Rugby Union: Cooke's exit is blow for Bedford

GEOFF COOKE, the former England and Lions manager, has walked away from the game for the second time inside five years after resigning as chief executive of the financially troubled League One club, Bedford.

When the 57-year-old Cumbrian resigned from a successful England side in February 1994 it took the rugby world by surprise. He had managed the 1993 Lions and turned England's fortunes around. His Test record ended with 35 wins, one draw and 13 defeats from 49 games.

However, yesterday's decision was less of a surprise and a possibility all season once the club, which has won only two matches this season and is owned by Frank Warren, ran into financial problems following the boxing promoter's complex legal wrangle with Don King.

In September, the coach, Paul Turner, resigned, and rugby director Cooke - just two years into the job - admitted: "I have had to dust down an old tracksuit and get on the training pitch."

He stressed the club's limited cash base by saying: "And we won't be appointing a new coach or buying new players. There is no scope for that."

It is likely that the former Springbok Rudi Straeuli, who has undertaken more coaching after curtailing his playing role in recent weeks, will assume fuller responsibility.

The players and staff have received salaries late and, although the Warren-King issue is expected to come before the courts next month, it is too late for Cooke, and his departure implies more money problems for the staff.

Cooke, who first appointed Will Carling as England captain in 1988 and shared two Grand Slams with him in 1991 and 1992, was upset with the latest Bedford developments. "I am bitterly disappointed at the circumstances that have produced this outcome," he said.

"The players and other staff have worked hard over the past two years to help Bedford rise from the depths of League Two to achieve Premiership status, and I am very sad that my association with the club should end in this way."

Warren acknowledged the inevitability of Cooke's exit, stating: "I am disappointed but appreciate Geoff's position."

An announcement about a chief executive will be made later this week, Warren said.

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