Born in Dominica in February 1955, Joe Cooke arrived in England in 1961 at the age of six. At that time, nobody would have been aware of the incredible impact that Joe would have on the game of football, particularly for fellow members of the black community who would go on to highlight him as an inspiration.
As we mark the start of Black History Month, we were keen to highlight a pioneer of the game from the black community, who would spend a brief spell of his career in Oxfordshire, scoring 13 league goals in 72 league appearances for Oxford United, where he was the club’s first-ever black player.
Speaking to Oxford United earlier this year as we marked the 75th anniversary of the arrival to the UK of HMT Empire Windrush, Joe recalled his arrival in England, saying: “I came over to England in 1961 when I was six. It was one of the worst winters ever. I came off the ship in shorts and the snow was past my waist. I’m proud of my Caribbean roots. I played at Anfield, Old Trafford and all those places and never had any issues. It used to fuel me when the opposition crowd were having a go at me. A lot of them who were ranting and raving at the beginning used to cheer for you at the end, so you’d think you’ve done your job.”
Joe would become one of the first professional footballers of the Windrush Generation. After beginning his career as a centre-forward, Joe later switched position to centre-half, which is where he shone for his firs professional club, Bradford City, whom he signed for in 1971 at the age of 16, after spending a year as an apprentice. Joe would go on to make over 200 league appearances for the Bantams before spending a brief stint at Peterborough United.
In 1979, Joe joined Oxford United and made an immediate impression. Making his debut for the U’s away to Hull City, Joe scored in a 2-2 draw on 25 August that year. A week later, Joe made his home debut, against Barnsley. While at Oxford, Joe returned to his former position of centre-forward and would go on to captain the side during his two years at the Manor Ground.
Joe’s career took him to Exeter City, back to Bradford, Rochdale and Wrexham, before he retired from playing in 1988. While he may have been retired for 35 years, the legacy that Joe has left on the game both nationally and locally is incredible.
Over the course of the month, Oxfordshire FA will be continuing to celebrate Black History Month, while announcing some exciting new developments in our work to grow inclusion and diversity within the county.