NEALE Cooper has admitted that his return as Hartlepool United manager was as much a shock to him as it was to everybody else.
The 48-year-old walked through the Victoria Park gates this week for his second stint at the helm, six-and-a-half years after leaving the club.
“I did not see this day coming, although I would have liked it to,” he said. “It came entirely out of the blue, but it is a wonderful Christmas present.”
Revealing the circumstances around his appointment, Cooper explained: “I had a call from a reporter as I was walking my dog in the park in Aberdeen, saying that bookies were taking bets on me.
“It was total news to me, and there had been no contact at all at that stage. I then drafted a letter to the club throwing my hat in the ring.
“I had a meeting, and it has all been very quick. From that initial meeting to being appointed happened in days, and I was delighted to be asked to come down again. I always had a really good bond with the supporters, and luckily I have been given this chance.
“I cannot say how grateful I am for the opportunity, and I am totally focused now on what is needed for the players. I will be a support for them if I can be, and I feel really positive that we can give that spirit back to the side.”
With Pool sat 12th out of the 24 teams in League One ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Sheffield United, chief executive Russ Green said: “Neale is probably in a unique situation as a manager coming into a club.
“Usually you are bottom of the league, fighting fires and with the fans drifting away, but he is joining a mid-table club with a good, close-knit squad.”
Crediting Micky Barron and Ritchie Humphreys for their stewardship following Mick Wadsworth’s departure, Green said: “We have two great guys who have carried the coaching mantle for the past few weeks, and Neale will give us the bit of a lift that we need.
“We know he can do that for the players. He has put smiles on faces again, and hopefully we can now go out and play some good football.”
Revealing a welter of applications for the post, he added: “We were overwhelmed by the number and calibre, including two from ex-Premier League managers, but there was never any doubt.
“Neale’s charisma was a big factor, and he always had a great relationship with the fans when he was here previously. Everybody got on with him, he lifts everybody and most of all he is a motivator. That is what we need at present.”
Asked who had been the main influences on a managerial career which most recently saw him at Scottish club Peterhead, Cooper said: “Everyone I am sure will go on about Sir Alex Ferguson, and he is still in touch.
“I class him as a friend with having played so long at Aberdeen under him, and a lot of that team have gone into management when you go down the list. In terms of my style, as I said to the players yesterday, I like to see a happy atmosphere and a hard-working side.
“I want football to be played the way it should be – on the ground when possible – and by all accounts, we have the players who can do that.
“Training yesterday, even in awful conditions, was at a real high tempo, and I think that is important. Despite the wind seeming like a hurricane, we maintained a good standard.”
Cooper’s official unveiling as Pool manager came on a day of contrasting emotions for the club, following the death of legendary striker Ken Johnson. The 80-year-old scored over a century of goals in more than 400 appearances between 1949 and 1964, and was still an enthusiastic supporter prior to his passing.