‘I was scared to go to sleep and I thought if I feel this bad I am not sure I want to wake up’: Shrewsbury manager Steve Cotterill opens up on bruising battle with Covid ahead of FA Cup trip to Anfield and reveals illness has changed his approach to life
- Steve Cotterill fell seriously ill with Covid last year and was in hospital twice
- Shrewsbury manager was in bed for 69 days out of 80 with coronavirus
- Cotterill has since become a vocal advocate of vaccinations and mask-wearing
- 59-year-old takes Shrewsbury to Anfield in the FA Cup third round on Sunday
Shrewsbury manager Steve Cotterill will allow himself time to soak up the sense of occasion at Anfield on Sunday and nobody can blame him after surviving 49 days in hospital fighting for his life against Covid.
‘I want to make sure I am in that technical area early enough to sample the unique atmosphere at Liverpool,’ says the 57-year-old who had been frightened to fall asleep in intensive care in case he never woke up again.
‘It’ll be my first time at Anfield as a manager. Liverpool are one of the great clubs. I watched them from my grandad’s sofa winning the European Cup with the Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness. It’s going to be special.’
Shrewsbury manager Steve Cotterill was seriously ill with COVID-19 a year ago
Cotterill first fell seriously ill a year ago and spent two separate spells in hospital until March.
Football isn’t a sentimental business but Shrewsbury’s League One players will be particularly fired up on behalf of their manager who remarkably continued to try to help the team during his own darkest days.
‘When he felt well enough, he was on the speaker phone, using every ounce of energy he had left from the fighting the virus to spur us on,’ says defender Matthew Pennington.
‘It showed us exactly what he’s like. He loves his football and even when he was struggling with his own health, he was trying to help the boys out to try and stay in the league, which we did.’
Cotterill lost a stone and a half and struggled to breathe after testing positive in January
The 57-year-old admitted he’d often still be wearing an oxygen mask when making notes
Cotterill admits he’d often still be wearing an oxygen mask when making notes about what to say.
‘I slept very little for weeks because of the amount of steroids I was having to take. I’d wake up after a doze and write some things down.
‘It was tiring but it helped me. It gave me focus. The only time I couldn’t help out was when I was in intensive care. Then it had to be: ‘You have to get on with it yourself boys.’
‘The rest of the time, I did what I could. It stimulated me and how the players responded, I owed it to them as well.’
Cotterill struggled to breathe and sleep and had two separate spells in hospital last year
The 57-year-old has since become a strong advocate for vaccinations and mask-wearing
Cotterill has since become a strong advocate for vaccinations and mask-wearing. He can’t forget how close Covid came to taking his life.
‘I was a bit scared to go to sleep one night,’ he admits. ‘The following night, I felt so poorly I did go to sleep thinking: ‘What’s the point in worrying? If I feel this bad I am not sure I want to wake up anyway’.
‘I had 69 days out of 80 in bed and I would class myself as someone who was fit and healthy, don’t smoke, don’t drink, didn’t carry any weight.
‘If I’d been vaccinated (Cotterill caught Covid before they were widely available) I would still have had to isolate but nowhere near as close to death as I was.’
Cotterill will visit Anfield for the first time as manager on Sunday afternoon in the FA Cup
Recovery has helped him try to reassess his priorities. He believes stress weakens the immune but avoiding it is not easy in a highly-pressurised industry.
He copes nowadays by going to bed at eight o’clock most nights. ‘I tend to get into work early at 7am and I’m fine during the day but in the evenings I end up nose-diving very quickly,’ he says.
‘I’m in bed by 8pm and by nine, I’m done. That habit of watching a film or football late at night is over. I need to get my sleep in. It’s an important part of my rehabilitation.
‘I wouldn’t say my work is any different but I probably get tired quicker and I’m aware when I need to rest.
Jurgen Klopp has been a vocal advocate of players getting vaccinated against coronavirus
‘My delegation skills have certainly got better. I still hop about on the touchline – I just go to bed earlier!’
Cotterill has great experience, managing 10 clubs and assisting Howard Wilkinson in the Premier League at Sunderland.
He has decent FA Cup memories of Liverpool, scoring against them for Wimbledon in 1993 and as Burnley manager upsetting Rafa Benitez’s team 1-0 in 2005.
Pennington also scored his first senior goal for Everton at Anfield in 2017, though Liverpool ran out 3-1 winners.
Liverpool will be without Sadio Mane (left) and Mo Salah (right) who are on AFCON duty
A Covid outbreak in Jurgen Klopp’s squad means the Premier League giants are likely to field a weakened team in Sunday’s FA Cup third round tie, particularly with Sadio Mane and Mo Salah away on international duty..
But it was a similar situation two years ago when the Premier League team still ran out winners. And Pennington isn’t ready to call his side favourites.
‘Would we fancy ourselves a bit more than if they had all the big-hitters? Probably. But equally it’s still a big challenge,’ he acknowledges.
‘We are away in front of a big crowd baying for blood. It’s not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination.
‘We’ve no idea which players Liverpool will have available. Normally our manager would run through the opposition individuals and team patterns but we haven’t been able to prepare that well this time.’
It’s typical of Cotterill that for all he’s been through, he’ll be more concerned about how his players fare on the big stage.
‘Some of them are younger than my children, they are like my sons. I am proud they are going to have this experience,’ he said.
‘What it’ll be like for me, I don’t really know to be honest other than I am really going to look forward to it.’
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