When former Royal and current Southend United striker Simon Cox generously accepted my offer of answering a few questions for us, I knew he would have some tales to tell. Cox came through the academy under the tenure of the great Eamonn Dolan, before moving on to pastures new at Swindon Town and West Bromwich Albion among others.
Then, in 2014, Cox made the “no-brainer” decision to return to the Madejski Stadium and fulfil his boyhood dream of playing and scoring at the club where he spent so many years as a youngster.
Cox was extremely open about his time at the club throughout the interview, revealing details on a fragmented relationship with former manager Steve Clarke, his memories of being a part of *that* 2005/06 season and just how much a great man Eamonn Dolan was to work under as an academy player. However, the one thing that stood out to me while he was answering my questions was his openness and willingness to return to the club once more - this time as manager.
“Rejoining as a coach would be something I’d be very excited about doing - as someone who has played for the club knows the club inside out I feel I would add great value. I could guide the young players and help them understand what it means to play for the club. It’s always been in the back of my mind to come back and coach there someday maybe even be manager.”
Reading is obviously still a club firmly in Cox’s heart, and it’s clear to see his eagerness to return to the club in the future. Successful times tend to occur at clubs - particularly one like Reading - when there are people within it who know the set-up inside out. When you think of the most successful individuals from the club’s recent history, you think of Steve Coppell, Brian McDermott and Eamonn Dolan - all of whom were at the club for several years, and knew what it took to win football matches and how to get the best out of players.
Cox also opened up in more detail on just what it was like to play for Eamonn Dolan and to be coached by him. Everybody knows the impact that Dolan had on the club as a whole and the lasting success of our academy products is the biggest testament to the work that Dolan did. Because of that, Cox described Dolan as being “truly a great for the football club”.
Cox also praised Dolan as a man rather than just as a coach, calling him an “unbelievable person” and incredibly “infectious”. “He was always very positive and tried to guide you in the right direction”, explained Cox, and Dolan gave every player that came up through the youth system the same “respect” and the same “chances to be successful” - something I would imagine is very difficult to come across in academy football.
Since the days of Coppell, McDermott and the late Eamonn Dolan, the club has been filled with people who don’t know the club, and players who don’t want to play for the club. The likes of Gianluca Nani and Ron Gourlay found themselves in positions of authority for too long and that was a huge factor towards the downfall of our club - and Tilehurst-born Cox has noticed that too.
“Stability has gone from the top and where there is no stability or guidance, no-one knows what’s going on”, Cox stated, and it’s very hard to argue with him on that one. Cox goes on to note that he feels that the influential Nicky Hammond was never properly replaced, with a small silver lining being that he feels exactly the same way as us fans in regards to the appointment of Ron Gourlay, saying “the less said about that the better”. We’re with you on that one, Simon.
Cox also didn’t hold back on his opinions of Steve Clarke’s time at the club, and the difficulties he faced when Clarke was in charge. It was clear that Cox was never at the top of Clarke’s pecking order but Cox revealed to me some of the finer details behind that point of view, and how it left a taint on his time as a Reading player.
“When Steve Clarke arrived I knew it would be tough for me as he’d already let me leave West Brom. Even after playing in his first couple of games and scoring in one of them and being top goalscorer of the club he started to put me on the bench and I never really played much part from then on.
“I got treatment for an injury over that summer spent most of my summer in the training ground getting fit and when pre-season came around and the players went off on pre-season tour I stayed back to continue my rehab (which Steve and I thought was the best solution) so I was fit when the players got back. When the season started I wasn’t in favour and then he shipped me off on loan to Bristol City and I guess that was the end of my time at Reading under him.”
“The worst [moment in a Reading shirt] was leaving the way I did and being treated the way I was by Steve Clarke in the end. Sometimes players never get to tell their side of the story and I left without being give a proper chance to say thank you but I guess that’s football sometimes.”
It was great to be able to hear Simon’s point of view of not only his time at the club, but also where he feels the club is going and whether our paths may meet again in the future. And, as an academy graduate who bled blue and white, he will always have a place in the heart of the fans and the club.