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Sports Life Stories

  • Episode: 

    4 of 8

  • Title: 

    Andy Cole
  • Transmission (TX): 

    Tue 10 Mar 2015
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    10.00pm - 11.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 11 2015 : Sat 07 Mar - Fri 13 Mar
  • Channel: 

The information contained herein is strictly embargoed from all press, online and social media use, non-commercial publication, or syndication until Tuesday 3 March 2015.
Episode 4 - Andy Cole
“I’ve been very fortunate having these fantastic strikers but I would say without question he is in the top part of the pantheon of the greatest strikers I’ve ever had. Absolutely no doubt in my mind.” - Sir Alex Ferguson
In the fourth episode of this new series, former Manchester United legend Andy Cole talks to Leon Mann about being the second highest goalscorer in Premier League history, winning the Champions League in 1999, and his rows with numerous managers which led to his exit from several clubs and the curtailing of his England career.
With contributions from former managers Sir Alex Ferguson, Kevin Keegan and Denis Smith alongside former team-mates Ryan Giggs, Dwight Yorke and Sol Campbell and members of his family, Sports Life Stories traces his journey from playing school football in Nottingham to winning an historic treble with Manchester United, his short-lived rap career and his current role as a club ambassador.
A promising schoolboy footballer, Andy joined the FA school of excellence at Lilleshall in 1985, which he found difficult. He says: “The first few months were really, really tough. You’ve got no home comforts, you haven’t got your family, you haven’t got your mates. It’s totally different. You’re living in dormitories with boys from all over the country. And especially never having been away from home a lot, it was probably the toughest part of my life.”
Andy’s hero was Cyrille Regis, who he admired for the way he stood up to racism on the terraces - similar to what his father Lincoln had faced when he came to England from Jamaica. He says of Cyrille: “I loved what he stood for. For me as a young aspiring black player I looked up to Cyrille and what he went through, the way he conducted himself. He took a lot of flak for the colour of his skin, and I just loved the way he dealt with it. I just felt if I could deal with it that way I would have half a chance.”
Having signed for Arsenal, Andy found first-team opportunities hard to come by, and eventually fell out with George Graham, the manager. He says: “I remember one day, he pulled me into his office. He was telling me what he thought of me, and he started shouting at me, and I started having my penny’s worth as well, and he said, ‘You know what, get out - get out.’ He ended up kicking me out of his office and that was that.”
After an unsuccessful loan spell at Fulham, he ended up on loan at Bristol City, where then-boss Denis Smith decided to take a chance on him. Denis says: “I heard this story about a young lad at Arsenal giving George all sorts of stick, knocking on his door saying he should be in the first team. So I phoned George and said I would like to take the lad on loan, I would have a look at him. Andy was desperate to play football, and so he came along and we had him on loan, and he was just electric.”
City eventually signed him permanently for £500,000 and he scored 20 goals in 41 games. Having proved to be a prolific scorer at the Robins, he signed for Newcastle United for £1.75 million, helping them get promoted to the Premier League in his first season and then scoring 41 goals in his second, winning the Golden Boot.
Andy says: “That’s when the Geordie kids said, ‘He’s going to be our hero,’ and it was the toughest year ever - in a good way. But I wasn’t able to deal with it. I was like, ‘Oh my God, what is this all about?’ To have all these fans adore you the way they adored me, was like, ‘I’m not used to this.’”
But an increasingly tense relationship with Kevin Keegan meant he was sold to Manchester United in a shock move in 1995. Keegan says: “The Andy Cole deal happened fairly quickly once I’d made my mind up. I went to talk to the board about it, they said, ‘You’re kidding, you’re selling Andy Cole?’ I said, ‘Yeah - it’s the right time, you’ve got to trust me on this one, but it’s the right time.’ And they did, to be fair.”
Having signed for United, the team lost out in the 1994/95 Premier League title race to Blackburn Rovers, drawing their final game of the season at West Ham while Kenny Dalglish’s team lifted the trophy at Anfield. Andy says he felt to blame for it, but Ryan Giggs says the pressure of United’s expectation to win meant all the players shared the responsibility. Ryan says: “I think the first season for Coley was difficult for a lot of reasons. A lot was expected of him because of the price tag and the goalscoring record he had, and we didn’t win anything. That’s not because of Coley, that’s because of the whole team, but at United you are expected to win things and if you don’t questions are asked.”
Cole continued his prolific goalscoring as United won the double in 95/96 and retained the title the following season. Part of the reason why he got on so well at United was his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson, he says: “He was the only manager I ever played for who actually understood me as a person, what I was about. When you are at that level you have to understand your players, what makes them tick, how you can get the best out of them. When things weren’t going too well, he would sit me down or pull me to one side or whatever. He was brilliant.”
Despite a difficult relationship with strike partner Teddy Sheringham, the pair scored 54 goals together. When Dwight Yorke arrived from Aston Villa, the pair developed an on-field relationship which Andy describes as ‘instinctive.’ Dwight says: “This telepathy that people talk about, it just happened. We were just in that zone that when we got together all the dummies and the flicks, they just happened. It was just one of those magical moments.”
Despite his success for United, Andy only won 15 caps for England and scored one international goal. Sir Alex says he can’t understand why he wasn’t picked by more England managers: “I can’t understand why he didn’t get a lot of caps, because the correlation you’ve got between picking a player at international level is European football. So with Andy, he scored almost 20 goals in European football. Now to me, if you talk about criteria to play in the international team, that is the best criteria.”
In 1999, United beat Spurs to win the Premier League title, before winning the FA Cup final against Newcastle, and then famously coming from behind to beat Bayern Munich in added time in the Champions League final - meaning Andy had won the treble.
Andy’s wife Shirley says she finds it frustrating that when top Premier League strikers are mentioned in the media, her husband’s name doesn’t come up as often as she would like.  She says: “You can be watching and you will see everybody else’s face flash up. You’ve got Alan Shearer, Ian Wright - you’ve got everybody. Half of the time you will never see Andy up there. It’s as if he’s been forgotten.” 
Andy says the reason he may not be more feted as a legendary striker may well be down to his relationship with the press. He says: “I kept myself to myself, that’s the way I wanted to be. All I wanted to do was play football. I didn’t want to sit down and hold court and have a cup of tea and a biscuit with the press. I don’t see why I should have to be big on interviews and that’s always been held against me. If they asked to do an interview and I said no, they would go, ‘He’s arrogant, he’s surly.’ I just got on with it and achieved what I wanted to achieve.”
Now his son Devante is a promising striker on Manchester City’s books, Andy says he doesn’t want him to be compared with his father’s illustrious career. But Devante says comparisons are inevitable: “I think I will always be judged on my dad. Always. I just think that’s the way people are now. So much for you to say, ‘I’m my own person,’ they will always be like, ‘Oh your dad did this, your dad did that.’ So I’m always going to have to deal with it, to prove them wrong.”
Series overview
Featuring top names from Olympic gold medalists to Champions League winners, the award-winning Sports Life Stories series focuses on the lives of iconic sporting figures.
Each of the eight episodes in this returning series tells the tale of a sporting legend, allowing each individual to open up about their careers and personal lives, and giving a vivid insight into how the impact of their achievements can reach into people's lives.
This series features:
Footballer Peter Shilton
Cyclist Chris Froome
Athlete Paula Radcliffe
Footballer Andy Cole
Athlete Linford Christie
Footballer John Barnes
Rugby player Jason Robinson
Boxer Carl Froch
Contributions from well-known friends and admirers illuminate the lives and work of the subjects and provide a close view into what drives them to succeed in their careers.