Mini Cooper at the wheel of the big fortune hunters

Chip off the old block aims to keep Lambs from slaughter
Click to follow
The Independent Football

For Cooper and Tamworth, winners at Bournemouth and Hartlepool in the previous two rounds, there is the less alluring prospect of a trip up into North Staffordshire to face Stoke City in the Britannia Stadium. "When you go to play two Division One teams away from home and beat them both, you do feel as though you deserve to get one of the big boys," Cooper confided, sitting in the clubhouse at Tamworth's modest, ageing Lamb Ground and reflecting on the instinctive disappointment he was unable to conceal when the third-round draw unfolded live on BBC Television.

"It's no slight on Stoke," he stressed. "When you sit back and look at it, it is a decent draw. People have said to me, 'You've got a chance'. But it's a big, big ask. It's a tough tie. It's a local derby. It's a good stadium. And there'll be a decent crowd. The supporters there can be pretty volatile, as recent weeks have shown. We've told the goalkeeper we've got him a crash helmet."

Tamworth's last line might need the protection next Saturday if the Britannia sees a repeat of the unruliness that led to the Queen's Park Rangers goalkeeper Simon Royce being assaulted in his goalmouth by two home fans last month. Not that Cooper was being entirely serious. His blue eyes have a twinkle that marks him as unmistakably the son of the father - a father who made his name as a dynamic overlapping left-back in Don Revie's great Leeds United side of the late 1960s and early 1970s, at the same time as Nigel Clough's dad was forging his managerial reputation as a title-winner with Derby County.

As it happens, Cooper Jnr and Clough Jnr are player-managers of local rival teams in the Nationwide Conference. There are only 15 miles between Tamworth and Burton, and Cooper's "Lambs" make the short trip to face Clough's "Brewers" in a Conference fixture at the Pirelli tomorrow afternoon. "There is a big rivalry between the clubs," Cooper reflected. "The fans love to hate each other. It's a big game for both of us, though obviously they'll have their minds on Man United and we'll have Stoke at the back of our minds.

"I think Burton drawing Man United has overshadowed what we've done in the FA Cup, but good luck to them. They're a good club. They've got a nice new ground. And they've got a cracking tie to look forward to; that's for sure.

"I speak to Nigel a bit. We get on fine. He's a nice fellow and he's doing a good job at Burton. Obviously, we've both had the 'son of' thing. His dad was a top, top manager and my dad was a top player. I think if you ask Nigel, he'll tell you it's something you get used to. You grow up with it and you learn to just get on with it. I want to do things in my own way right now. I want to be a good manager, to try to progress up the leagues and make a career for myself."

Like Clough, Cooper started his playing career under his father, as a trainee at Bristol City. He went on to play first-team football for him at Exeter and at Birmingham, and also had spells in League football at Fulham and Hartlepool. Just turned 36, he still plays as a central midfielder. He still needs to, as the manager of a club struggling near the foot of the Conference, with a shoe-string budget and a skeleton squad of late.

"We're part-timers, which is a big, big disadvantage in our league," Cooper said. "Ninety-eight per cent of teams in the Conference are full-time. Every week is a big ask for us, but we've shown we can do it in one-off games, like at Bournemouth and at Hartlepool.

"We've got one or two players on loan. We've got Jake Edwards from Exeter - he played against Man United in the FA Cup last season. The rest of the lads are plumbers, electricians, builders. They've all got jobs. They need them, because they only get part-time wages."

Cooper himself treats his job as a full-time occupation but is paid part-time. His father, 61 now, is based in Tenerife but works as chief scout for Southampton. As a player with Leeds, he scored the winning goal in the 1968 League Cup final and won a League title and two European Fairs Cups. Success, though, eluded him in the FA Cup. He was in the Leeds team beaten in a replayed final by Chelsea in 1970, missed the win against Arsenal in the 1972 final with a broken leg, and lost the No 3 shirt to Trevor Cherry when Revie's side were beaten by Bob Stokoe's Sunderland in the fairytale final of 1973.

He did, however, get to strut his stuff in the World Cup finals in 1970 - like the rest of Alf Ramsey's side, looking not the slightest bit out of place against Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino and Co in that classic England encounter with the Brazilians in Guadalajara.

"Yeah, I've got the video," Mark said, wistfully. "I never really saw my dad play at his peak and I watched that game and thought, 'Jesus Christ! I understand what all the fuss was about'. He was bombing past people from left-back. People used to say he couldn't defend, but he always said, 'What do I have to defend? I've got Norman Hunter and Jack Charlton behind me'.

"But you watch that game and you realise what a good player he was. It's a privilege to be his son."