Manchester born right back Sam Cookson began his footballing career playing for Stalybridge Celtic in 1914. During weekdays Cookson was a miner and worked down a pit. At the weekends he played football ‘purely for enjoyment’. The mine work endowed Cookson with a powerful physique ‘which sometimes proved deceptive to opposition forwards’. He subsequently played for Macclesfield Town in 1918 before joining First Division Manchester City in August 1919. His Football League debut followed in a 1-0 win over Bradford City in December 1919, Tommy Browell scoring the only goal of the game.
He would play for City until 1927, making 306 appearances overall. His only goal for the Manchester club came in a 3-3 draw with The Corinthians in a 1926 FA Cup tie. Cookson is often described as one of the best uncapped full backs of his generation. He formed a long-lasting defensive partnership with Eli Fletcher at City.
In the 1920-21 season, Cookson played all 42 games for Manchester City who came second in the League Championship, 5 points behind champions Burnley, which was City’s highest position in the League since the 1903-04 Championship season when City had a team which included Billie Gillespie, Frank Booth and Billy Meredith. Interestingly, the following season, the 1921-22 football season, Billy Meredith returned to Manchester City and played alongside Cookson on the right side of the City team. Cookson made 39 League appearances for Manchester City that season and City finished tenth in the league with 45 points.
In 1922-23 the City team was further enhanced by the acquisition of Frank Roberts from Bolton Wanderers. He joined a City attack which also included Horace Barnes and Tommy Johnson. The team finished eighth in the League, again with 45 points. In the 1923-24 season Manchester City moved to a new ground, Maine Road, and Horace Barnes scored the first goal at the new stadium in a 2-1 victory against Sheffield United on the opening day of the season. The team ultimately finished eleventh in the League with 42 points. The team were ultimately defeated in the FA Cup semi final by Newcastle United by two goals to nil at St Andrew’s, Cookson playing in all of City’s 8 FA Cup ties that season.
In the following season City’s defence was enhanced by the acquisition of Sam Cowan from Doncaster Rovers. Cookson made 37 appearances for City that season and the team finished in tenth place with 43 points. In 1925-26, Cookson was part of the Manchester City team which were relegated to the Second Division. Cookson would never appear in the First Division again. Cookson also played for City in the 1926 FA Cup Final at Wembley against Bolton Wanderers, but finished on the losing side, England international David Jack scoring the only goal of the game.
In 1926-27 City finished third in the Second Division, 8 points behind winners Middlesbrough. His final appearance for Manchester City came at Barnsley on Boxing Day 1927 in a season in which the club won promotion back to the First Division as Second Division Champions. Cookson subsequently joined Second Division Bradford Park Avenue in September 1928 where he played 5 seasons making 146 appearances for The Avenue, and he then joined Barnsley in October 1933. Despite a long and distinguished career, the only honour that Cookson won was gained at the age of 39, a Third Division (North) Championship medal with Barnsley in 1934 when he played 28 games in the triumph before retiring a year later after 32 appearances for The Tykes.
His brother Jimmy also played for Manchester City, where he didn’t make the first team, and later played for Chesterfield, Plymouth Argyle and West Bromwich Albion.