I spoke to Colin Lee, of Ex-Spurs and Chelsea, who was Youth Team Manager at Brentford and now coach at Reading. He invited me to train at Reading and I ended up playing quite a few league games. I was there about a season when St. Albans contacted me to find out what I was doing. I explained that I was non-contract at Reading but I would come down and have a chat. It was the end of the 91-92 season and Reading were not forthcoming in any contract security, so I saw John Mitchell, St. Alban’s Manager, who offered me a 2 year deal with a signing on fee. I still thought there was a professional contract out there for me so I once again signed non-contract forms for St. Albans. The money was cash in hand on a weekly basis and as good as most lower league teams, and so I was re-embarking on a semi-professional career with the hope of another Pro-cub or even rekindling the Charleroi experience.
Playing non-league is a totally different game because to the great majority of the players it’s another income to add to their normal job either as spending money or mortgage money. It’s a different attitude and application to a pro and it does take some getting used to. Players of mature years still have bad habits even with the basics and sometimes frustration creeps in. The worst one has nothing to do with 90mins but to player’s reaction after the 90mins. Their attitude towards losing was amazing. There I was sitting in the changing room sulking and in a temper because we had got beaten while others were laughing and joking 15mins after full-time. It was hard to take but it taught me for once how football was put in to perspective by normal blokes. Also, a lot of the player’s equipment was in a right state. Their boots and pads were put in their bag after a game and the next time they saw daylight was an hour before the following game. The boots had the mud knocked off, out came the polish and then the shining began. My ‘Daisies’ were spick and span the night before because of a life-long habit of preparing for a game in the same way.
I just acted as if I was still a professional. I would train in the mornings and afternoons over the park or gym on my own when I wasn’t at St. Albans. I was 28, never had a job and would not even know the first thing about getting one. I left school at 14 with no qualifications and so all I was doing was acting normal.
The longer I played non-league, the more enjoyable it became because I was getting used to the different ways and taking in to consideration that lads were doing a full day’s work and then coming to football. Some were on building sites, really grafting and then giving their all for 90mins. Football was their release and not their living and they enjoyed every minute of it. At St. Albans, the majority of us got on really well and this made for a great atmosphere on and off the pitch. The standard of play was high, we were encouraged to play out from the back and we had a lovely playing surface at Clarence Park. I was playing with a free spirit and a sharp mind which created some great football and as the months ticked on I was getting quite attached to The Saints.
Come January, I was really enjoying myself and St. Albans were twisting my arm to sign a contract. The Belgium chance had melted away and the offer being made to me was very tempting, so at the back end of January, with us top of the league and in most cups I put pen to paper and committed myself for 2 years. The money was good and the signing on fee was excellent. I knew this was the end of the road for me at Professional level but the difference in quality was minimal, the real difference was in fitness. The last 20mins of a game was where a Pro’s energy really came through and that extra yard was the difference between winning and losing. I knew for sure that the enjoyment level was greater playing semi-pro and my ambition now was to relax, play great football and help St. Albans progress as a club.
Little did I know that The Saints and I were embarking on a love affair together which gave me some of my greatest moments and the freedom to express the real ALLAN COCKRAM.