Maurice Cox was born in October 1959 in the seaside town of Torquay. His father, Geoff Cox, had enjoyed an 18-year professional football career playing on the wing for Birmingham City and Torquay United, clocking in over 350 games.
Geoff would continue to play for Bridgwater Town and Welton Rovers as an amateur as his career wound down and even had a taste of European football earlier in his career when he played in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup for Birmingham against Inter Milan in 1956.
Football or Academia?
It’s fair to say that his son was interested in football from an early age and as a youngster was already playing competitive football:
“From the age of 11 up to 18, I played competitively representing the school, the county, England U18 Schoolboys and the Torquay United youth and reserve teams.”
Not only was he pretty good on the football field, but Cox was also equally adept in the classroom. A footballer with brains!
“I was also lucky enough to be gifted academically and attended Torquay Boys Grammar School. In 1978, I was successful in obtaining a place to study Modern & Medieval Languages at Christ’s College Cambridge.”
Being good at both academia and football led to a dilemma for Cox. Having already played football at youth and reserve level for his hometown club, he was offered professional terms at Plainmoor:
Torquay United vs Cambridge University
“To make matters more complicated, I also received an offer from Torquay United to turn professional once school was finished. So as you can imagine I had a difficult choice to make! With the benefit of hindsight I believe I made the correct choice by deciding to go to Cambridge and obtain a degree. Torquay United were very understanding and left the door open for me, if I were still interested in turning pro after University.”
Cox went on to study at Cambridge and even found time to break into the first team at Torquay during his studies, making his debut in November 1979 and then appearing occasionally after that during the rest of the season.
“As it happens, it was during my first year at Cambridge that I made my league debut playing for Torquay against Scunthorpe United, scoring a goal in a 2-2 draw. During the rest of my time at University, I played around 15 more league games and finally signed as a professional for Torquay prior to the 1981-82 season.”
Having made his debut during the 1979-80 season, and then becoming a regular towards the end of 1980-81, Cox remained in the side after turning professional in the pre-season of 1981-82. However, after playing 62 games and scoring 13 goals, the club told him that he could leave on a free transfer at the end of 1981-82.
“To be honest, I felt I had been hard done by and started to look for another club. The early 80s were a trying time for English professional football clubs and in particular those in the lower divisions. As a result, many pros had been laid off and were without a club. It was a very difficult time to find another potential home.”
Moving to Huddersfield
After a few failed attempts at finding a new club, Cox was offered a lifeline by Town.
“I received a call informing me that Town were interested in inviting me for a two-week trial period and asked if I would be up for it. I said yes for the simple reason that I felt I hadn’t been treated fairly by the then Torquay United management team of Frank O’Farrell and Bruce Rioch (yes two illustrious names!) and that I believed I was capable of playing professional football at a decent level.”
Cox wasn’t just confident in his own abilities; he was aware of Town’s history and the fact that they were a Third Division club (one division higher than Torquay) at the time and jumped at the chance of playing at Leeds Road:
“Not to mention the chance of playing in a higher division for a historical club and what’s more in the hotbed of English football. Remember, I was coming from the sleepy South West, where football was not top priority!”
He joined Town in August 1982 , first playing during the pre-season of 1982-83, including a behind closed doors friendly against First Division Sheffield Wednesday. A memory from that day involving Micky Kennedy sticks in Cox’s mind to this day:
“The game was played in the afternoon of a midweek day. I remember myself and Mick Kennedy being driven to the game by Mark Lillis to the tune of the recently released Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners. It’s funny how such small details stick in your mind!
Anyway, Kennedy was a particularly hard tackling midfield player who was later sold to Middlesbrough in the First Division. That day, he was up against Gary Megson, a fine midfielder with a lot of First Division experience, who I knew from his Plymouth Argyle youth team days.
The game started and after 10 minutes, Mick had kicked Megson halfway round Hillsborough, at which point Jack Charlton, from his viewing point high up in the main stand, in his inimitable Geordie accent stood up and shouted, If you don’t get that dirty bastard off the pitch now, I’m calling the game off!"
After featuring in some of the other friendlies over pre-season, including one at Leeds Road against Barnsley, Cox was in the starting line-up for the first game of the 1982-83 season, a home fixture against Exeter City. In those days, the line-ups would appear in the programme before the game but they weren’t always accurate. Cox’s inclusion was a surprise as the programme had listed Tim Hotte in his position.
If the Town fans weren’t aware of Maurice Cox before the game, they certainly were by the end of it. It was to be a dream debut for him as he scored in a 1-1 draw with The Grecians, heading in the opening goal just 10 minutes into his first competitive game for the club. He still has good memories of the match:
“I remember playing in the opening game of the season against Exeter and scoring our goal in the 1-1 draw. The crowd reaction was incredible. It was as though I had been playing for Town forever and was immediately a hero for having scored on my league debut. I was substituted after around 70 minutes and received a standing ovation I shall not forget.”
It didn’t end there either as Town fans seemed to instantly take Cox to their hearts and he received a similar reception the following day.
“Following the game, I spent Saturday night in Leeds with friends before returning to the family whose guest I was, on the outskirts of Huddersfield, which seemed like classic Last of the Summer Wine territory! When I got back, the head of the house was waiting to accompany me to the pub next door. When we entered, I received another ovation similar to the one from the previous day. That experience has stuck in my mind to this day.”
His second competitive game for Town came in the League Cup against Doncaster Rovers, another 1-1 draw, with Mally Brown getting the goal. The week after, Town travelled to the Racecourse Ground to play Wrexham and Cox was in the side once again, playing the full 90 minutes. Thanks to a Philip Bater own goal, Town drew 1-1 for the third game running.
The following game saw Town travel to Bramall Lane to take on Sheffield United in a midweek tie. Cox remembers it well:
“Several things have stayed with me. The police escort from the motorway into Sheffield, the Town fans cheering us as our coach pulled into the ground, the 20,000 crowd (by far the largest I had played in front of) and last but not least Terry Curran, an extremely accomplished player, scoring both goals in a 2-0 defeat and then turning up in the clubhouse afterwards wearing a bright yellow suit!”
Cox would play one final game for Town, coming on as a substitute for Roy Greenwood in a 2-2 draw with Walsall at Leeds Road before spending some time out of the side after suffering from an injury. Town were in the bottom three at the time and didn’t win a game until the sixth game of the season. By this time, Cox had spent time out of the first team picture, and this coincided with Town starting to pick up some points and climb up the table.
Falling Out of Favour
It was around this time that Cox decided to speak with manager Mick Buxton about his situation. As a relatively late starter in the game—he was now 22 years old—he was starting to wonder about his long-term future, especially as he had a degree in his hand from Cambridge University and his contract situation wasn’t exactly secure.
"The facts of the matter are these: on the one hand, here I was doing what I’d always wanted to do, playing professional football for a great club; and on the other hand, I had a degree from one of the finest universities in the world. Perhaps more crucially, following the initial trial period, Town had only been able to offer me a weekly contract.
I was 22 years old and started to be concerned as to how I was going to achieve the financial stability that my family alone couldn’t give me, not to mention more certainty regarding my immediate and long-term future. I was 22 years old and starting to fret.
I had begun the season well with Town, playing in most of the first half dozen league and cup games and scoring a couple of goals. At that stage, despite being in the bottom three, it was evident to all that we were a very good side. Then I picked up an injury and was unable to play for a couple of weeks during which time, the team’s fortunes started turning for the better.
At this point, I made a decision and went to see Mick Buxton and gave him an ultimatum of sorts. I asked him to give me at least a one-year contract or else I would be leaving. He said that he was unable to accommodate my request due to the very limited funds available at the club. I like to think he was being honest with me, although the arrival of another striker on loan from Liverpool did put doubts in my mind."
The striker Cox refers to is Colin Russell, who signed for Town in September and had made his debut in a 2-0 win over Oxford United, where he’d scored both goals. He would go on to score 17 goals that season.
After finding out about his decision to leave the club, John Haselden asked him to change his mind:
“Shortly after talking to Mick, I recall John Haselden coming to me and asking me to reconsider. His view I had the ability to make it. Nevertheless, I stuck to my decision and left the club soon after. Of course, Town promptly went and won promotion that year!”
Despite ultimately leaving the club shortly after that exchange with Buxton, Cox has nothing but fond memories of his time playing under him and John Haselden:
“I have positive memories of the two. Training sessions were always varied and well thought out, an important factor if you consider the number of sessions that any squad of players have to do together.
I remember Mick gaining respect, not by shouting and screaming, although he of course could do that too, but by convincing the players of his methods and leadership qualities. John Haselden’s coaching was modern and probably ahead of its time. Overall, compared to my previous experience at Torquay, I look back on the albeit short period I spent at Town with fond memories.”
He also has good memories of playing at Leeds Road:
"I arrived in Huddersfield from the sleepy seaside town of Torquay, where the interest in football was relatively limited and the Fourth Division home crowds were small, on average 2500-3000. So, you can imagine what it was like to play at Leeds Road in front of three or four times that number.”
It wasn’t just the number of fans attending—home crowds of 8000-9000 were probably a far cry from the previous First Division heyday at Town—but rather the passion with which they cheered on the team.”
No Regrets: Leaving Football
After just a couple of months at Huddersfield Town, Cox left towards the end of September 1982 and thus left professional football behind for good.
“After leaving Town, I returned to live with my parents in Torquay. Whilst sending off my CV to various firms in the City of London, I signed semi-pro terms with Falmouth Town where I played for the rest of that season. I found a job pretty quickly in the reinsurance industry and moved to London in August 1983.
I lived and worked in London until May 1989, when I received a job offer from an Italian company and promptly moved to Rome. I am 40 years into my professional career and now working for the AON Group (famous ex sponsors of Man Utd) in a senior executive role. I am married with a daughter of 28 and living in Rome and like so many ex footballers, my sport these days is golf!”
Cox expresses absolutely no regrets:
“Notwithstanding the fact that Town went on to win promotion from Division 3 that year, with the benefit of hindsight I showed great maturity in making the decision to quit. It was the right thing to do and I have no regrets. I always wanted to try to make a career out of professional football as my father had done, and I had tried! As you can see, I have many mostly happy memories from my time at what was and continues to be one of England’s most prestigious clubs.”
Before his time with Town, he was also involved in some history of his own while at university when. Whilst playing for the Cambridge University Varsity side against Oxford University at Wembley Stadium in 1980, he wrote himself into the history books:
“I believe I still hold the record for the fastest ever goal scored at the old Wembley Stadium in 1980. If memory serves, the headlines the next day put the time of the goal somewhere between 12 and 18 seconds. I suppose Warhol was right when he said everyone has his 15 seconds of fame, although I prefer to consider my two months spent at Town as my real and only moment of renown.”
Although neither the original Wembley Stadium, nor Leeds Road are still standing, no one can ever take away those special moments from Maurice Cox.