by Rollercoaster Ranger

Born in Hammersmith in August 1982, Lee Cook’s life has always been entangled with Queens Park Rangers football club. When he was cheering on his heroes as a schoolboy from the terraces at Loftus Road he could never have imagined that he would sign for his beloved Q.P.R. three times during his career. Regardless of whoever Cook was playing for, his heart was always with Q.P.R.

In December 2002 Ian Holloway’s Q.P.R. were in dire straits. Even though the club had emerged from administration it was still ravaged by its effects and was saddled with a prohibitive loan which constantly threatened to drag them back into financial meltdown. On the field the situation was equally dismal. The team, floundering in the third tier of the English league, had gone 11 matches without a win and was reeling from the humiliation of being knocked out of the F.A. Cup by part timers Vauxhall Motors. Holloway desperately needed to kick start their season, he found the catalyst he required in Lee Cook. Originally signed from Watford on a one month loan deal, Cook made an instant impact. In his first appearance, a home match against local rivals Brentford, Cook scampered down the left wing and delivered a pin point accurate cross for Marc Bircham to head the ball into the net. Brentford fought back for a deserved draw, but Rangers not only looked a more balanced team, but, at last, had a potent  attacking threat.

Holloway was able to persuade Watford to extend the loan deal to three months enabling Cook to play in 13 matches. With Cook constantly shredding opposition defences Rangers won 8, drew 2 and lost only 3 of these matches. Cook’s scintillating performances, combined with the fact that he was known to be a Q.P.R. supporter, made him an instant favourite with the Ranger’s faithful. Unfortunately Watford were unwilling to extend the loan deal any further and so Cook reluctantly left Loftus Road, but he had instrumental in generating sufficient momentum to enable Rangers to achieve a playoff position at the end of the season. Cook was at the Millennium Stadium for the playoff final, not as a player, not as a guest of the board, but in the stands as a supporter. He had more reason than most to feel the agony of defeat when Cardiff score their late winner, without his three month spell in W12 Rangers would not have been close to a playoff spot.

While Q.P.R. were successfully winning promotion the following season, Cook was in and out of the Watford team. He steadfastly refused to sign a lucrative new contract for him to stay at Vicarage Road and instead followed his heart back to Loftus Road for the start of the 2004/05 season. Over the next few season Cook developed into one of the best players in the Championship, adding consistency to his undoubted skill, and was instrumental in helping Q.P.R. avoid relegation back to League One. He was regularly destroying right backs and the accuracy of his crossing was outstanding. While Cook didn’t weigh in with many goals himself, he provided a regular stream of opportunities for the club’s strikers; he always featured at the top of the assists tables.

His outstanding performances started to attract attention from Premier League clubs. With Rangers’ still in a desperate financial situation, it was only a matter of time before they were forced to accept a bid for him. Having already rejected a previous offer from Fulham, Q.P.R. had little alternative than to accept an improved offer of £2.5 million in July 2007. Cook knew that, for the sake of his beloved Rangers, he had to leave and in a remarkable gesture he negotiated for his 10% signing on fee to be paid to Q.P.R. in addition to his transfer fee. In today’s world of greedy, self obsessed footballers, Cook proved himself to be the complete antithesis to them. Cook has described himself as being lucky enough to have been able to make the gesture and was more concerned that Q.P.R.’s supporters wouldn’t forgive him for moving on. He had no need to worry and he left to ply his trade in the Premier League with everyone’s best wishes and gratitude.

Ironically the ultimate tragedy in Lee Cook’s injury plagued career happened in a pre-season friendly for Fulham against Q.P.R. He was substituted at half time with a knee injury which resulted in him never playing a first team match for the Cottagers. To compound the situation, within a couple of months, Q.P.R. were taken over by Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone removing all of their immediate money concerns.

The following summer many Rangers’ supporters got their wish and Cook returned for his third spell at Q.P.R., initially on loan to enable him to prove his fitness. Having been given a hero’s welcome home on his third Loftus Road debut, miraculously Cook had a virtually full season, with his signing made permanent in January 2009. His skill and deep rooted desire to play well for Q.P.R. hadn’t left him as again he was a potent attacking threat. Just when he seemed to be returning to his peak his knee flared up again depriving him of half of the following season and he has never fully recovered from this. A number of comeback attempts floundered and Neil Warnock had pushed Q.P.R. up a couple of levels. Reluctantly Cook had to accept that he would not play football for Q.P.R. again. Loan spells at Leyton Orient and Charlton followed as Cook looked for first team football. Today’s announcement that he was not going to be offered a new contract was as inevitable as it was sad.

The tricky left winger may not have been one of the most remarkable footballers of his generation, but he is one of the most remarkable men to play football. Cook will be seen at Loftus Road again, maybe not as a player and I don’t know if he has any aspirations to be a coach, but he will definitely be back as a supporter. Not only did he fulfil his boyhood dream to play for Q.P.R. but can justifiably claim to have helped his club to survive.