things was quite a step initially. I had opportunities at 22/23 to go full-time but I was just starting my teaching training. Signing somewhere for a year didn’t appeal to me. You could kick on but you could also pick up injuries and then have a negative year. It was a short-term plan but I was always staying for the duration of my St Mirren contract. I don’t have one regret.
“We had three managers, the turnover of players, I had injuries, the change of living, it was all completely different. I worked hard every day and did my best to be available on the Saturday. A lot of things I couldn’t have controlled and that’s why I didn’t really get the chances I look back on and felt I deserved. I made a lot of friends but I thought I was quite unlucky.
“For the manager that signs you on a two-year contract to be out the door after six weeks was a little daunting at the time. Things like that you can’t control. You can’t hold any grudges but for players it meant you knew it would be a big turnaround.
“The turnaround was significant from when Oran Kearney came in to when he left. I don’t know the numbers but it was big. It was the same when Jim Goodwin came in. You are always fighting an uphill battle when you aren’t the manager’s player. That’s a given in football. But I gave everything I could.
“The club seems calmer under Jim. His goal I think was to give the club stability and in time you can transform the changing room. The two managers previous had short-term stints, especially Oran. His only goal was to keep us in the league.
“Jim Goodwin is looking at the longevity of players who will play under him for a longer time. I’ll keep looking for St Mirren results as they deserve to stay in that league. I just didn’t fit into the plans and I knew I was coming down the road regardless whether I got a new deal or not.
“But for the majority of the year I was out I only played five or six games then the COVID stuff happened. I wasn’t able to show what I could do on the pitch in Jim Goodwin’s reign which might have had an impact. But I’ve got no hard feelings towards him and I wish him all the best.”