‘I was thousands of miles away from home and not playing football’ – Former Ireland international Simon Cox

The car telephone crackled a little, but the voice of Simon Cox’s wife Samantha in the back seat was still strong enough to be heard.

I was not impressed,” she said, “As someone so private, I was surprised he went there. As he says himself, it wasn’t ideal. He’s done some growing up since then.”

The interview was not planned to involve more than Simon, the 30-times capped ex-Ireland striker, but that’s life as a parent to a toddler.

Samantha was responding to a question about Cox’s public outpouring following the pair’s split in 2019. The pair had been together for 14 years, but the player’s desire to start a family wasn’t shared by his then girlfriend.

“All of a sudden, that’s it,” Cox said in an interview two years ago. “Fourteen years, that’s a long time for her, for us. Now you’re (on) your own. Everything we’ve built together is gone. One of the sticking points was I wanted family, she works in London, she has an unbelievable career and is driven for that. You have to respect that.

“Life changes, and that scares the life out of me now. Whatever I do now, I’m not sharing it with anybody for the next however long, until I find somebody else maybe.”

He joked with team-mates about how unlikely it would be to find a future wife on Tinder, but thankfully he didn’t need to spend long swiping left or right.

The pair reunited in late 2019, and got married last summer. Following Cox’s spell in Australia with the Western Sydney Wanderers, they were reunited once more last month, with baby Ella-Rae for company.

But it wasn’t easy.

“She is in the back of the car now, and yes, that interview wasn’t ideal looking back,” Cox laughs, uncomfortably. “But now we’re at a place where we’re very happy, we got married last summer, so we can’t argue with where we’re at.”

Covid-19, as it has in so many other lives, threw a spanner in the works over the past few months.

Cox first went to Australia in January 2020, and welcomed Sam for a visit in February, but that was to be her only trip Down Under.

Simon flew back to England when the A-League season shut down last March, and only returned to Australia in July – by which time Samantha had become pregnant.

“We had to make a real tough decision, as a unit, where somebody was going to be unhappy. In the end, the call was for me to stay out there, because if I’d come back for the birth, I’d have had a lot of time in mandatory quarantine, and waiting for special dispensation to travel.

“Ella-Mae was meant to be born on Feb 11, but she came 15 days late, so it was a case every day, every evening, of waiting for the phone call to come.

“Then all of a sudden, she had to go in and get a C-section, and I woke up in the morning to a call to say they’re going in. I was straight on Facetime after training, when I got a call from Sam – and Ella-Mae was was in her arms. It was so surreal.

“You go from being a two into three, just like that.”

Mitchell Duke, a member of Australia’s Olympic soccer team, was living with Cox and experienced the very same life event weeks earlier with his UK-based partner.

“It was quite interesting, he went through the same process, so it was nice to have that to share – in a much as it could be nice … but it was tough, mentally, you have a job to do, to go in and apply yourself as best you can … on the whole it’s not something I’d recommend.”

As soon as Ella-Mae arrived, Cox’s game time with the Wanderers began to plummet.

“I was thousands of miles away from home, and not playing football, which is what I went over there to do in the first place,” he explained.

“The longer it went on, the more it seemed obvious to come home. I was waiting to see if we’d make the final series but as my game time went down, seeing how I was missing out on so much at home, the football became irrelevant.

“Had Covid not been an issue, I would have flown home to be there for the birth, and we’d have all enjoyed the beach lifestyle and travelled around Australia, but it wasn’t to be.

“I’m absolutely loving being a father, it’s been a dream of mine, and now you get to spend more time at home. But ultimately, I’m still only 34.” Cox completed his UEFA ‘A’ Licence last month, and is eager to push on in his pursuit of a coaching career. Ideally, a player-coach role would be forthcoming, and he’s already tapping into the little black book built up over his domestic and international career.

He’s waiting for a text back from John O’Shea, now at his old haunt Reading, while he’s spoken to a gaggle of former team-mates and managers.

“Combining playing and coaching would be ideal, and the way the EFL has gone in the last 12-18 months, with clubs tightening their belts, they might welcome someone who can do both, that might sit better now than before.

“It doesn’t have to be coaching in the first team, it could be an academy, the U-23s … I’m open to being a part of a unit.”

When elite players turn to coaching, they take with them a mental hard drive of lessons from former coaches, and Cox is no different. He’s worked under the likes of Alex McLeish, Steve Clarke, Phil Brown and Roy Hodgson at club level, but few names stand out on his CV as much as Giovanni Trapattoni.

All but three of his 30 caps came under the Italian, who took him to Poland for Euro 2012, and it’s fair to say Cox learned good and bad from the legendary coach.

“You’d take a lot from every coach, and a lot of things Giovanni did, like the passion he had for the game, you’d have to absorb that. Even at 70 he still had that in his veins, you could see that ahead of games.

“Compared to the Irish mentality, he was just so different … which also might have been one of the things that wore a bit thin.”

Watching team-mate Kevin Foley dumped from the Euros squad just days before kick off, was not appreciated by the Irish squad.

“That was hard to take, from a player’s point of view,” Cox admits. “As somebody who had been part of the squad, who went to Montecatini (Ireland’s pre-tournament base), to be dropped at the 11th hour, that was a tough one. You’d like to be open and honest as a coach, but that’s something that worked against him too, because of his poor English, he couldn’t communicate as well as

That’s not an excuse that could be offered up by Martin O’Neill, who abruptly ended Cox’s international career.

“I was brought on the end-of-season tour in America under O’Neill and thought ‘this is amazing, I might get another couple of years’ … because that wouldn’t have happened with Noel King,” Cox recalls.

“I was quite surprised, but then all of a sudden, after that tour, it just went downhill.

“There was no talk, nothing. I’d have loved a conversation with Martin or Roy (Keane) at the end of the tour, but it was just goodbye and it’s on your way ’til next time.

“When his next squad was announced, I never got a phone call. There was no ‘we like you, keep plugging away’. I never even got that.

“It was cold, but what can you do? That’s one of the lessons I’ve learned, it’s always good to maintain communication between players and management. If you’re going to leave them out, you can still keep players onside by talking.

“Roy Hodgson used to give everyone five minutes a day, no matter what. It was a wonderful personal touch. I think coaching comes down more to how you treat players than being a master tactician.”

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