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Neil Cox
Position: Right back
From: Bolton Wanderers - £350,000 (plus increments) - November 1999
Career stats: Soccerbase
He is: An example to all professional footballers - present and future


At the end of a season you have been a regular in the first team, scoring some goals, taking great free-kicks and generally contributing. Although not setting the world alight, you are slapped on the transfer list, not given a squad number, and not even allowed to be in the squad photo. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?

Do you:

a) Moan and complain to the press about the club treating you badly, blaming everyone but yourself.
b) Spend the summer drinking and return to pre-season a fat relic of the player you were.
c) Work twice as hard all summer, get fitter than you ever have been, work on skills you may have not had, and fight like a warrior to get back in the first team, where your performances simply dare the manager who had dumped you so unceremoniously on the scrap-heap to drop you again.

Neil Cox chose the last option. In five months, he went from a player that his previous manager had said should give up on being a defender and maybe play in midfield to hide his deficiencies in pace and was offered to every club interested, to someone who on October the 9th led the Watford team out against Bradford as captain. He got a deserved round of applause from all over the ground. Everyone recognized that this was the result of hard work and application, and was a superb example to all footballers.

Cox arrived at the club halfway through the Premiership season in 1999. He had played previously for Scunthorpe, Villa, Middlesborough, and finally Bolton, where he was in the team that lost to Watford in the playoff final. He added some steel to the defence, but couldn't stop the goals flying in. We all thought that he'd be better in the First Division.

At the beginning of 2000-01, he was. He'd scored five goals by November, and his crossing was excellent. The only problem was that Graham Taylor's 4-3-3 formation was leaving him terribly exposed. With no-one directly in front of him, the quick wingers would breeze past his labouring efforts to challenge them. He ended up being a bit of a liability. Going forward he was fine, a bustling midfielder perhaps the best use of his ability. But, he wasn't what Gianluca Vialli wanted as a midfielder, so he was transfer-listed.

I first saw him this season playing for the stiffs in the second half against Aylesbury. He was playing at left back, but he couldn't use his left foot. People were almost laughing at him. Then, one Friday, he was called by Vialli and asked to fill in during a crisis in defence. He played superbly up at Wolves, and he hasn't been out of the team since.

He can play central defence or right back, but seems to obviously prefer the centre. What is most noticeable is that he seems to have trimmed himself down, and he seems to have found a passing range we never knew he had. He still pops up with the odd goal too, his trademark cross-goal header from a corner working for him against Birmingham recently.

Last year, I sponsored Neil Cox. I sat next to him at the sponsor's dinner, and he told me that his wife was homesick, and he was finding life in Bushey quite tough. He came accross as an honest bloke who happened to be playing for my team. The club took him off the list of players who could be sponsored this summer, so I had to change to someone else.

But on October 9th, when he was getting that ovation to recognise his being made captain, there weren't many people in the crowd as proud as I was.

Paul Goldsmith
Last updated: October 2001