Having made just 17 league appearances in Iron colours, you could be forgiven for thinking that Scunthorpe United was just a small step in Neil Cox’s football career.
|During the coming days, we'll republish past interviews with legendary former Iron players from our matchday programme.|
But as a young player, it was always Neil’s ambition to represent the club he grew up supporting as a child – something that very few are able to accomplish.
Even fewer get the opportunity to train with the first team and travel to their first away game at the tender age of just 13 so he certainly wasn’t waiting around to make his mark on the club he loved as a boy.
Neil kicked things off by telling us how that first contact with United came about.
“I used to join in with the players for pre-season training during the school holidays, beginning when I was 11 and then Frank Barlow, the manager at the time, invited me to train with the first team at the age of 13,” he said.
“I’d train with the youth team on some days, then the first team on others and I travelled on the team bus to my first game away at Burnley whilst I was still 13 which was a bit surreal.
“I carried on training at the club for a few years after that before signing as an apprentice and then myself, Richard Hall and Graham Alexander were all offered professional deals.
“I did have one or two other options but I was a local lad and I just wanted to play for my local team.”
Neil signed a two-year-deal with United in 1990 to make his dreams come true and you’d probably expect a player so young to be slightly daunted with what lied ahead.
However, Cox isn’t one to feel the pressure and simply got on with making a career for himself as a footballer.
He continued: “I was young but I just tried to take it all in my stride really.
“We had some talented senior players at the club and a very good set of management staff that really looked after us.
“Richard Money was youth team manager, Bill Green was assistant manager and Mick Buxton was the gaffer and they all wanted to give the youngsters a go.
“The team were on a bit of a bad run at one point and the manager decided to throw two young and inexperienced lads in myself and Richard Hall right into the first team so it was good that we had a manager who could trust us.”
Following some impressive displays in the side whenever he was called upon, it was only going to be a matter of time before the defender would attract the attentions of other clubs.
A handful of proposed deals failed to come to fruition but it was Aston Villa who eventually snapped up Neil’s services in early 1991.
“There were a few clubs interested in signing me at that time. Aston Villa had made one bid and Tottenham were looking to sign both myself and Richard Hall in the same deal at one point as well,” he explained.
“Richard moved to Southampton and then Villa came in with another bid of around £350,000 for me plus 2,000 claret seats which are used in the away end at Scunthorpe's stadium to this day!
“Bill Green phoned me on the Sunday night to tell me that the club had agreed to sell me to Aston Villa and I went there on the Monday and flew out to Hong Kong with the team on the Tuesday so it was a completely different world for me and things changed so quickly.
“We won the 1994 League Cup final, finished second in the Premier League to Manchester United and I had the chance to play with some fantastic players such as Paul McGrath, Dwight Yorke and Steve Staunton.”
Following his three year spell in the Midlands, Cox was signed for a seven figure sum by Middlesbrough in 1997.
And he went on to experience even more success during his time on Teeside.
He said: “I was Middlesbrough’s new million pound signing so there was a bit of pressure on me but I felt the move was necessary in order to guarantee first team football for myself.
“Bryan Robson was a hero of mine growing up so to have been signed by him was amazing. We got on really well and I still speak to him even now.
“I was also fortunate enough to have played in the final game at Ayresome Park, when we beat Luton 2-1 to reach the Premier League.
“The gaffer had spent a lot of money on new players so we were under serious pressure to achieve, which thankfully we did and it was a great occasion to have been a part of.”
The latter stages of Neil’s career saw him play for the likes of Bolton, Cardiff and Crewe but it was during his time at Watford that he was able to attain more success and also the honour of being named captain.
And perhaps predictably, the reliable skipper then ventured into management following the conclusion of his career. He managed Leek Town and has since gone on to be assistant manager to Neal Ardley at AFC Wimbledon and Notts County.