Everyone has opinions. Some will back those up with measured arguments or deep rooted beliefs. Often we will all disagree with another persons views, but even if after discussion we still beg to differ, most of the time we walk away still having respect for the other person having had the courage to state their opinion and argue their case.
The first time I met Mike Cockerill I was introduced to him by a former Socceroo. The minute he heard my voice there was an element of disdain in his. He was not critical or disparaging, but clearly felt I was another Englishman come to Australia with pre-conceived ideas on the game. I had to earn his respect.
As time went on I felt I chipped away and his initial opinion towards me softened. We shared beers and meals with other media at various Socceroos events in the Solomon Islands, Germany, and Uruguay, but the night I knew I had won his respect has never left me.
It was in September 2006 and the Socceroos first game at home after their wonderful Word Cup. It was the Socceroos first Asian Cup qualifying game in Sydney against Kuwait. Australia won 2-0 thanks to goals from Travis Dodd and Sasho Petrovski.
Post game we were all waiting to grab the post game interviews, I mentioned that we had just witnessed Travis Dodd become the first Aboriginal to score for the Socceroos and that I was sure it was the first time two Indigenous players had played for Australia in the same match; Jade North being the other. Mike grabbed my arm and pulled me away from the pack and told me to shut up as he said no one else in the room had realised the fact. We both hung back and interviewed Travis who was totally unaware of his achievement.
From then on our relationship was solid. Sure we disagreed on a number of things, He was adamant that Australia needed to be coached by an Australian when Frank Farina was appointed coach in 1999. As much as I agreed with the Socceroos having an Australian coach at that time I was not convinced that there was someone with the experience to take on the role. His argument was we would never have anyone unless we gave someone a chance and backed them.
I enjoyed many a robust conversation with Mike over the phone or over a coffee or a beer. He was a man I had a great deal of respect for even though our opinions frequently differed.
As everyone has written in their personal tributes to a man that has left us far too early, he loved the game and he held it dear to his heart. To me, more importantly he stimulated debate. He raised issues that had people talking about the game. He also had the strength of personality to know that his role in the media was not a popularity contest, and therefore was prepared to write or say what he thought. I know one of his pet hates was people hiding behind false names on social media to throw mud at others. He felt if you believed something you should stand by your opinion, and on that we agreed.
There have been others who have served the game as long and as well, but “Clarence” as he was affectionately known was a stand out; and not just because of his height.
His writings and television commentary will long be remembered by a generation or two of Australians, and hopefully they fuelled their passion for the game, and had them talking about issues. He will be sorely missed.
May he rest in peace, and his family treasure the memories they have and be proud of the life he lived and what he did for the game. .