18 December 2018 - Sam Cook - My heart lies with Hucclecote
My heart lies with Hucclecote

My heart lies with Hucclecote says Sam Cook

Sam Cook playing for Hucclecote. Picture, Andrew TaylorSam Cook playing for Hucclecote. Picture, Andrew Taylor

Sam Cook is a good netball player, very good in fact.

The 26-year-old has played for England, continues to play in the Super League for Severn Stars and is captain of Hucclecote, who are one of the best clubs in the country. 

She also works at the University of Gloucestershire, where she is first team coach, and is the Pathway Head Coach for Severn Stars, so it is fair to say that netball is a very big part of her life.

Born in Nigeria, she came to this country at the age of two and was brought up in Cheltenham, the place she considers to be home even though she now lives in Gloucester.

Her first school was St John’s Primary in the heart of Cheltenham and it was there that she was introduced to netball.

“It was when I was in Year 5,” she recalled.

So how did she get on in those early days?

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” she laughed. “I was just doing it because everyone else was.”

But Cook was a quick learner and she was always tall for her age – she’s just under 6ft today – which in a sport like netball certainly helps.

And she was soon impressing Liza McCarthy – her PE teacher when she moved to Balcarras School – who suggested she should join a netball club.

That was when she was about 13 and the club that she chose was Hucclecote. But even though Cook has gone on to enjoy a top career in the sport, she certainly didn’t rate herself as a player when she linked up with Gloucestershire’s premier netball club.

“I was athletic,” she said, “but I couldn’t catch and I couldn’t throw a ball. I was very leggy and it was all I could do to run in a straight line.”

But those in the know at Hucclecote had spotted her potential.

“They drip-fed me in,” Cook continued. “I didn’t start playing in the adult league until I was 15 or 16.”

When she first started she played goal attack or shooter – she’s a defender or goalkeeper these days – and she’d already been spotted by England when she was a young teenager.

“I was involved with England from the age of 13, I was just a baby,” she said. “England changed my position when I was 16.”

And being involved with England was a very big commitment.

“We’d have a weekend camp every month,” she said. “They’d be in places like Sheffield and Bath. In the summer we’d have summer camps that could last for up to 10 days, I was involved all the way up to the seniors.”

And all that hard work was certainly worthwhile because Cook went on to be capped 16 times by England’s senior team, playing in countries such as Jamaica, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

It was a great experience and provided Cook with many great memories, but these days she no longer plays at international level.

“It was my choice,” she said. “England is a massive commitment and you have to be 110 per cent in all aspects – heart, mind, soul.

“I’m a family girl, a home girl. I like to be around friends, nice food and home comforts.”

It’s not difficult to understand where she is coming from. As in any elite sport there are times when things get very tough. Injuries are obviously part and parcel of that and Cook has certainly had her share of injuries over the years.

“I’ve had two ACL reconstructions – one when I was 15 and the other when I was 20 – and I needed a third knee op which was just a massive repair job,” she said. “I am now managing achilles tendinopathy.”

Ask most people to name their five most physically demanding sports and it’s a fair bet that netball is unlikely to feature, but Cook knows from personal experience that it is not a sport for the faint-hearted.

“It’s horrendous, very physically demanding,” she said. “Four times your body weight goes through your joints when you make a hard stop. You can’t run with the ball in netball so you are running at maximum speed and then you have to stop dead and that’s not what your body is set up for.” 

But despite her injuries don’t think for one minute that Cook no longer enjoys the sport. Far from it, because she is a contracted player for her semi-professional Super League franchise Severn Stars, and during the competition season plays most weekends against the likes of Wasps and Manchester Thunder – Severn Stars play half of their games in Gloucester at Plock Court – and then on Sundays plays for Hucclecote in Premier National Clubs Division Two.

She is in her second season as captain of Hucclecote – she is actually co-captain with Rosie Allison – and as you’d expect of someone who first joined the club in the mid-noughties she is a big fan of all things Hucclecote Netball Club.

“They are a very good club,” she said. “My heart lies with Hucclecote because they are everything I know. I enjoy playing with my mates – they are family.”

She had two years away playing with Team Bath Toucans but is in her second season back with Hucclecote and is enjoying every minute.

“I was living in Bath,” she explained, “but I always knew I would come back. I kept my Hucclecote kit and everything to do with the club and when my work brought me back here that was great.”

And she was soon taking on the captaincy.

“That was a nice surprise although not a massive surprise,” she said. “It made sense, I’m a mature player now and have plenty of experience. I try to bring experience to the leadership role.”

And she works closely with her co-captain Allison who has also been around for a long time. 

“We’re great friends,” she said. “ I do most of the captaincy on game days. I am the loud mouthy one in defence that never shuts up – unless I am tired! Rosie is the chilled one out of the two so it is a nice balance.” 

“I do most of the captaincy on court and she’s the organiser off it. She’s been around a long time and is more the off-court captain.”

And it’s an arrangement that is clearly working and one that Cook wants to see continue for a good while yet.