Bright starts, high hopes and bone-shattering disappointment have strengthened one young businessman’s attitude. Alastair Gilmour reports.
YOU are hours away from being the youngest player ever to represent Newcastle United. You tear the medial ligament in your left knee. How do you feel?
You’re ready to play your first game for Middlesbrough in the FA Cup against Nottingham Forest. You break your foot three days before the game. How do you feel?
There is an obvious answer to those questions but they hold a longer-term significance for one young Tyneside businessman. Both incidents helped shape the career and particularly the attitude of Anthony (Anth) Cole who, at 17 years of age, was on the verge of his Newcastle debut in 1990. Now 35, he is managing director of the JMF Print Group, the fast-expanding Swalwell, Gateshead-based print and design company. And, it seems, life couldn’t be sweeter.
The company, which produces everything from business cards to 50in-wide posters, is enjoying double-digit annual growth. Anth himself handles £750,000-plus sales from more than 700 customers all over the UK – and has the will and patience to provide print support for some of the North-East’s most deserving charities. When you’ve been handed your dream football job one day only to be pushed around in a wheelchair the next with your leg in plaster, you know what despair and pain feel like.
“I’ve got no regrets but I’ve got a thousand memories of really nice people,” says Anth, a remarkably focused and well-balanced young man. “I always remember when I was recovering from injury, top players like Roy Aitken, Micky Quinn, John Anderson and Mark McGhee looked after me.
“No, no regrets. I had played for the reserves by age 16 at all the big league grounds in the country. I remember when I was 15, still at Heworth Grange school – where Chris Waddle also went – with my school uniform on during physics when someone came in to say the coach was here for me. They said, ‘where are you going?’ and I said, ‘Old Trafford’.”
Anth was living every schoolboy’s dream. He was developing his potential alongside other youngsters such as Lee Clark and Steve Watson. Other contemporary young talent included Alan Thompson, Alan Neilson and Lee Makel, but Anth was first to get handed the big break in November 1990.
He says: “I was told by manager Jim Smith that I was to make my debut on the Saturday against Wolves, playing against Steve Bull, who was the top man for England at the time.
“I played on the Thursday night at Barnsley for the reserves as a bit of a warm-up. I went in for a challenge then just felt my knee go and was stretchered off. The following morning I was sitting in Jim Smith’s office and he was saying he still wanted me to play and that they’d give me a cortizone injection. I was sent to the RVI for the injection but never came out that night.
“It was in all the headlines. The club was going through a horrible injury crisis at the time. The boss just went round the young guys in the dressing room and said, ‘Right, you’re playing’. That lad was Steve Watson and he got to make his debut because of my injury.”
By the time Anth was fully fit (though feeling months behind the others), Ossie Ardiles had spun the manager’s chair but he made an instant impression on new boss Kevin Keegan.
“I remember the first day at training,” he says. “We were playing on the same side and I pinged a ball at him and smashed his watch... it just went... smash.
“He yelled, ‘Don’t you ever do that again’ and I shouted back ‘and don’t you ever wear a watch at training again’. He put his arm around me and said, ‘I like that’.”
It was one of Anth’s first conscious brushes with the word “attitude” which had emerged not from a position of arrogance but from growing confidence, self-belief and assurance. But, despite Keegan’s wish for him to continue his career at St James’s Park, Anth decided in 1992 to take up an offer from Middlesbrough.
“I felt it was right and it was a great chance,” he says. “I was still a young lad. John Pickering was coach there; he’s dead now, but he was a brilliant coach. I broke into the reserves and was playing on the Wednesday night before I was to play for the first team on the Saturday against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup.
“One of my own players, Gary Parkinson, broke my foot – my own player. It’s those big injuries I’ve had, major ones, not just groin strains and ligaments, and I never got to break into the first team. I was so close to it at Newcastle and so close at Middlesbrough.”
Now Anth’s contacts book includes such high-profile local organisations as Metro and Magic Radio, ncjmedia, Newcastle International Airport, Sunderland AFC and his former employers Newcastle United.
Part of his success, he believes, is that he just can’t say No.
For instance, a panic call late one Friday afternoon saw designers and printers working all weekend to produce a 16-page brochure for Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given’s Macmillan Cancer Support evening – on the Monday.
This involved top North-East chef – and Newcastle United fan – Terry Laybourne bringing Ireland’s finest food, best chefs and top-notch footballers to St James’s Park for a charity gala dinner.
He says: “I got a call late on Sunday night to say it was all done. Just getting the job right is so important and if you try your dammed best, you’ll be successful.”
It’s that attitude – according to JMF Print chairman Michael Foggin – that has proved Anth is more than capable of running the business.
He says: “Anth has a real passion for sales and has personally won more than three-quarters of a million’s worth of business for the company in the past two years. It’s an incredible achievement.”
Their print works is a hive of rhythmic clattering, hissing and humming from a range of one, two and full-colour Heidelberg presses, the trusted workhorses of the print industry. Recently-installed “computer to plate” technology and large-format printing machinery are rarely still. Digital print runs from one-off items and upwards are everyday jobs – and this investment in the latest technology has lead to quicker turnaround times and a significant rise in production.
“It’s the way the business is going,” says Anth. “You’ve got to be competitive. I always say there are lots of people who can put ink on paper, but sometimes it comes down to the individual.”
Anth learned trust and respect from whom he calls “great coaches” – Peter Kirkley at Newcastle and Stan Nixon who looked after the youngsters at Middlesbrough – plus being around older players was “massive” for him and left a huge impression on the young Cole mind.
He says: “I was at Newcastle from being 10 years old and spent all my school holidays as this little boy amongst the Jack Charltons and Willie MacFauls.
“What’s success? It’s in your head. I coach local youngsters at Low Fell Juniors, taking skills training – there’s a massive shortage of skills in the game. I’ve been doing my coaching badge and last year my assessor told me to include ‘the Stanley Matthews trick’. I thought, ‘this is 2006 and we’re still doing ‘the Stanley Matthews trick’ – how bad is that? Now Trevor Brooking has launched a nationwide coaching programme concentrating on skills.”
Proving that Anth is very much on the ball, Brooking, the Football Association’s director of development, thinks the launch this summer of a specialist skills coaching programme is the key to improving England teams of the future.
Brooking cited England’s defeat by Holland at the European Under-21 Championships as an example where technical ability cost the team.
The Cole method is paying off – two of Low Fell’s youngsters have won contracts at Middlesbrough with another two being watched by big clubs.
“Football is a wonderful thing but I always ask them to work hard at the job,” says Anth. “If you have a great attitude, you’ll succeed.
“I played 46 times for St Johnstone in Scotland, came back to play for Gateshead and had some good times at Berwick Rangers, then finished up at Blyth Spartans. I quit football when I was 26 – problems with my lower back and knees. I was working in a warehouse at the time.
“I like talking to people and I like listening as well. Somebody said I shouldn’t be in a warehouse, I should be in sales. I became commercial manager at Blyth Spartans and arranged pre-season friendlies against Aston Villa, Newcastle and Leeds United, generating about £25,000 in revenue – which at the time was great for a non-league club.
“It was at that time I met Michael Foggin, who is now JMF Print Group chairman. I came as a general salesman and was promoted to sales director. Now I’m managing director. The company, now 18 years old with 20 staff, is going from strength to strength.”
The other half of Anth Cole’s success comes from stability – he admits to having a very understanding wife. They’ve been together since they were 16 years old, through all the hopes and the setbacks.
He says: “Just last week I got a letter from the Professional Footballers’ Association saying I had officially retired. People say it (the injuries) must have been awful for you, but I never think about it; I’m interested in now and the future, not the past.”