Last night a remarkable event took place, a Question of Sport style panel show featuring former Imps, current Imps and at the centre of it all, Danny and Nicky Cowley.
The concept was the brainchild of LISA, the Lady Imps Supporters Association, and was a slick and professional event that highlighted everything good about Lincoln City right not. All around the room were displays from fans’ groups, from the 617 to the Trust, the FPS to Yours Truly. On stage, current heroes and past heroes faced off in a twelve (or eleven, I can’t remember) round battle between two incredibly competitive brothers.
It shouldn’t work, not really. There shouldn’t be enough personality in two managers to carry off such an event. Never before would this have been possible at Lincoln City, Tilson v Brush? No thank you. With Danny and Nicky it doesn’t just work, it seems that it was almost essential.
Danny’s team featured full-back Sam Habergham and for Imps’ captain Dean Walling. On Nicky’s side, keeper Josh Vickers and the reliable Steve Thompson. Between them there was humour, knowledge and most of all, rivalry.
It worked much like ‘They Think It’s All Over’ used to, a head to head romp through the serious, amusing and outright bizarre. Mixed in with a selection of football teasers (many of which were actually set by me) was rounds such as Feel the Imps and Cowley Uncovered. If you thought you were coming to watch a sport quiz, the sight of Danny and Sam Habergham blindfolded whilst feeling Danny’s Dad on stage would have quickly corrected you. Nicky and Josh put their blindfolds on and Nicky quipped ‘if this is my Mum you’d better watch your hands’.
I’ll be honest, I can’t recall all the rounds now. There was a cameo from the Imps Academy where two young players did keep-ups for a minute and whoever did the most won his side points. Leo and Tobias stepped up to the challenge, with our own Alex Woodyard counting. Poor old Alex wasn’t even on either team, but at every opportunity Danny made him the butt of the jokes. When they announced he had to count Danny said; “Oh no.” As if to play along with the joke, he got different totals to Chris Ashton both times.
There was a cracking round where young children described players in short snippets. After two clues Danny’s team had ‘he has a nice personality’ and ‘he’s friends with Alex Woodyard’. Danny looked in the front row at the players attending the event and said, “Sean Long and Alex are thick as thieves,” when the next clue suggested the subject had a strong tackle Danny jumped in; “I’m thinking it’s probably not Longy now,” then, “it might be Neal Eardley. I know Alex likes Neal but I don’t think Neal likes Alex.” When the final answer was revealed as Michael Bostwick, Danny chuckled. “Wait until I tell him he’s got to be friends with Alex Woodyard.”
The picture round threw up Ollie Palmer. “Where did he start his career?” was the question, to which Thommo nudged Nicky. “Come on, you signed him.” Quick as a flash, Nicky replied “I didn’t bloody sign him.”
My personal highlights of the event was probably around half time when it was announced the team trailing (Nicky) could swap a team member if he so desired. Danny immediately chimed in; “I’m not having Thommo.” It seemed to be for laughs, but there was a serious element in there. These two both wanted to win, at all costs.
Therein lies the evening’s innate beauty, the reason it worked so well. Danny and Nicky, as a team, are a wonderful combination and good cop, bad cop. They’re a fine blend of skills which compliment each other, almost thinking as one at times to the benefit of our club. Put them against each other and they’re like any other brothers’, bubbling with rivalry and a competitive edge. They’re also both witty and likeable guys, which carried the evening off even more.
About halfway through it hit me why not only the evening works, but why they’ve capture city’s imagination. This event shouldn’t have worked, not for one second. It certainly shouldn’t have attracted over 600 paying fans, packing out the Engine Shed, a venue usually reserved for bands and big-name comedians. It did work though because at the heart of everything we’ve experienced recently, are two blokes that are basically just like you and I.
Most of us have a brother or a sister and we can identify with that rivalry. I probably at my wittiest when I’m up against my brother at something, we’re the best of friends but we can turn being on the same team at Trivial Pursuit into a competition between the two of us. When I hear stories from Danny and Nicky’s past, broken fish tanks and house parties, I just see me and Paul, the same competition, the same outcomes, everything.
Then there’s the family element too. Tell me, when did you ever see David Holdsworth’s Dad being so approachable? That’s not a slur of his Dad, not at all, but everyone knows Steve Cowley, that stoic father figure that has driven his boys on with encouragement and critical assessment. Their Mum was there, a warm and proud matriarch, clearly always supportive of her ‘angels’. Both their partners were there and their kids too, they’re all very visible and very relatable. I didn’t see two football managers last night, I saw two brothers being afforded an opportunity to pit their wits against each other in front of a bumper crowd. I bet they loved it, I know everyone in the crowd loved watching it.
There’s too many highlights to keep going through them all, please do give it a listen on BBC Radio Lincolnshire when it is on. Maria Horner and Michael Hortin attempted to keep order throughout, managing it in the main and carrying proceedings along nicely. The voice cameo from Colin McFarlane is hilarious and not to be missed, one of the funniest things you’ll ever hear is Nicky and his team singing along to the Luke Waterfall song. It won’t be on the radio, that is for sure, but Colin took cool swearing to a whole new level last night.
It might not matter to you and I, but Danny won 48-44. That will matter to him, in a twist at the end their Mum gave the trophy to Nicky to pass to his brother. Of course, he did so with a smile but I wouldn’t bet against Cowley v Cowley II next year, giving Nicky a chance to win it back. I bet they’d welcome the chance to go head to head again, in fact I bet Nicky is already revising Imps record attendances or which club all of the current squad started out at as YTS players.
Off the stage, the event was a wonderful example of why this club is so very different at the moment. It was expertly managed by LISA, a supporters’ group that may be relatively new, but who have significantly impacted the Imps scene. The fact that so many different groups and faces were together under one roof highlights how together we should be as a club. This is Lincoln City, not arguing on social media or shouting as one set of fans leaves early, but together in supporting our club and highlighting the great work each and every one of us does. Whether it is singing on a match day, raising money for the FPS, displays or just going to games, we all have a part to play and last night, almost every section of our support was represented one way or another.
At the half time break I had a brief chat with a senior LISA member, it’d be remiss of me to mention her by name. We had a brief discussion about the negativity the group had received in the past and, being brutally honest, they have. I think some resented the ‘new kid on the block’, the group born out of last season’s success. “Hopefully people will see we are serious about the club and we can put on a professional event that everyone can enjoy.” They did that, and some. From the sets to the sounds, from the surprises to the layout of the hall, they got it right. Last night, LISA brought lots of Imps together as one. I know some of your cringe a bit at the ‘ImpsAsOne’ hashtag, at first I did too. Last night, it was the only thing that seemed apt.
The important thing was the money raised for the Imps’ charities. At first count they’d raised £7000, through my own donations of a percentage of takings from the night I know that’s now £7010 (every little helps, right?), but I’d expect that figure to creep up further. Every penny of ticket sales went into the pot thanks to the generous support from local businesses too. Imps as one, right there.
All in all last night was a great achievement by everyone concerned, a romp through Imps history for the geeks amongst us, slapstick for those who love the entertainment and a hat nod to everything good and great about our football club. You might never see the like of it again and in twenty year’s time, when Danny and Nicky are household names, we’ll be able to say we were there the night they both quipped their way through a couple hours of pure entertainment, for charity second but first and foremost, because it satisfied their sibling rivalry.
At least for now.
I think it pertinent to thank LISA for putting on such a unique and original event and for bringing so many people together under one roof to enjoy it. Personal thanks to Maria for twice mentioning me even though I just set a few questions, very honoured to have been a small part of such a great event.