NEW Somerset chief executive Lee Cooper has been talking about his long association with the club and passion for cricket.
Having taken over from Guy Lavender, who left during the week to take up a similar role with the MCC, 37-year- old Cooper is intent on fulfilling a schoolboy dream that looked to have been shattered when he narrowly failed to make the grade as a Somerset player.
His target when representing the club as a youngster was one day to help win trophies. Now that is top of his priorities again in a key off-the-field role that will heavily influence the future at the County Ground.
Cooper explained: ‘My first association with Somerset was as a spectator and supporter from the age of about six when my dad took me to watch games.
‘Soon after that I received my first coaching at the club from Dennis Breakwell in the old indoor school at weekends.
‘That led to being selected for Somerset’s under-11 side as an all-rounder. As the years went by I became more of a batsman.
‘It was my sporting dream as a boy to play for the first team. As it turned out, I played from under-11 right through to Under-19s, with some 2nd XI appearances, while representing the West of England and England Under-15s.
‘My only goal at that point was to be a professional cricketer. I come from more of a rugby family, but my brothers Jack and James also played cricket through the Somerset age groups.
‘James didn’t get as far as the 2nd XI, but at one time he was sharing the wicket-keeping role with Jos Buttler until one advanced somewhat quicker than the other!’
The main player to graduate into the first team from Cooper’s age group was Matt Bulbeck, the talented left-arm seamer whose career was cruelly shortened by in- jury. He was one of Lee’s best mates at school.
‘My hero was Brian Lara,’ said Cooper. ‘One day Matt was bowling to him at Taunton and I was supposed to be sitting an A-level.
‘I couldn’t leave the ground until either Lara was out or Matt was taken out of the attack. Fortunately Matt got him out and I legged it back to Taunton School for the exam, arriving half an hour late.’
Cooper’s dream of playing for Somerset looked set to come true when he scored a double hundred for the under-19s against Northants, finishing 225 not out at Lansdown Cricket Club.
‘At the time it was the highest score ever made in the youth team,’ he said. ‘Tom Abell has since bettered it with a triple century.
‘Off the back of that I played 2nd XI cricket at the end of the season, but the following summer I was horribly out of nick and couldn’t get a run for anyone.
‘That was my season of opportunity. After seven or eight games I was dropped and at the age of around 19 or 20 I decided to get a job.
‘I also went to Durham University, purely because it was a First Class cricket county, but when my playing career stalled I left after a year to start a career in financial services.’
Since then it has been suc- cess all the way for Cooper. ‘Initially I worked for HSBC Bank and then for a firm called First Financial Group where I became a director in 2003,’ he said.
‘I left in 2008 to set up my own business, Cooper Associates, which at that time was just me and my personal assistant. Since then we have grown considerably and have something like 60 members of staff.
‘We have recruited a number of past professional cricketers from Somerset, such as Kevin Parsons and Carl Gazzard, and run an academy to train our own advisors.’
Cooper Associates are, of course, Somerset’s ground sponsors, which Lee accepts was always going to have some supporters suspicious about the motives behind his appointment.
He said: ‘A theme running through the questioning in the interview process for the chief executive’s job was my association with one of Som- erset’s major sponsors.
‘It was a concern for the club that the perception might be I was appointed for that reason.
‘I countered any suggestion of that being a problem in two ways. Firstly, the fact that my company bought the naming rights for the County Ground showed a loyal support for the club.
‘Secondly, my association with Somerset goes back long before my business relationship with them. I fully understand the club.
‘It’s a fair question about being a sponsor. But there were 160 applicants for the chief executive’s job and the process that led to my appointment was very thorough.
‘I think it was my passion for the club that stood out perhaps from the other candidates.’
Unlike his predecessor, Cooper has no aspirations to work in cricket at a higher level.
‘The job is not a platform for me to launch into something else like joining the ECB or MCC,’ he said. ‘I will remain in the role for as long as I am wanted and then revert back to my business.
‘I am Taunton-born and my family are happily settled in the town so I have no desire to move elsewhere.
‘My wife Lisa and I have two children, William, who is nine, and Harry, who is 18 months old. It sounds like the royals, but we had planned to name our second child Thomas and then realised he would have been Tommy Cooper!
‘Having spent my life hearing banter about my name because of Lee Cooper jeans, we decided Harry was a better option’