Barnsley born left half Joe Cockroft started his football career playing for Yorkshire Paper Mills in 1927, Ardsley Athletic in 1928, and Wombwell in 1929, before joining Rotherham United in February 1931, for whom he made his Football League debut that April against Hartlepools United, scoring in a 1-1 draw. But with opportunities limited and after only 3 first team appearances during 1931 he returned to non league football later in 1932 with Gainsborough Trinity before moving to West Ham United, then of Division Two, in March 1933, signed by Charlie Paynter after a month’s trial. Cockroft made his West Ham debut on 14th April 1933, having made just four reserve appearances for the club. Drafted in after injuries to first-choice left halves Albert Cadwell and Joe Musgrave, he made the position his own and rarely missed a game up to the outbreak of World War Two. Indeed he was an ever present in the team for the 1933-34, 1934-35, 1935-36 and 1936-37 seasons making 217 consecutive appearances through to April 1938.
Although Cockroft played as a left half, he often switched positions with Len Goulden during matches to dumbfound oppositions. He also played in the Football League War Cup winning side of 1940, beating Blackburn Rovers 1-0 at Wembley. But unlike Goulden he didn’t return to Upton Park after the War and his West Ham appearance tally totals 264, scoring 3 times.
During the War, he guested for Sheffield Wednesday as direction of labour laws compelled his employment at a steelworks in Sheffield. He went on to join the Second Division club after hostilities ended in November 1945. Cockroft spent almost three years at Hillsborough after the War, making a total of 97 appearances in all competitions, scoring twice and missing only one game in 1947-48. He moved across the steel city and joined First Division Sheffield United in November 1948, but left a year later to take on the manager’s role at Wisbech Town after 14 appearances for The Blades, and he later played for Goole Town in 1950.