The Malta Independent 10 December 2018, Monday

Sport Interview: He Won every local football honour

Malta Independent Tuesday, 4 October 2005, 00:00 Last update: about 5 years ago

At the start of his career at Sliema Wanderers, RONNIE COCKS suffered major burns after an incident at work. He was hospitalised for a month and then remained at home for a further month before returning to play football after two months.

He even went on to win the Footballer of the Year award before moving to the United States to play for Pittsburgh Phantoms in the North American Professional League. Here he tells his story to Henry Brincat

Ronnie Cocks is another household name in the field of football in Malta. To those who, like me, remember him playing in his glory days, he will always be remembered as one of the greats who graced the old Empire Stadium in Gzira.

Ronnie’s best days are remembered at Sliema, especially after he returned from the United States where he played as a professional for one season and then for another three months the following year.

Cocks explained: “I had joined Sliema from Gzira and the Blues had brought over a Hungarian, Janos Bedl, as their coach. It was he who, after leaving Sliema for the States, offered me and three other Maltese players – Charlie Williams, Edward Aquilina and Freddie Debono – the chance to go there and join Pittsburgh Phantoms on a professional basis. It was an excellent season, in which I played 29 of the 32 matches. It was a great experience. Unfortunately, three months into my second season, I had to come back to Malta, as Sliema were demanding Lm7,000 for my services which Pittsburgh deemed too high. I would have stayed there had agreement been reached between the two clubs,” he said.

On his return to Malta, Cocks helped Sliema to several triumphs, winning everything that was on offer in Maltese football.

Yet, before he left for the United States, he went through a bizarre moment in his life when his footballing career seemed to be threatened. “I was involved in an incident at my workplace. Victor Mansueta, a colleague of mine, and I were seriously burnt. I was even told that I had to forget about playing football again. I was crying like a baby as I wanted to play because I loved the game, and it was Prof. Craig who then examined me and encouraged me, saying that I would be back in a few weeks.

“After two months, one of them in hospital, I was back on the playing field, but those were two months of real agony for me,” he said.

Ronnie had started his career at Gzira United and it was also there that he quit playing at the end of his career. “I had made my debut for the Maroons in the Second Division in a match against Zejtun Corinthians. I was only 13 years old,” he said.

He remembers that when he was transferred to Sliema, it was really something. “The transfer fee of Lm250 was a record in those days – it was definitely a large sum of money. But I think I repaid Sliema later on in my career, as I helped them win several honours,” he said.

Cocks also played for the national team, among others, and he was the captain when, under the charge of coach Tony Formosa, he led the side at Wembley against England. This is how he explained that Wembley date: “Tiny Malta was facing mighty England who had players like Alan Ball, Bobby Moore, Martin Peters, Terry Cooper and Gordon Banks – among others. As we trooped out onto the pitch, the deafening roars of “England, England, England” greeted us. We were all terrified. We lost 5-0 but it was still a great experience and a big honour for me to have captained the side on that day.”

That day and match will remain indelibly in the memory of Ronnie Cocks. “It was one of the most memorable moments in my whole career,” he said, but added: “Another great moment for me was when I scored the opening goal against Celtic Glasgow in a European Cup match at the Gzira Stadium after just 30 seconds. That was something fantastic and, of course, I will never forget that moment, either.”

Two other great moments were in matches against Libya. He played his first match with the national team against Libya at Manoel Island. “We won 1-0, with a goal from Edward Aquilina. Later I also played and scored my only goal for the national team in a second match in Tripoli. We won that match 1-0 as well, thanks to my goal,” he said. Those days, the national team did not play too many matches. In fact, Cocks only played 20 matches for Malta, most of them World Cup or European Championship qualifiers.

In an illustrious career, Cocks was never sent off. “I only received a yellow card once. I also finished top scorer in the US League with Pittsburgh Phantoms and, on one occasion, also scored a hat-trick. In the second year, I was in San Diego and it was there that my daughter, Jana, was born,” he said.

Asked to mention a disappointing moment in his career, Cocks promptly said that there had only been one. “That came when I was transferred to Hamrun Spartans without my knowledge. I never expected such treatment from Sliema. However, I subsequently enjoyed my stay with the Spartans, where I was greatly respected. I really enjoyed those three years, during which I helped them win promotion from the second division to the first,” he said.

Cocks played under a number of top coaches. “One of the first, if not the first, was the late Joe Griffiths. Then I played under Carm Borg, Victor Scerri, Tony Formosa, Joe Attard and Janos Bedl, who died in a car accident in Germany some years ago. I have also played against some of the best players in European football those days, among them Bene of Hungary and Dalglish, Lennox and Gemmill of Celtic.

“There were a lot of top class players in Malta as well, those days. All the teams had between seven or eight very good players, if not the whole team. Just to mention a few: Louis Arpa, Joe Cini, Eddie Theobald, Willie Vassallo, Frankie Micallef, John Bonnett, Freddie Mizzi. Obviously, there were many others.”

Now a pensioner, Ronnie says it is important to remain active. In fact, he works on a part-time basis at Radisson SAS Resort as a fitness instructor and is one of the coaches at St Andrew’s Luxol nursery. And he also enjoys his pastime – angling – whenever he has the time.

Ronnie Cocks – a profile

Date of birth: 1 August, 1943

Education: Primary Schools at Gzira and Sliema.

Work career: His first job was as a welder and panel-beater at Gasan Group of Companies. He started working there in 1958 and left the company in 1964 to join the Army. But after just one month, he received an offer to become a professional (footballer) in the United States. On his return to Malta he joined Panta Lesco and then moved back to Gasan. He also had spells with Bortex Clothing factory and Heidemann. He is now a part-time fitness instructor at the Radisson SAS Resort after having served in the same position at the Coastline Hotel.

Sporting career: He started playing football at the Sliema school when he was still eight years old. He played under coaches Fenech Conti and Louis Borg, and at the age of 13 he made his debut with Gzira United in the Second Division (today’s first division). After six years, he joined Sliema for a then record transfer fee of Lm250. After a few years, he accepted an offer to join Pittsburgh Phantoms in the United States and played there for one season. The next season he was there again but only for three months as the team would not agree to Sliema’s financial demands for his services. Back in Malta, he played for Sliema once again. In 1975, he moved to Hamrun Spartans for three years. Then he joined Pieta Hotspurs and later retired after a season with Gzira. Cocks was also a prominent national team player and captain in the 1960s and early 1970s. Among others, he led the Malta side as captain in the match against England at Wembley.

Awards: Among other successes, Cocks has won the League championship six times, the Trophy on five occasions, the Independence Cup, the Testaferrata Cup, the Cassar Cup and the Sons of Malta on various occasions. In a nutshell, he has won every honour in Maltese football, including the MFA’s prestigious Footballer of the Year award. The following year he was nominated for the Sportsman of the Year contest, but was voted into third place.

Coaching career: After quitting the game for good, Cocks wanted to remain in football on the coaching side, and after passing the required exam, and obtaining his licence after following a course by Andy Roxburgh, he began a career which, up until now, has spanned 20 years. It has seen him coaching Pieta in the third division, Mosta, Gzira, Msida and Pembroke. Now he is employed by the Academy at Luxol where he also teaches youngsters at the Bobby Charlton Football School.

Ronnie is married to Mona. They have two children, Joanne and Ronald, and four grandchildren: Jana, who is an athlete with Pembroke Athleta, Neil, who has been quite successful at the Bobby Charlton Football School, Sarah and Amy.

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