Tommy Cooke was for a time “printer’s devil” to Norwood triple premiership player Dick Coonan at The South Australian Register newspaper office. The story goes that they went to see Norwood play one day and the team was a player short. Tommy was asked to fill the gap. He did, and so began a fruitful football career with three clubs over the next decade.
Tommy kicked a goal in that first game as an inaccurate Norwood opened the 1883 season with a 3.18 to 0.2 thumping of the fledgling North Adelaide team at Adelaide Oval. When the same teams met a month later, Tommy marked a pass from Steve McKee some distance out and kicked nicely for the first goal of the match. Norwood won 4.11 to 1.4 on its journey to its sixth successive premiership. Tommy may have played more than those two games but there are no records to show if he did.
Tommy switched to North Adelaide in 1884 and was one of the struggling team’s stalwarts. He was influential when North scored its only win for the season, upsetting Norwood 4.4 to 2.10 at Kensington Oval on 13 September.
Tommy found his football home at South Adelaide. Fast and determined, he played several positions but shone as a nuggety defender between 1885 and 1895, missing 1894. He played at least 108 games, kicked 15 goals and celebrated South premierships in 1885, 1892, 1893 and 1895.
A gentleman on and off the field, Tommy played for the love of the game. "In those days we bought our own boots and paid our own fares," he told the Sport newspaper in 1926. He said his workmate in the Register machine room, Dick Coonan, a Norwood premiership player in 1880, 1881 and 1882, was the grandest specimen of an athlete that he ever saw, “a ball of muscle and beautifully built”.
Tommy may well have been the Thomas Henry Cooke who was born in Adelaide on 31 August 1865, the third of five children of Thomas and Ann Cooke. He married Catherine Moyle in 1884 and they had a daughter, Mary Elizabeth. He died at the age of 71 at his residence at 250 Carrington Street, Adelaide, on 20 July 1936, and was survived by his widow, Adelaide. He is buried at West Terrace Cemetery.
P. Robins, D. Cox March 2023
*For the picture we thank South Adelaide football historian Peter Cochinos