Despite hailing from Doncaster, David Cork began his professional football career at Arsenal in 1980, having spent two years at Highbury as an apprentice. He had previously turned down Manchester United in favour of the Gunners. Soon after signing professional forms, he was loaned out to Swedish club GAIS, where he played five games before returning to Highbury.
From Highbury to Leeds Road
From 1980 until 1983, Cork was mainly a reserve player but finally got his chance to shine in the first team when he made his debut in December 1983 against Watford in a 3-1 home win, replacing an injured Brian Talbot. He went on to feature sporadically for the side during the 1983-84 season and scored his only First Division goal in a 2-2 draw against Southampton later in December. Cork only had brief flirtations with the first team during his five years as a professional, making just seven league appearances for Don Howe’s side. He was also part of the reserve side that won the Football Combination in 1984.
After failing to break into the Arsenal side, Cork signed for Town in the pre-season of 1985-86, having first heard of the club’s interest after a phone call from Mick Buxton: “I went to Huddersfield from Arsenal following a phone call from Mick, offering me a two-year contract. My first impressions of the club were good.”
Following an encouraging pre-season, in which Buxton had managed to secure all five of his transfer targets, Town fans were looking forward to the new campaign, although the departure of Mark Lillis dampened the mood slightly. Joey Jones, Terry Curran, Mally Brown and Paul Raynor were the other four who Buxton brought in.
It was looking good in the first game of the season, when Cork made his debut in a goal-laden match at Leeds Road, with Town running out 4-3 winners against Millwall. Cork would remain in the side for much of the campaign and scored his first goal in his third game, helping to secure a 1-1 draw against Oldham Athletic. He was on the scoresheet again two games later, scoring Town’s first in a 3-2 away win at Crystal Palace and scored the second in a 2-0 win over Bradford City at Leeds Road, a victory that pushed Town up to 4th.
Town had started the season well but as it went on, they began to struggle, going on a 10-match winless run from October to December, sitting second bottom (21st) in the league. Despite playing a lot of good football, Town were struggling to score goals and often let too many in at the other end.
Cork missed a couple of games in January but returned to the side in February, regaining his place in midfield that had been occupied by Brian Stanton in his absence. Despite the early talk of promotion, Town were now looking over their shoulders and worrying about the possibility of relegation. The arrival of Duncan Shearer soon ended put an end to such fears. The Scotsman arrived on transfer deadline day from Chelsea and made an immediate impact, scoring a hat-trick on his debut, a 3-1 win over Barnsley on Easter Monday. He then followed it up with two more goals in a 2-0 win over Stoke at Leeds Road. Town eventually finished 16th in Division Two and after showing early promise, it was a disappointing end to the season. Cork had done well in his first season at Leeds Road and first full season as a professional, playing 41 games and scoring eight goals in all competitions.
As the 1986-87 season began devoid of the optimism of a year earlier. There had been no new signings and Mick Buxton’s coach John Haselden had been sacked. Cork remained in the first team at the start of the season and only missed the occasional game as Town started the campaign badly. No wins in the first five games left them in the drop zone. Wins were rare, with just four in their opening 18 games. Cork scored in one of those, a 2-0 home victory over Derby County in October.
Eventually, the Town board decided to make a change and in mid-December 1986, with Town bottom of the league, Mick Buxton was sacked. At the time, he was the club’s second longest serving manager, having taken on the role in 1978 following the resignation of Tom Johnston. Cork’s time at the club coincided with a period of instability as Town employed four different permanent managers in just two years. Of the man who brought him to the club, Cork remembers him as “a really good manager, a hard taskmaster who worked you hard on fitness, played good football, but we conceded far too many goals.” At the time of Buxton’s sacking, Town had conceded 33 goals in just 18 games.
Former player Steve Smith, who had been chief scout, reserve team manager and youth team manager at various times since 1979 was asked to look after the team on a caretaker basis and after a short period of success, he got the job permanently. Smith won his first two games in charge, a 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day and then a 5-2 win over local rivals Bradford City the following day. This led to a crazy but ultimately hilarious incident between Cork and Joey Jones at half time, which is mentioned in Jones’ autobiography.
“We battered Bradford City 5-2 at home in front of our biggest crowd of the season. What a match that was! We were 4-0 up at half-time and I knackered my ankle ligaments. The injury was really killing me, but the sight of George (McAllister - physio) running on with his fingers about to dig deep into my ankle somehow did amazing things for my powers of recovery. He strapped it with plaster on the outside of my boot to get me through to the break and when the whistle blew, I hobbled towards the tunnel.
It had been a brilliant half for us, but, as we were walking off, our centre-forward that day, Dave Cork, began having a go at the lads in defence. In a way it wasn’t really surprising as Corky was the club moaner, the Huddersfield equivalent of David Speedie. I loved him because he was a cocky so and so who was always winding me up, but just at that moment when he moaned, I snapped.
It wasn’t Corky’s fault but when he started having a go, I went for him. ‘Hey, you lot, get the ball up to us quicker’ he said. I couldn’t believe that, at 4-0 up, he still wasn’t happy, so I just swung a punch and smacked him one in the mouth as we got to the tunnel. The Bradford lads must have been wondering what we did to each other when we were 4-0 down. Next there was a scuffling of aluminium studs on the concrete as I chased him into the dressing room.
When Steve Smith came in, it all died down instantly. I sat in one corner and Corky sat in the other and within minutes we started laughing about the whole thing. I apologised and he accepted it. It sounds a crazy thing to have done, but I think I’d just about had my fill and sometimes you do strange things - besides, Corky was always winding me up and had been the main instigator in chucking me in the canal for my initiation.”
Obviously, two Town players having a fight isn’t particularly funny, but it did have a happy ending: “The police came in soon afterwards and told us to calm down. Steve Smith was still looking round the room wondering what the hell had gone on. Corky and I just sat there laughing!”. Team bonding!
Cork was instrumental in helping Town survive, scoring 12 goals in 41 games in all competitions, including two in the final game of the season, a 3-0 home win over Millwall. This victory was the final game in a three-match winning run which helped Town to a 17th place finish in the table. Since Buxton’s sacking in December, Cork had played in all but one game.
He has since spoken about Buxton’s successor: “Steve Smith was a really nice bloke. A decent manager. But he didn’t address the defensive problems and we still conceded too many goals”.
That was certainly true of the following season as Town failed to win any of their first 10 games during the 1987-88 season, including a 6-1 hammering away at Plymouth Argyle.
By the time Smith resigned in October 1987, Town were bottom and had conceded 19 goals, scoring just nine in reply. It appeared that the pressure had simply got to Smith, and he reverted back to his role as youth team coach. Jimmy Robson took charge for the next game, which Town lost 4-1 Middlesbrough, before the next permanent manager was announced (Cork’s third in just two years).
Malcolm Macdonald, former Arsenal, Newcastle United and England star, arrived at Leeds Road and proclaimed, “I’m going to the First Division, who’s coming with me?” It was an exciting appointment. ‘Supermac’ had been a big star during his playing days and had a decent period in charge of Fulham. However, he’d been out of the game since he’d been out of the game since he’d been sacked by the Cottagers in 1984.
Macdonald lost his first three league games in charge, of which Cork scored in the last of the three, a 3-2 loss to West Bromwich Albion. Finally, on October 31st, Town achieved their first win of the season when they beat Millwall 2-1 at Leeds Road, with Cork getting the winning goal. Town’s first win of the season came at the 15th attempt. Town fans would have been forgiven for thinking the tides were turning a little bit, but that victory was followed by an horrendous performance at Ipswich Town, a 3-0 loss, but nothing could prepare the club, players or fans for what happened next.
The Infamous 10-1
David Cork has the distinction of being one of 11 players to have represented Town in the infamous Manchester City game, where Town were beaten 10-1, the club’s record defeat. Playing in the famous “bruised banana” kit, a shellshocked Town were hammered by a rampant Man City, with three of their players (Paul Stewart, David White and Tony Adcock) getting hat-tricks. Cork remembers the game:
“As for the 10-1 loss, it was very embarrassing and suddenly all over the news! I took a lot of stick for it, mainly from my mates! It still makes the news occasionally, which gives my daughters a laugh…The FA Cup game against City two weeks later stands out more for me as we were winning 2-1, but a bad decision by the referee saw us draw 2-2 and eventually went out to them later on, losing 3-0.”
The 10-1 defeat did prompt an immediate reaction from the team, as they went unbeaten for the next three games, drawing one and winning the other two. Cork scored in the second game of that run, getting the first goal in 2-0 win over Bournemouth. In December, he scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Plymouth Argyle at Leeds Road, which saw the club move up to 21st in the league, the relegation play-off spot. (Between 1987 and 1989 the playoff system in The Football League saw semi-finals played between the three teams finishing below the automatic promotion places and the team finishing one place above the relegation zone in the division above).
Despite the positive result, an eight-match winless streak followed, with six of those being defeats. Hilariously, in a season where Town won just six games and after those eight winless games, Bradford City were defeated 1-0 at Valley Parade before another four consecutive losses. One final win came at the beginning of April, where Town beat Man City 1-0 with a Carl Madrick goal and after that, another winless run followed, seven games this time with six of them being losses.
Town were so bad they were relegated with four games to go and finished the season bottom of the table, 19 points adrift, 14 adrift of second bottom Reading and having conceded 100 goals. With one game remaining, Malcolm Macdonald left the club and was replaced by his assistant manager Eoin Hand. Hand would take charge of the final game of the season, a 2-0 loss against Sheffield United. Although he didn’t know it at the time it would be Cork’s final game in a Huddersfield Town shirt.
Despite many Town fans considering him one of the worst managers in the club’s history, Macdonald was incredibly popular with most of the playing staff. Cork is no different:
“Malcolm Macdonald was a really good coach; training was really good. He knew what needed doing to turn the club around but wasn’t given the time. It was a shock when he was suddenly sacked.”
Cork remained on the playing staff for the 1988-89 season but did not play a single game and was loaned out to Second Division West Bromwich Albion. The loan spell proved fruitless. He made just four appearances in his two-month loan spell at The Hawthorns. He returned to Leeds Road but was clearly not part of Eoin Hand’s plans.
Sadly, the final days of Cork’s time at Town don’t reflect too well on the club:
“When I left in 1989, I just wasn’t offered a new contract and was offered a contract at Preston. However, Town withheld my registration, meaning that I couldn’t leave. Eventually, I was given a free transfer.”
Cork had an unsuccessful trial at Norwich City before he signed for Mick Buxton’s Scunthorpe United towards the end of the 1988-89 season, where he helped them achieve a play-off place in the Fourth Division. He left the club at the end of the season and joined Darlington. He achieved two promotions in two years at Feethams, being part of the side that won the Football Conference in 1990 and the Fourth Division in 1991. After his departure in 1992, he had a brief spell at Boston United before calling time on his football career.
Cork later worked for Norking Aluminium in Doncaster but is now working for a paving company in Sheffield. He still resides in his hometown and both his daughters have followed in their father’s footsteps by playing football to a decent standard, plying their trade for Doncaster Belles, where their dad coached for a short while. Cork says he has “fond memories of my time at Huddersfield and still follow them now.”