'The first of the watermelons' - David Hockaday reflects on short Leeds United stint under Massimo Cellino

DAVID HOCKADAY’S appointment as Leeds United head coach in June 2014 was a surprise to everyone, even him.

Monday, 17th August 2020, 11:45 am
Updated Monday, 17th August 2020, 11:58 am

Upon meeting Whites chairman Massimo Cellino in London, former Forest Green Rovers boss Hockaday thought he might be offered the role coaching United’s under-23s.

Possibly even the under-18s.

Instead, the following day, Hockaday was named United’s new head coach.

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LAST ACT: David Hockaday during his sixth and final game as head coach of Leeds United as the club exited the Capital One Cup at Bradford City. Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images.

The first of Cellino’s six watermelons with the former Whites owner likening his managerial appointments to the fruit.

“You only know (how good it is) when you open it.”

Just 70 days and six games later, Cellino was reaching for a new one with Hockaday sacked.

A different era to the now steady ship under owner Andrea Radrizzani as Cellino went through six coaches in less than two years.

But six years after becoming Whites head coach, Hockaday says his surprise appointment and swift sacking has had long lasting effects with the 62-year-old insisting he would probably turn down the role if presented another chance.

Reflecting on events in the summer of 2014 in an interview with Sky Sports, Hockaday recalled: “You get lots of wind up calls from friends, alleged friends in the game, and yet this one just had a ring of authenticity.

"Then a second phone call said ‘okay tomorrow can you be at a certain venue in London?’

“I turned up and in walks Cellino. We talked with pepper pots, salt pots, anything that was here, empty cups of coffee and we just talked football.

“I am thinking ‘okay I am not in a job at the moment, what’s he going to be interested in, potentially as an under-23s coach?’

"If he said under-18s I’m not too sure I’d be interested but under 23s coach, I get that.

“He says ‘I like you, I like the way you are thinking, I like the way you are answering the questions, I like the way you conduct yourself I’d like to offer you a job.’ He said ‘how would you like to be my head coach?’

“I have leaned back to have time to digest the information because I am going ‘wow.’

“I says ‘do you know what you are asking’, I say I am well respected in the game regarding coaches, I have got a good reputation but the fans won’t really have heard of me, some of the players won’t have heard of me, the media won’t have heard of me but you are setting yourself up for a lot of testing questions.’

“He said ‘I can handle that, can you handle that?’ The next day I got another phone call, can you meet up in Manchester so I have gone to Manchester.

“He says ‘it’s going to happen, you are my head coach’ and I am out in front of the cameras so I am the first of the watermelons, you don’t know what you are getting until you open it up and that’s how my brief affair with Leeds United started.”

Sixty nine days later, Hockaday’s Whites affair was over with Cellino swinging the axe after a 4-1 league defeat at Watford had been followed by a Capital One Cup exit at the hands of Bradford City. Hockaday was replaced by Darko Milanic - who himself also only lasted six games.

These days, following spells in charge of Coventry City and Kidderminster Harriers, Hockaday says he is quite happy now running a football Academy in Bristol but the effects of Leeds live on.

“It isn’t easy,” said Hockaday.

“Mental health now is a massive issue so it does affect you, it would affect anybody. More importantly, your loved ones suffer.

“They hear things, and things are said to them that you don’t hear and they can’t do anything about it. My wife, it’s tough for her, and my friends and family.

“A lot of punters say, ‘Get rid of him, get rid of him, get rid of him’, fine, they’re not interested in the ripple effect. Physically, I’m in a good place. Mentally, I think the scars are always there and they will heal to a degree.”

Assessing how damaging the Leeds episode had been to his reputation, Hockaday said: “I know that as a coach I floated their boat. I know that I have got a good reputation.

“Anybody who would go there and say what was David Hockaday like as a coach, I know that 99 per cent of the players of not 100 per cent would go good coach, good man, honest, hard working, everything that you would want to hear.

“So my reputation as a coach I would like to think would be fine. As a manager, at that level, did I go into the detail, could I have done more, yes I could have done more. You have got to find a way to do more. Would I take on that again, no, because that’s not me.

“Me is producing young players, me is going out and finding talent and producing these players.

“Would I ever turn it down? If something crazy came up then you would have to have a look at it but the chances are it would be a no.”

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Thank you Laura Collins