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Club news

Blast from the past: Ian Cox

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

While Ian Cox may have a foot in both camps when AFC Bournemouth host Burnley, there will be no divided loyalties for his partner Leah.

Popular and stylish defender Cox gave outstanding service to both clubs, making a combined total of 337 appearances for the Cherries and the Clarets between 1996 and 2003.

Now on the coaching staff at Gillingham, Cox is a regular visitor to Dorset because Bournemouth-born Leah – a lifelong Cherries supporter – lives and works in the town.

Cox was spotted by former manager Mel Machin playing for Crystal Palace reserves and signed for the Cherries just days after his 25th birthday in March 1996.  

Converted from midfield to defence, he was crowned supporters’ player of the year during his first full season and captained the club at Wembley in the final of the Auto Windscreens Shield in 1998.

One of his 17 goals for the Cherries came during an emotive 1-0 win at Bristol City in 1997, the game coming just hours after the receivers had unexpectedly turned up at Dean Court.

Such was the perilous state of the club’s finances, there were fears it could have been the last match in the Cherries’ history and it was played against a backdrop of mounting uncertainty.

Recalling his move and the events of the late 1990s, Cox told afcb.co.uk: “George Ndah, who I played with at Crystal Palace, had been on loan to Bournemouth and he told me Mel was interested in getting me down there.

“I was quite open to the idea because I just wanted to play and wasn’t getting enough exposure at Palace so it was a bit of a no-brainer.

“I spoke to Mel and was more than happy to sign because it was going to be a fresh challenge for me.

“The biggest change for me was moving away from home. I had all the creature comforts and very rarely ventured outside London.

"It was a good opportunity for me to push myself outside of my comfort zone. It gave me a chance to test myself as a footballer and to grow as an individual.”

The receivers came calling just 11 months after Cox had made his move and he was subsequently appointed captain following the £800,000 sale of Matt Holland in the summer of 1997.

Cox said: “The club never seemed to be in the best of financial health. When we came back for pre-season in 1996, there were rumours going around about the club not being in a great position financially.

“When you leave one club and join another, you just want security and want to focus on your football but there were a lot of off-field distractions. Times were really tough.

“When we went to Bristol City, the players just wanted to focus on playing the game. We wanted to get three points against a very good team who were the favourites for promotion.

“During the 90 minutes, I don’t think anybody thought about what was going on off the pitch. But once the game ended, that all changed. It was emotional.

“In the lead up, there were rumours flying around about it being the last game and the club might not be here any more. That would have been catastrophic for everyone associated with the club, especially when you look at the meteoric rise over the past six or seven years.

“It was a massive relief when the club came through it. As much as we love football, both as players and individuals, we still had bills to pay and the thought of not knowing whether you were going to get paid from one month to the next was very unsettling.

"It was unbelievable how everyone rallied round to save the football club.”

Cox struck up one of the best central defensive partnerships in the club’s recent history with Eddie Howe, who was just 19 when they were paired together for the first time early in 1997-98.

He said: “Eddie came into the team about a year after I’d been there. I had been playing alongside Franck Rolling and Eddie managed to shift him out of the team.

“Even in the early days, you could see he was going to be a fantastic player. He was a character and a leader, even at such a young age. I learned a lot from him while he was playing.

"He was composed and authoritative and a very good footballer. He was a good person as well. He was always honest and fair and we had a good rapport on the pitch.

“It is beyond belief what he has achieved as manager of the club but testament to the man he is. He has taken the club from the brink of going out of the league to maintaining a place in the Premier League.

“I know the club almost went out of business when I was there but there were other tough times as well. Under Eddie, they had a points deduction and a transfer embargo.

"What they have achieved under him after staying up in 2009 is the stuff that dreams are made of. Eddie has proved that dreams can come true.”

Cox, who went on to represent Trinidad & Tobago at the 2006 World Cup finals, left Cherries for Burnley in February 2000, winning promotion to the Championship just months after he had arrived at Turf Moor.

“It was a bittersweet time in my career,” added Cox. “Bournemouth had given me the opportunity to not only establish myself but to play consistently.

"Without that, you don’t know what would have happened and where I would have ended up. Moving to Bournemouth was a life-saver for me because I was going nowhere fast in London.

“I met new people, they were friendly and the beach is lovely. The quality of life was so much better than in London.

“But you always want to better yourself as a player and as a person. Although we were in the same league, Burnley were going for promotion. I didn’t really want to go but knew I had to professionally.

“I had three fantastic years at Burnley and it will always be a club close to my heart, just as much as Bournemouth. We were promoted on the last day of the season and that was the start of what was a great time at the club.

“The next two seasons were brilliant. We were in the Championship and playing against some really big teams. I was fortunate enough to hold my own in the team against some very good players.

“I had a few injuries in my final year which hindered my progression. It was around the time of the ITV Digital crash and a lot of clubs were cutting their cloth.

“After three years, it was my time to leave and it was tinged with sadness. At Burnley, you were part of a family and part of a community. I loved my time at both clubs and am delighted to see them in the Premier League.”

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