I find the narrative tomorrow one that I can’t bear, but that is also inevitable.
Portsmouth coming to the Bank, complete with Danny and Nicky Cowley at the helm, is an obvious story. Our rise from the depths of the National League to the peak of League One was driven by them, and to gloss over their first game back at the Bank since they left would be doing the whole occasion a disservice. Of course, it shouldn’t be the only narrative of the game; there are points at stake and to focus purely on them and not the wider game is wrong.
I think it is also imperitive not to make as much of it as some media outlets want to because of Michael Appleton. He’s our boss now, and there are enough fans still living in the Cowley-era already, without pouring layer upon layer of ‘here they are’ rhetoric on top of the game. That said, how can it not be mentioned? How can we not glance briefly at their bench and smile at the memories we had? It’s impossible, in my opinion.
On Tuesday, if I were to see them before the game, I’d shake their hand and say hello. Both Dan and Nick were great with me on a personal level, and even after they left the club I’d exchange messages on occasion. They’d always ask how Dad was and it meant a lot. However, once they step across the threshold wearing their Pompey tracksuits, they’re just another opposition manager to be barracked when they argue, booed if they do something wrong and laughed at if they lose. That’s football. There will be no malice at how they left, no anger at what happened in September 2019 simply because it really doesn’t matter. Football clubs get managers, they lose managers and life goes on. I’m still here, we’re still here, and we welcome Portsmouth on Tuesday, not Dover, in no small part because of them.
However, the game does raise an interesting question as to what happens when former bosses return here as manager. I’ll be honest, I can’t recall it happening at all, nothing really stands out of note. I know those of a certain vintage talk about Watford beating Lincoln 5-0 with Graham Taylor at the helm, and I guess the harder you climbed, the worse the fall when the manager leaves. Had Danny taken us out of the National League, then done a Paul Hurst and jumped to a League One club, then the Championship, and not carried the success on, then the vitriol wouldn’t be as bad. Or, if he’d had a couple of years of stagnation and left on good terms, people would not bother so much.
However, what of the other managers that have left the Imps, only to surface as boss of another team years later? These are the games that set the precedent going back 40 years, none of which are likely to match Tuesday night in terms of splitting a fan base. For the record, I have only included those who were permanent managers here, and permanent bosses with their new clubs.