Date: 13th May 2016 at 8:22am
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As soon as Chris Moyses announced on 5 April that he was to step down at the end of the season, the search was on to find the next Lincoln City manager. The inward groan from thousands of die-hard supporters could be heard for miles around as the anticipated influx of applications from the usual dire suspects landed with an extremely dull thud on the doormat at Sincil Bank. Which desperate journeyman would Bob Dorrian choose this time? Many names were bandied about, ranging from the experienced (but strangely unsuccessful) Ronnie Moore to some Argentinian bloke who had just taken the caretaker reins at City’s cup conquerors Whitehawk. Were we really that desperate? Were we really that stupid? Fortunately a man from Johannesburg called Clive Nates was involved, and he was never likely to allow anything like that to happen to his investment.

Who, then? Bob Dorrian stated unequivocally that the club wanted a young, eager manager who could offer new ideas and new methods rather than those tired old journeymen. Someone from non-league circles who knew what was required; someone who knew the clubs, the players, the tactics, all of it. Perhaps someone who was not currently a manager; Clive even stated that he had one name on his radar, and that name had applied. The sigh of relief was tangible. This time, Lincoln were going to take the search for their new manager the length and breadth of the country, rather than the length and breadth of the boardroom. This time, Lincoln meant business.

Interviews took place, and rumours abounded as the media and fans alike came up with some extraordinary names. But there was a delay in the announcement with no updates from the club, leading to the conclusion that it had to be someone involved in the play-offs. That narrowed it down a bit to the prime candidate Danny Cowley of Conference rivals Braintree, but surely he would never come? He had a full-time job as Head of PE at a school in Essex, and he would never give that up to go full-time. Next on the list was Billy Heath from nearby North Ferriby, but this suggestion elicited a curiously lukewarm response from fans despite his obvious success with the Villagers. Dennis Greene, then? That was a possibility but seemed second-best, somehow. Surely not Simon Weaver from Harrogate? The presence of a millionaire father made this rather extreme suggestion more plausible, but garnered almost no support from Imps anywhere. The wait has been almost unbearable.

Well, this evening the dust has settled to reveal none other than Danny Cowley in the Sincil Bank hot seat. This is an appointment that should generate great excitement amongst City fans who have been used to mediocre managerial appointments for far too long. Somehow, Bob and Clive have pulled off something very special: this time, we have the right one. Or should we say the right two? Nicky Cowley is our new assistant manager this evening.

So, who is Danny Cowley? A lot has been written of late about the polite, dignified young man from Essex; one newspaper referred to him as ‘the non-league Ranieri’, but who exactly is he? Although he has become a familiar face on our TV screens recently as his team of bakers and candlestick-makers repeatedly put the wind up their supposedly more professional full-time opponents, very little is known about the man who has seemingly come from nowhere in no time at all.

It never is that simple, of course. Although still only 37, Danny has been a manager for an incredible nine full seasons, overseeing a total of 435 competitive matches in that time (see the statistical section at the end for full details). If ever a manager has served an apprenticeship, it is Danny. Taking over the manager’s position at Essex Senior League also-rans Concord Rangers in summer 2007 in conjunction with Danny Scopes, the learning stage appears to have been very short as his side romped to the championship and promotion to the Isthmian League Division One North at the first attempt. They also reached the quarter-final of the FA Vase, losing to Lowestoft Town by a single goal. To call this a promising start would be an understatement.

Consolidation might have been the objective in their first season in the Isthmian League, but a play-off place was the reality; however, hopes of a second successive promotion ended with a 5-4 penalty shoot-out defeat to Waltham Abbey in the final. The play-offs were reached the following season and promotion secured with a win over Enfield Town. Consolidation in the Isthmian Premier, then? Not a bit of it, as Concord missed a play-off spot by just two points at the first attempt. In the summer of 2012 Glen Alzapiedi joined Danny as his assistant and helped the club to yet another promotion, this time with a play-off final win at old foes Lowestoft. From Essex Senior League to Conference South in just six seasons might have been enough, but the club added the Isthmian League Cup to their collection with a 3-2 win over Dulwich.

The simple aim for the first ever season in tier 6 was survival, but that was achieved by a margin of 21 points; indeed, another 8 points would have seen the club make the play-offs and challenge for the Conference Premier. By way of compensation, the club won the Essex Senior Cup for the first time, beating a certain Braintree Town in the final. The team fell just 5 points short of the play-offs in 2014-15 but retained the Essex Senior Cup with a storming win over Billericay. Concord also reached the first round of the FA Cup for the first time in its history, going down to a narrow 1-0 defeat at home to Mansfield after a 1-1 draw at Field Mill. Another significant event took place in September 2014 as assistant Glen Alzapiedi took the manager’s position at Cheshunt; he was replaced by Danny’s brother Nicky, who had been forced to retire as a player with Concord; the management team was complete.

From the Essex Senior League to seventh place in Conference South, one championship, two play-off final wins and six trophies in eight incredible seasons. So it came as no surprise that bigger clubs were interested. Going full-time was not an option, as both Cowleys shared their football duties with full-time jobs in the PE department at the FitzWimarc School in Rayleigh, so a position at the highest level within the realms of part-time football was the next-best thing: Braintree Town came calling.

Everyone knows what Danny has achieved this season. One prize idiot, writing a Season Preview for Vital Lincoln City last summer, even tipped Braintree for relegation following the departure of Alan Devonshire to Maidenhead. What fools we were. OK, what a fool I was. The record books will show that everything went wrong for them in the second leg of the play-off semi-final, as the part-timers were outrun by a resurgent – and full-time – Grimsby. But Danny had written his name firmly into the frame for any lower division or senior non-league job going. Including ours. Rumours of Notts County and Tranmere did not bode well (not least for Gary Brabin), but at least Danny appeared to be considering going full-time. He wanted to test his methods in full-time football; he wanted away.

Could Bob and Clive possibly pull it off?

Probably not.

But they have.

Danny and Nicky Cowley – welcome to Lincoln City. We are very pleased to have you.

Is Danny Cowley the right appointment for Lincoln City?

There is no way of knowing, of course.

But what we do know is that the last 13 managers to win promotion from the Conference all conform to the same profile: a track record of promotions lower down the non-league pyramid and the majority had at least one play-off campaign in the Conference Premier. On that basis, Cowley is an absolute bullseye.

All Lincoln or any club can do is build the right profile and find a manager who fits that. In no way does it guarantee success and could end in desperate failure (again). But what you have to do is give yourself the best chance of success by appointing the right people in certain positions, and it looks as if Lincoln (almost unbelievably) have done exactly that.

With Cowley’s appointment, we have given ourselves the best possible chance of moving forward because he conforms to the profile of a successful Conference manager. Unfortunately, Tilson, Holdsworth, Simpson and Moyses were not even close to conforming with that profile and were all unsuccessful. You don’t have to be a genius to work that out.

For once, Lincoln City have done this exactly right. If Danny Cowley’s appointment turns out to be unsuccessful, Lincoln could have done no more than they have.

So why is Danny Cowley coming to Lincoln?

The doubters may ask how anyone could give up the security of a full-time job in teaching to become a professional football manager; some may even suspect a touch of insanity; or did Bob Dorrian hire a shaman to cast a spell over the FitzWimarc Head of PE? The answer lies in a statement Danny made upon joining Braintree almost exactly a year ago this week:

“You only get one life and I want to make the most of mine.”

Perhaps he feels he has done all he can at Braintree after one solitary season. Could it be repeated? With Cowley’s record, it probably could, but there is as great a personal risk involved in staying at Braintree as moving into full-time football. He has stated on several occasions that he is ambitious. A mediocre season at Braintree would certainly see his personal stock fall; he would not be as much in demand from professional clubs as at the present time, and perhaps it is now or never. Timing can be everything, and he feels his time is now.

The natural progression is to a full-time club with potential. Danny has said within the last few days that he and Nicky wanted to join a club where they could really add value. Can they do that at Lincoln? Can they win football matches and put significant numbers on the gate? Their record to date says they can. The support is certainly still there, waiting. Can they blow a breath of fresh air through the club and its supporters and galvanise the city behind them? There is no reason why not. But the idea of restoring Lincoln City to its rightful place in the Football League must be irresistible for them. That is the definition of adding real value. They have a great opportunity to write themselves into the history of our great club, to join Anderson and Taylor, Murphy and Alexander. They can be the ones to lead us back to the League and into our new stadium. To add real value. To become legends.

And we love our legends at Lincoln City.

We have him for two years, at least to begin with. But now he has turned professional, he will be on the radar of every club in the lower divisions of the Football League, who will be monitoring his progress in full-time football very closely. Presumably he has an objective to take us back to the Football League, or at least make a serious challenge, within those two years. If he fails, we will not have lost very much; two years of Clive Nates’ investment will have been used, but we can hardly be in a worse position than in any of the last five years; Danny’s outstanding record almost guarantees that. And if other clubs come calling at the end of those two years, very few will begrudge him a move if Lincoln City are back in the Football League.

Danny Cowley: Personal profile:

Age: 37 (DOB: 22 October 1978)

Wife: Great Britain athlete Kate (Brewington) Cowley, also a PE teacher at FitzWimarc.

Children: Isabella (7) and George (3)

PE teacher at FitzWimarc School, Rayleigh, since 2001, latterly department head.

Playing career: Dagenham, Purfleet, Barking, Harlow Town, Boreham Wood, Romford, AFC Hornchurch, Brentwood, Concord Rangers (retired 2007 due to hamstring injury).

Nicky Cowley: Personal profile:

Age: 34

Wife: Lauren (Powell) Cowley

Children: Harry (5) and Betsy (2)

Head of Boys PE at FitzWimarc School, Rayleigh.

Playing career: Witham Town, Boreham Wood, Romford, Brentwood, AFC Hornchurch, Concord Rangers (retired 2014 due to knee injury).

Danny Cowley: Statistics Section:

Section A: League games only (play-offs and cup matches not included):

Key: P = Promoted; R = Relegated; SF = Lost in play-off semi-final; F = Lost in play-off final; PO = Won play-off final; D = Demoted.

Key: PPG = Points earned per game; GFPG = Goals scored per game; GAPG = Goals conceded per game; CLEAN = clean sheets.

Win ratio (league games only): 51.6%
Draw ratio (league games only): 21.6%
Loss ratio (league games only): 26.8%
Clean sheets (league games only): 38.4%

Section B: Cup matches and play-offs:

** Cowley has never gone out of the FA Cup at the first time of asking: has won at least one round each season.

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