When Rochdale hosted Oldham Athletic in a pre-season friendly in 2003, nobody could predict the effect a Latics player would have on both clubs. With the visitors stuggling for cash, they fielded a team mainly consisting of YTS players and trialists. One such trialist was Ernie Cooksey, a 24 year old utility player on trial from Crawley Town.
A few things made Ernie stand out from the crowd. Firstly, the fact that his bald head and general appearence defied his true age. However secondly, and more importantly, his willingness to chase every single ball and ability to seem to be in two places at once. Make no mistake about it, Ernie was desperate to make an impression and it’s safe to say he succeeded. By the end of the game, both sets of supporters were chanting “Ernie For England”, and a cult hero was born.
Yes, he really was 24 at the time!
Cooksey went on to make just short of 40 league appearences for the Latic’s before joining neighbours Rochdale on a free transfer at the beginning of the 2004/5 season. Dale fans were very excited by the signing, firstly because of the performance he put in against us in 2003, and also for the fact we’d just signed a player called Ernie Cooksey, brilliant!
In the three years he spent at Dale, Ernie provided us with some great memories. Never the most gifted player on the pitch, but you could put your house on him giving 200% for 90 minutes. I’ll never forget the time Shrewsbury’s Jamie Tolley was substituted in the 44th minute at Spotland to prevent him from getting sent off, simply because Ernie was doing his job so well.
Ernie was perhaps one of the last examples of a true footballer. He left a better paid job fitting false ceilings to have a crack at league football, any Premiership footballer moaning about having to scrape by on £70,000 a week should take a leaf out of Ernie’s book. He was a man who played football purely for the love of the game, money was not his motive. He was simply greatful to be able to be doing something he loved as a job.
Ernie at one of his many fundraisers
After leaving Dale in 2007, Ernie went on to play for Boston United and finally Grays Athletic. He was a regular in their first team until February 2008, when it was revealed he had been diagnosed with Melignant Melanoma, a severe form of skin cancer believed to have been contracted whilst he was coaching school kids in the United States. Unknown to most, he had actually fought the disease before in 2006, but this time it proved to be too much for him, and Ernie sadly passed away in the early hours of July 3rd 2008 at the age of 28. As if this wasn’t sad enough, his partner Louise was due to give birth to their first child just five weeks after his death. A tragic end to a short, yet sweet life.
The tributes sum up the effect Ernie had on many people’s lives. Numerous benefit matches were staged with past and present players such as Leroy Lita, Paul Merson and John Barnes all making appearences. Even after his death, a group of Oldham Athletic fans take a flag in his honour to every game they attend, regardless of who’s playing.
“Our mate Ernie” – Simple yet effective
I think there is a lesson to be learned from this, follow your dreams. Ernie took a pay cut to do what he wanted in life, he took happiness over money. You never know how long you have on this planet, so live every day to the max because you never know what is round the corner.
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