On Sunday November 8th, family, friends, work colleagues and former teammates of the late Mike Cockerill gathered at Manly United FC’s home ground Cromer Park to celebrate the life of one of Australia’s most respected football journalists.
Among the country’s most important football voices, Cockerill died in August 2017 aged just 56, following a career spent challenging the game’s leaders to embrace bold visions and honour the past.
Cockerill, who wrote for Fairfax newspapers and commentated for Fox Sports, was inducted into the FFA’s Hall of Honour in 2011 for his outstanding contribution to football. His legacy is now remembered through the annual Mike Cockerill Cup, inspired by close cohorts Lou Dulisse and Romano Bit and dedicated to bringing together and celebrating football’s community base and rich cultural diversity.
That sense of community and diversity was reflected in those who travelled to Cromer Park from as far afield as the mid-north coast to participate in what was also, in such uncertain times, a tribute to the organising powers of Lou Dulisse, Romano Bit and Manly United/Manly Warringah Football Association chief executive Dave Mason.
The day began with a heartfelt Welcome To (Gayemagal) Country by Romano, before Mason recalled how Cockerill had helped mentor him in his early days at a rival newspaper. Cockerill’s brother Ian, standing alongside Mike’s wife Jo, then thanked those who had made the day possible and welcomed those in attendance.
Once the formalities finished, the showpiece football game kicked off between an MWFA All-Star select featuring Fox Sports presenter Adam Peacock and former Central Coast Mariners coach Phil Moss, and Cockerill’s former Over 45 team Fraser Park (now Forest Rangers), boasting former Sydney FC midfielder Matthew Bingley, NSL legend Zlatko Nastevski and a cameo from another ex-Marconi goal-scorer, Fox Sports personality Andy Harper.
Inspired by Moss’s athletic endeavors in goal and a hat-trick from a suspiciously good Brazilian midfielder, the MWFA All-Stars ran out 5-1 winners, a result secondary to spirit in which the game was played.
As Ian Cockerill said afterwards, “Football’s ability to bring people together from so many backgrounds and such far-flung parts of Sydney in such challenging times is amazing.”
Reinforcing the day’s theme, Mason added that football helped bring communities together and that Mike Cockerill “epitomised the essence of the sport, from professional all the way down to the grassroots level”.
Mason’s perspective was evidenced by the support freely given to the third edition of the Mike Cockerill Cup, with Legea’s Wayne Spagnol supplying custom-made playing kits and a Brazilian contingent led by Gelcimar Freire putting on a traditional Brazilian BBQ for all participants on the day.
Ultimately, the third Mike Cockerill Cup showcased what football can achieve in cutting through social and cultural differences and offering a solution to social isolation especially within these uncertain times.
For that reason alone his legacy must never be forgotten, his contribution to the “World Game” is as important as ever as the sport continues its unceasing quest to be fully embraced by the Australian public.
As the late, great Johnny Warren said, and Cockerill echoed, “real football people will do anything for anyone.”
-By Seb Kalos