In May 2012, two long time supporters of the club finally decided to take on the daunting proposition of building, maintaining and growing a website that would document the vibrant history of Stevenage FC in words and pictures, after years of talking about the possibility.
One of the key decisions made in May was to include ex-player interviews at the centre of what we were trying to achieve. At that point, it was very unclear how easy it would be to track down and get agreement from players to undertake an interview with a website which at that stage simply didn’t exist bar in the heads of the two founders.
In late June, discussions opened up with a number of ex-players, Mitchell Cole being one of them. Mitch from the first approach was very enthusiastic and supportive of the venture and quickly agreed to be a guinea pig for the site.
By late August, following numerous interactions with Mitch, the website had gleaned some great quotes and insights into his career and with his knowledge put this information on the backburner to concentrate on building the site and to gathering base historical information to enable a credible launch.
In late October, the site was launched and a rough release schedule indicated the interview with Mitch would be written up towards the end of the year.
The sudden passing of Mitch on December 1st was a shock and deeply saddened everyone. It was with great sadness that the history site didn’t manage to write up the interview before his untimely passing or to personally thank Mitch for taking a leap of faith, in taking the time to talk to a still to be created website.
In tribute to Mitch, the website has now completed the interview and with the full knowledge and permission of his family, the interview as originally intended now will grace the pages of the history website. Thank-you Mitch.
Mitch Started his playing career with Norwich City’s centre of excellence based in Potters Bar, and was there between 2001 and 2003 before moving on to join West Ham United in their famous academy. “I signed a 3 year pro contract at West Ham and was on the verge of breaking into their first team when I was stopped because of my heart condition. West Ham weren’t confident enough in the condition to allow me to play on.”
After being released by the Hammers, Mitch was immediately picked up by then Conference South outfit Grays Athletic – spending the 2004/2005 season at the Essex club.
Mitch had a successful season playing under Mark Stimson (Stimmo) helping Grays achieve promotion from the Conference South to the Conference National, appearing 35 times and scoring 5 goals in the process. He also picked up his first FA Trophy winning medal at Villa Park as Grays Athletic beat Hucknall Town on penalties.
Mitch’s impact at Grays didn’t go unnoticed by near neighbours Southend United, who signed Mitch in the 2005/2006 pre-season. Mitch featured 31 times in his first season scoring just the one goal against fellow Essex outfit Colchester United as Southend were promoted to the Championship.
If the first season was to prove a success, the 2006/2007 season in the Championship was a huge disappointment for Mitch with him only appearing a couple of times before eventually going on loan to Northampton Town, appearing 8 times for the Cobblers and netting once.
“I was at Southend for 18 months and pretty much a regular in the League 1 Champions season but after a falling out with Tilson at the start of the Championship season, I found it difficult to get a place in the team.”
Mitch made the decision to move from Roots Hall and ultimately to drop down again to Conference level with Stevenage Borough – completing his move to Broadhall Way in January 2007.
Mitch had a number of options but commenting on his decision it was clear that an ex-manager of his was an important factor. “Stimmo didn’t really need to big up the club too much. I knew Stimmo personally and loved his style of play and management.”
“Stimmo was my manager at Grays Athletic and he got the best out of me. He was the major factor in me dropping 3 divisions to play in the Conference again. I think looking in from the outside it seems like a big jump backwards, but I never saw it that way. I had League offers, but Stimmo sold it to me.”
Mitch scored 22 times in Boro colours but had difficulty in remembering his first goal when questioned. “Cor, I wish my memory was that good but unfortunately it’s not and I couldn’t tell you who my first goal was against. It might be a question for a die-hard Boro fan or a history website! Let me know when you find out!”
His first goal came in a thrilling 4-4 draw against Forest Green Rovers at the Lawn in April 2007. He made his debut in a 1-1 draw with Ebbsfleet United a few months earlier in late January.
Mitch was not so reticent when asked about his most memorable game in a Boro shirt and his answer was not surprising. “It’s gotta be the trophy final against Kiddy! First cup final at the new Wembley, then to be 2-0 down at halftime and for me to score the first goal in the comeback! To play at Wembley like many kids was a childhood dream of mine!”
Boro of course completed a fantastic comeback, winning the Trophy 3-2 in front of a crowd of 53,262 people.
The Boro team spirit was always evident at Boro according to Mitch, with some great players in the team over the seasons he spent at Broadhall Way. After some persuasion, Mitch picked Andy Drury as the best player he played alongside at Boro. “Dukes was probably the best player I played with technically. He could do things that would leave your jaw open, but to be honest the list could go on for a while – there has always been a very strong squad at Boro.”
The Conference is of course a National League which involves a fair amount of travelling and overnight stays. “I never had a set roommate at Boro. It changed from week to week until I eventually roomed on my own! Think the boys got sick of my snoring – apparently like sleeping next to a revving Ferrari to quote Bridgo!”
Boro had 3 managers whilst Mitch was at Boro – Mark Stimson, Peter Taylor and Graham Westley.
“Each manager had their own style of play and management. It would be unfair to compare them because like you said in your question, they are all successful managers in their own right. Each of them had their own methods and each can show that their methods can work.”
Mitch picks Leicester City in the 2008/2009 FA Cup as being the best team he faced in a Boro Shirt – A game Boro lost 3-0 at the Walkers Stadium. “They were well organised and a very talented team.”
Talking about his wider career, unsurprisingly Mitch picks another memorable game from his early playing days. “West Ham when I was at Oxford in the Carling Cup – It really is a different world the higher you go up the Leagues” The U’s lost the game 1-0 at Upton Park in the 2010/2011 season.
Reflecting on his time at Boro, Mitch commented that “a winning mentality is really bred into the club and any new players that come in recognise this too and raise their standards accordingly. To be honest the success achieved by the club is no surprise – perhaps I was more surprised that Boro never got promoted again. I just never expected them to lose no matter who the opposition was.”
Mitch obviously had great affinity with the club even after leaving. He was often seen at Broadhall Way walking up and down in front of the main stand and around the tunnel area. “Whenever I’m back at the club I always have so many people to say hello to, staff, players and fans alike. It’s a very friendly club and will always be a very special place for me.”
Mitch scored a couple of hat tricks whilst playing for Boro, the most memorable being a quick fire 3 goals in 7 minutes in an away game at Eastbourne as Boro crushed their opponents 0-6 in their Conference Championship winning year. The hat trick is even more eye catching as Mitch was a substitute, only joining the game in the 71st minute! Commenting on that game Mitch said “that was a special 10 minute period, the ball just kept falling right for me…..not bad hey?”
When asked how he would like his playing days at Broadhall Way to be remembered, Mitch said “I’d like to be remembered as a very quick and skilful player with an eye for goal!” We are sure that no Boro supporter would disagree with his assessment.
All footballers have frustrations in their playing career and Mitch was no exception. When asked what these were whilst at Boro, he replied without hesitation that “my biggest frustration was always my fitness. No matter how hard I trained my body was at a level and couldn’t get any fitter. After learning more about my heart condition, I now know that this is the reason why.”
Mitch also enjoyed success at international level. Upon his initial call-up from Paul Fairclough to the England C squad at the age of 17, Mitch first represented his country in the Four Nations tournament in 2007.
He very quickly made an impact, scoring a hat-trick in the opening game against a Republic of Ireland XI (a game with England went on to win 5-0). At the time of writing, Mitch is the last player to have scored a hat-trick for the C side. Mitch also went on to bag a further goal against Wales, finishing as the tournament’s top scorer with 4 goals and lifting the Four Nations silverware.
Mitch’s international goal scoring run continued with goals against Finland C, Wales XI and Gibraltar. His seven goals for England C make him the second top scorer for the side.
Mitch’s Boro career came to an end with a move to Oxford united completed in the summer of 2010.
|Name||Mitchell James Cole|
|Place of Birth||London|
|Nick Name||“Just the standard nickname for the surname Cole – Coley”|
|Boro Career||2006/2007, 2007/2008, 2008/2009, 2009/2010|
|Boro Shirt Number||“I was number 11 when I first signed but when Graham Westley came in, due to a mix up and lack of communication over the summer my number was changed to 21. I’ve never been too fussed what number was on the back of my shirt as long as I was in the team”|
|Superstitions||“Nope I never had any superstitions, I just prepared properly before hand with nutrition and hydration and then hopefully let my ability take care of the rest”.|
|Influence of career||“Peter Brabrook, my West Ham u17 manager. He made me into a very decisive player and drilled into me that 1v1 against any full back they would have a very tough time dealing with my pace if I was direct.”|
In February 2011, Oxford United confirmed that Mitch was to retire from professional football due to a pre-existing heart condition. It was a promising professional career that was sadly and prematurely halted with the player aged just 25. Mitch appeared in Oxford colours just 4 times.
Mitch went on to appear for Stotfold (2 appearances), Hitchin Town (11 appearances), Biggleswade Town (6 appearances) and Arlesey Town (10 appearances), still managing to find the net 3 times during this period.
Reflecting on his playing career post Boro, Mitch commented “Oxford was the last point of my professional career but after sitting at home for 7 months I missed the game so much. Knowing I couldn’t play at the level I wanted to hurt, but I still wanted to kick a ball about which led to me playing for the other teams where the fitness level wasn’t so demanding. I realised before the end of the season that it wasn’t the same feeling I used to get and I knocked it on the head for good.”
Mitch moved into the world of football agency with Skillequal Limited. This gave Mitch another view of the game he loved so much. “I, like most players, had an agent while playing and once I retired the agency reworked things in the office and made space for me to come onboard. So I’m very thankful to them for that. It gives me a very different outlook on the game – although I had a slight heads-up because I know the sort of things I used to ring about as a player.”
On 17th March 2012 the shocking scenes at White Hart lane surrounding Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest finally convinced Mitch that he should “hang up his boots.” At the time, Mitch appeared on a number of television discussions surrounding heart defects in the young generally and sportsmen specifically – and he gave numerous press interviews to raise awareness of his own and other allied heart conditions.
Later that same month, Mitch decided to become an ambassador for the CMA (Cardiomyopathy Association). “I wanted to get involved with the CMA which is a charity that helps families with both physical and mental support after diagnosis of the condition.”
In a press release in March 2011, the CMA were pleased to announce that “professional footballer Mitchell Cole, who has had to retire from the game because of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, is to support the work of the Cardiomyopathy Association – Mitchell will be helping the CMA to raise awareness of cardiomyopathy and the work of the charity, and supporting fundraising projects. The same release quotes Mitch as saying “The CMA provides a valuable service to people affected by cardiomyopathy and their families and I’m very happy to help in any way I can.”
The shocking news of Mitch’s passing on 1st December 2012 at the young age of 27 and the impact on those that knew and supported him at Boro was best summed up by the Stevenage chairman Phil Wallace who said at the time;
“It’s such a sad, tragic loss of a young life. Mitch was a key figure for us in the seasons that saw us enjoy a lot of success.” said Wallace.
“We all knew of his condition but it’s simply devastating that a young man with such spirit is taken from us so suddenly. Our hearts go out to his family and also to the players and management that worked with him at Stevenage in his three years with us.”
On a personal note whilst compiling this interview, I was told that I would need to undergo two routine but invasive heart procedures. I was very worried and being a coward found it hard to come to terms with the fear that I was feeling. I mentioned it to Mitch as I thought he would understand.
The time Mitch took to discuss my worries I will always appreciate, he relaxed me and even made me laugh at my worries. A couple of days before my second operation Mitch sent me a text saying “there is no point in worrying mate, it will only make you feel worse – what will be will be.”
This in my mind is the true mark of the man, he made time for me – I cannot claim to have been his friend, just a long time Boro supporter that happened to get to know him and him me a little better for a brief time – A top man, who I will never forget because of his time playing for the team I love and the compassion he showed me when I was at my lowest ebb – cheers Mitch.
RIP Mitchell Cole 1985-2012
One of the good guys