PAUL COOK is looking, registering, mentally making notes. No place is off limits when scouring for talent.
From the Liverpool Sunday League to the Evo-Stik League Northern Premier, the 48-year-old explores every nook.
It’s a recruitment path he has faithfully followed since his days as a player/coach at Accrington Stanley – leading him to Fratton Park this summer.
Gary Roberts from Sunday side Allerton was one of Cook’s greatest finds, but there have been plenty of others during managerial spells at Sligo and Chesterfield.
Encouragingly for Pompey fans, he’s still looking.
He said: ‘You have got to explore everything, look everywhere.
That’s what you do. To clear your head sometimes you just go and see lads playing on a field, walk over and watch the best teamPaul Cook
‘Me and John Coleman saw Gary Roberts play for a Sunday League team. We were standing on the sidelines together and genuinely said “Wow”, that is how good he was.
‘Then we checked his background and he was only knocking around playing for teams in the Welsh league. That’s football.
‘There were a lot of good players in the Liverpool Sunday League, some of them would be lads who had probably gone off the rails a little bit or done something wrong, although Gary certainly wasn’t a lad like that.
‘I’ve always felt it was a ground where you can pick players up.
‘At the time it would have been two of the better teams in Liverpool so you take the game in and it’s amazing what you can find.
‘That’s what you do. To clear your head sometimes you just go and see lads playing on a field, walk over and watch the best team.
‘Gary has an appetite for the game. A lot of lads who love football support football teams and you will find a lot of lads.
‘That is a quality I saw in Kal Naismith.
‘I was watching Fleetwood play Barnsley last season and Kal was sitting in front of me with a friend. I thought it was interesting that a player would be at another team’s game watching football.
‘To be fair to him and his mate they constantly spoke about the game – not to me – and had a valid interest. I think that is refreshing, if you have a love of the game you watch football.’
Certainly the summer arrival of Ben Tollitt was not a conventional route.
Yet Skelmersdale United has been a profitable source of players for Cook over the years.
He added: ‘Ben is an exceptionally talented young man, he is doing really well at the minute, he will find his way.
‘He was released by Everton and found his way into non-league with Skelmersdale, Tommy Lawson there produces players regularly so fair play to him.
‘Players come out of there too regularly, it’s not luck, obviously Tommy is very good at his job. They have played a massive part in other lads, Craig Noone, George Donnelly, there are other lads who have gone through that club.
‘Paul Mitchell, our chief scout at Chesterfield, said “Football pitches are normally the same size with goals on”. Well if lads do it on a certain pitch they can do it in front of crowds.
‘And Gary Roberts certainly is a perfect example of natural talent.’