Cooper walking away was a shock
WHEN Leigh Cooper and his trusted assistant Tony Richardson rolled their sleeves up and helped with ground improvements at Lux Park during the summer, all seemed well with Liskeard Athletic.
There were only a few weeks to go before the start of the new season, and a lick of paint in the right places made the old ground look good, next to one of the best playing surfaces in the county at the moment.
The news at the weekend, therefore, that Cooper and Richardson had walked out on the Blues immediately after watching their side lose 3-0 at Witheridge, did come as a shock.
When I spoke to Leigh before the season his batteries seemed recharged, having endured another season of struggle last time out in his second campaign at the club.
He and Richardson had strengthened the Liskeard squad with some quality signings, including star striker Mark Berry from Bodmin Town.
And although Berry decided to rejoin Bodmin after a couple of pre-season appearances for the Blues, there was a mood of some optimism at Lux Park where Cooper was highly regarded.
That was reflected in the 3-0 victory at Penzance on the opening day of the season and despite last Saturday's setback at Witheridge, they have won two and drawn two of their opening eight games.
That's not a bad start and when I saw them play against St Blazey at Blaise Park a couple of weeks ago, my impression was that they were a far more difficult team to beat, and were not without a threat going forward.
But looking back on what turned out to be a controversial goalless draw, maybe the signs that all was not well with Cooper. One of the most respected people in South West football, the former Plymouth Argyle favourite rarely loses his rag on the sidelines, but he got involved in a long-running 'discussion' with Blazey assistant manager Phil Lafferty which threatened to get out of hand.
It all ended with the pair embracing on the pitch at the end, seemingly the best of friends, but Cooper's behaviour had been out of character. Certainly from my experience of him.
And the way he announced his departure from Liskeard after more than two years in the job was also surprising, because he had pledged to see out this season after saying the rebuilding of the squad was a three-year job.
He had previously promised chairman Dave 'Ticker' Hick that he would finish the job. Ticker's death earlier this year rocked the club to its foundations but Cooper said he would keep his promise to Ticker.
For whatever reason, he has decided he cannot see the season out. It is sad, but Cooper is such a genuine person that he would not have walked away without very good reason. I wish him well for the future, knowing that he still has so much to offer football at this level.
The word is that he says he has had enough of football, but after a break, it would be no surprise to see him popping up at another club and taking on a new challenge.
The Carlsberg South West Peninsula League can't afford to lose people of the calibre of Leigh Cooper. For somebody who graced the Football League for many years with Argyle, he has never played the 'big star' in my dealings with him spanning more than 20 years, which is why so many people like and respect him.
Have a rest, Leigh, by all means. But do come back. I reckon you need football as much as football needs you.