I’ve spent the last hour sorting through old programmes and listening to the Danny interview on Hope and Glory.
If you haven’t listened to it, I’d recommend doing so. It’s just over an hour long and will take you on a roller coaster ride through the last three years. It’s available here, so go and get it, then come back to me.
I’m going to confess I was a little apprehensive about listening. The whole situation around Danny leaving is still very raw for me and for a lot of fans. Some, as we know, have acted with that anger you’d expect from a break up of a relationship. ‘I never loved her anyway…’, you know the sort of thing that comes out. I bore no malice to Danny or Nicky when they left, of course, I hurt but I’m long enough in the tooth to know nothing is cut and dried. There is no black and white, not in situations like this. Those three years under DC were tremendous, memories I’ll take to my grave. Trophies, finals, cup runs, pride… who doesn’t want that? I don’t care what anyone says, even those who feel the need to (still) criticise on social media, those memories are life-changing.
Do I think Danny and Nicky were the only reason we enjoyed those times? No, of course not. Chris Moyses before them put the foundations in place, Bob then Clive steered the club through with an ever-increasing array of talent on the board and players win games, so it was a team effort. Do I think we’d have gone on the cup run and won three trophies in three years without them? No. They were the catalysts to success, not the sole reason we enjoyed it, but the front-facing image we all identified with and with plenty of influence and impact behind the scenes.
I get goosebumps when I see Nathan going through against Ipswich, I feel a little choked when I recall the Macclesfield game and even MK Dons away gives me immense joy looking back. I respected Danny and Nicky, I still do, and whatever happened in September, happened. I’m not naive enough to think I know the full story, but I do believe I know a little more about it than most. I have spoken to Danny, at length, since he left and some of his rhetoric form the interview is not entirely new to me.
The real meat of the Hope and Glory podcast came in the final third. I loved listening to the good times and it came dripping with the usual DC enthusiasm, sentimentality and gloss. That man, he has a way of making you feel special; the way he talks about the club is the way I feel about it. To be honest, listening back to the interview made me yearn for those days, made me full of regret and upset that it ended. It was like seeing an old VHS recording of love long-lost and even partially forgotten, but having it all brought back. The way he talks about his players, about the fans, about the club as a whole. It all came flooding back and with their departure still relatively fresh, I’m not sure I really wanted that. We have a new manager now, we’ve moved on and it did feel a little like watching a tape of your old girlfriend whilst your new partner sat in the kitchen making dinner. Michael Appleton is trying to cook up some success and we’re focused on the past once more. I’m not saying I think the interview was poorly timed, not one bit. I’m just pointing out the sort of emotion I felt.
In the third part, we find out about the reasons for leaving, their ambition perhaps not being matched by the club. I get that; there was always going to be a clash. Last season, we had one of the bigger budgets in League Two, possibly top three, which is one reason we won the league. To consolidate this year is an achievement, but in the summer it became obvious that wasn’t the intention of the manager. I remember being at the training ground with Helgy, chatting to Danny (on the day Jake Humphrey was there). I mentioned consolidation and Danny shot me a very brief look, not a bad one, but the one you get when you know you’re not on the same page as him. He didn’t like that word and for about four weeks I stopped using it, as did the media as a whole. The club rhetoric was about establishing, not consolidating. The thing is those words more or less mean the same thing. Danny wanted to be ‘challenging’. To do that, we needed money.
We always knew that under the acceptable face of Danny, there was a man driven and relentless, but perhaps also a little ruthless. He admits that in the interview when talking about letting players go, but I think back to the watered pitch against Carlisle and the angry man we saw afterwards. I wouldn’t have wanted to deliver the training ground pitch news in the summer, and it seems little things like that began to add up. He says they were angry at the club for that, something that is understandable to a degree. Despite being backed in the summer, it never seemed enough and we started hearing more about budgets as the days went on. Having spoken to Clive and Liam in meetings, podcasts and the like, I knew the club would not back a manager too much if it meant risking the future of the club. There would be no calculated gamble like Chris Sutton, no big budget with possible implosion like Mansfield Town. That’s an ethos I have to support and it always meant a collision course with two highly ambitious managers.
That’s what happened in September, the two worlds finally came together and exploded. I don’t think it was a process as such, but I do think plenty of teams saw us, top of the table at one point, and thought Danny and Nicky were the answer to their problems. They were clearly in two minds, wanting to stay but also wanting to progress. Danny didn’t mention other clubs, but we suspect West Brom and I’m sure they spoke to Sheffield Wednesday too. Were they approached, or did they apply? Danny told me they didn’t apply for jobs, he admitted they spoke to other clubs throughout their time at Lincoln (which is more common than you might think), but were always honest. I suppose it is like any job, you have to listen to what other people are saying, keep yourself out there. We’re Lincoln City fans, they were football managers in control at Lincoln City. I see the difference, even if some fans can’t.
How it happened hurt, but like a breakup, any way it happens will hurt. If it is quick, sudden and without warning, it stings like hell. If it is slow and protracted, it hurts like hell. In the weeks after there is always a bit of ‘she said, he said’ and the Huddersfield chairman’s podcast in which he said they applied didn’t help. I personally don’t think they did apply in the strictest sense, but that’s my opinion and I respect others right to theirs. What I do not respect, at all, is Danny and Nicky’s kids being bullied at school, their cars being vandalised and their houses targetted. That has happened, Danny mentioned it in the pod and he mentioned it to me before Christmas. That’s unforgivable and it is partially fuelled by the hate on social media, whether that is ‘banter’ or genuine hate.
As the podcast wound down I did feel a full stop being planted at the end of the chapter titled ‘Danny Cowley’ in our history. Sure, we’ve already got well into the next chapter, but that one is now finished. People will have their opinions, some will still be negative, some will feel enough time has passed to move on. I was never negative towards them, they’re the best managers I have seen at the club in my lifetime, but I’m also mindful of our new manager. Michael Appleton doesn’t strike me as the sort to sit at home with his head in his hands worrying about whether the fans still think of Danny or not, but I feel disrespectful to go on about them and about those times. It’s why I find it hard to get behind the rewinds that feature DC-era wins, because for me it is too soon. Going back to the relationship analogy, this is like a couple of months later where you both turn up to a party with new partners, but it still feels a little alien and you want nothing more than to slip into the old ways. I suspect, when the lights are out at night and Mrs Cowley (either one) is asleep, the boys occasionally wonder if they made the right decision. Of course, they could never admit it, it would be suicide in terms of Huddersfield and it would betray the image of The Cowley Brothers that they’ve cultivated and cured over time. I still bet they wonder though, just like you would as you closed your eyes, six months after you left the love of your life. Was it the right decision? When remembering the good times, it is sometimes hard to remain motivated about a choice that was so tough to make.
For me, that’s it. We’re led by Michael Appleton now and comparisons are unfair. No manager will achieve what Danny and Nicky did, not three trophies and two promotions in three years, with an FA Cup quarter-final thrown in for good measure. Few ever have, not just at Lincoln, but in the wider world. In five, ten, fifteen years time, those boys and their families will be welcomed back here with open arms, by fans wanting to relive the wonder years and laugh about what happened since. Right now, it’s too raw. Right now, it’s too soon. Right now, we move on.
Please, let us not get Huddersfield in a friendly so we can say goodbye as fans. No more comparing the two managers and their approaches. No more ‘snake’ on social media, no more ‘if only we had Danny back’. He’s given his final interview, or what I feel should be a final interview for a couple of years and this is the point where in my mind, I draw a line under the situation. Looking back, six months on will do nobody any favours. Looking back five years on will allow those great memories to be recalled without the fear of it tarnishing our current objective, or diminishing the efforts of the man we now have in charge.
Don’t be sad it ended, be thankful that it happened but for ***** sake, let’s not keep going on about it now, eh? Onwards and upwards, for Danny, for Nicky and for Michael Appleton and Lincoln City.