The Non-League Football Paper

Neil Jensen: Non-League owes the Cowleys – they’ve shown the way

LINCOLN CITY restored faith in the creaking old FA Cup and although we don’t associate the Imps with Non-League, they have given the game outside the Football League a big boost.

What is the secret behind the success of Danny and Nicky Cowley? Lincoln will probably be back in the Football League come May and then the real test will begin – that’s if someone has not come in and taken them elsewhere.

Why are these characters so coveted? We’ve known for some time that the science behind the game has changed in recent years.

Arsene Wenger brought broccoli to English football along with new coaching and lifestyle ideas for players and the rise of sports science at schools and universities has brought a different type of person to the game.

Cowley is not the only result of a changing mindset – over at Stevenage, Darren Sarll, a product of Hitchin Town’s youth scheme in the 1990s, has started to do an excellent job at the new town club.

Cowley was an unknown, but it is doubtful if he will get through the season without enquiries from curious clubs looking for a different way to skin a cat.

Lincoln’s chairman, Bob Dorrian, told the media in the build-up to the Arsenal FA Cup tie that he had “never seen two guys run a football club the way they’re running Lincoln City”.


That ‘way’ includes intense rather than lengthy training and intelligent use of data to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses.

You might expect such methods at a Real Madrid or Barcelona, but at a Non-League club where resources are not exactly plentiful? Promotion back to the Football League will probably stave off some enquiries in the short-term, but the question is, come August will Danny Cowley still be Lincoln City’s manager?

At 38, he may feel he has to grasp every opportunity, but if you look at the average age of, for example, Premier League managers, it is 50. In League Two, which if he stays at Lincoln, looks like being his next stop, the average is 44. Cowley has time on his side to develop into an established Football League manager.


But if Danny Cowley is the next “bright young thing”, history tells us that promoting somebody too fast can have a devastating impact on a career.

Take André Villas-Boas, who arrived at Chelsea in a wave of expectation that a fresh new talent had been unearthed. AVB may well have had something unique, but we never found out and now he finds himself it just 39, in China, undoubtedly very rich but surely professionally unfulfilled.

Conversely, football does have the habit of being impatient and refusing to wait for talent to be nurtured at its own pace. If there is a scent of something unique about the Cowleys, and there certainly seems to be at present (you can beat one League team by sheer luck, but four is something else) somebody will tempt them with the chance to manage at a higher level.

In the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ world of football, nothing is permanent, so taking a punt on a pair of sparky youngsters in tracksuits is not signing away the family jewels. What would be a shame, however, was if Danny and Nicky Cowley get tempted away too soon.

They have to prove themselves in the Football League and show that Lincoln’s FA Cup giant-killing exploits were not simply the romance of the competition carrying along a band of brothers led by a couple of extremely good motivators.

But let’s play along here – these fellows do seem different, let’s see how they fare one step up, and then applaud them as their careers continue on an extraordinary trajectory.

If nothing else, their part in reminding us what the FA Cup was all about deserves our admiration.

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