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Familiar Face: Neil Cox

18 June 2018

Scunthorpe-born defender Neil Cox racked up over £3.4million worth of transfer fees throughout his 18-year professional career, and we spoke to him about three key parts of his career.

While it may have been a brief stint with the Iron after turning professional in 1990, it’s hard not to reflect on where it all began for Cox in his teenage years.

With his youth career seeing him handed a contract alongside the likes of Graham Alexander and Richard Hall, his affiliation with the club would continue for a brief while longer seeing him make 17 league starts, scoring one goal. He would also make a further nine appearances (eight of which starts) in cup competitions.

“There were about 12 of us who signed as apprentices, before us three received professional contracts,” said Cox.

“Myself and Richard moved on quite quickly, while Graham remained at Scunthorpe and played more games than either of us. I was a home-grown lad, so it was an ideal start to my career really. It was where I wanted to be and I lived next door to the old ground and then my parents moved next to the new ground. It was a good learning curve for me at the time.”

Cox was infamously transferred to Aston Villa from the Iron for a then-record club fee of £400,000, but it also involved the transferring of approximately 2,000 seats to Glanford Park, which were installed in the AMS Stand.

While with the Villains, he would get a taste of the Premier League football for the first time and realisation of the work required to step-up to the new level required.

“It was a transfer that came about really quick. The manager Bill Green gave me a call on the Sunday night telling me that a deal had been done and I was going the next morning,” he continued.

“I didn’t really have much time to think about it, so I drove to Birmingham, got the deal completed and I was on a plane to Hong Kong the next day, so it was a really fast-paced deal. I always get some stick about the added seats in the deal. There was a deal to be done and Scunthorpe needed some seats installing, so that was part and parcel of it and probably brought the transfer fee down.

“At that time, Aston Villa had David Platt and Paul McGrath and players like that. It was a big step for me, very enjoyable, but took me a couple of years to adapt and get used to what I was doing. It was a fantastic, massive club and I only hope they can get back to the Premier League, which is where they should be.

“They’d just come from beating Inter Milan in the European Cup. I was going to a club where every player was an international, so it was difficult. It made me become a better player.”

After three years at Villa, another transfer fee was in the offing when he became the first £1million signing at Middlesbrough. While a daunting prospect, the three years spent there and over a century of appearances seemingly showed that he took like a duck to water to his new club.

“I was Middlesbrough’s first million-pound signing, which was another great move for me for my career as I played regular first team football,” he stated.

Subsequently, he would command an even bigger fee of £1.5million to Bolton in 1997 before Watford acquired his services for a third of that in 1999.

Time was called on his playing days in 2008 while with Crewe Alexandra in League One. His final appearance would be at Elland Road as an 89th minute substitute, before announcing his retirement less than two-months later, at the age of 36.

After taking a well-earned break from football, his coaching career would take a big forward step at AFC Wimbledon, where he is now assistant to the longest serving manager in League One.

“I had a little bit of a break because I’d been in football full time since the age of 15 when I left school,” the 45-year-old said.

“I got a call from the manager, Neal Ardley, asking me whether I’d be interested in the job. We went down for an interview and we got the role. The first year was difficult as we were bottom of the league when we took over and we were still there with ten games to go and managed to stay up on the last game of the season by beating Fleetwood with 13 minutes to go, who were under Graham at the time.

“We’ve progressed from then. We had another good year in League Two and then we managed to get promoted. We’re looking to push on again this season after staying up. We’ve got to give credit to our Board. They’ve backed us every year and they help us off the field. We treat our players like Premier League players, they get looked after and that comes from the Board.”

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