The Downfall of a Good Man

Published: 04/01/2023

By Joe Wood

The 14th March 2021 and the 2nd January 2023 are meaningless dates in the annals of time for almost 7 billion people. However, to one 125 year old football club, these dates shall be forever linked by an action taken in the midst of crises.

The 15th March 2021 and the 3rd January 2023, however, differ. Not by virtue of the actions to be taken by the board, but by sentiment and emotion.

For those that don’t know, the 14th March 2021 was the day that Kenny Jackett was relieved of his duties as the manager of Portsmouth Football Club, and Monday saw Danny Cowley meet the same fate.

On the surface of it, these look like identical open and shut cases for a manager to be sacked. Both managers had struggles on the pitch resulting in woeful runs of form, and unfortunately for both, these runs happened after they had both been “backed” financially in the previous transfer window. Heck, even their win ratio’s aren’t a million miles apart, with Kenny posting a near 50% win ratio, whilst Danny and Nicky managed a near 45%.

However, scratch the surface, and these dismissals are almost as polar opposite as one could wish to see in football.

Jackett’s reign ended with an unceremonious loss to lower league opposition, at a supporterless Wembley. A lonely and fitting end for a man who ostracised and belittled the fans, the media and even several high profile players.

The Wembley final was a game where the players were clearly not playing for the manager, the badge and one might argue, not even for themselves. It was an abysmal performance from a group of players who had long checked out.

Jackett was a manager that had frustrated a fan base with negative tactics, uninspiring quotes and some mystifying transfer dealings.

He guided Pompey to successive playoff defeats, which on the face of it would be commendable, but further investigation leads one to question the dropping of an ever present captain, in favour of a man whose Portsmouth career can best be summed up with the word “baffling”, and overly negative tactics seen in the home leg.

Such gems as there being a “good way to lose” and the concept of winning “on corners” were born during this era, and still provide a depressive laugh to this day.

The stadiums of the world being devoid of fans provided Kenny Jackett a shield from the inevitable onslaught of the fans, who were incredibly vocal on social media in their displeasure at a man who in their eyes, was driving the club off a cliff whilst simultaneously being identified as a puppet of an unambitious Eisner regime.

These empty grounds gave Kenny a stay of execution others could only dream of, as if there were 18,000 in a packed Fratton Park, the jeers would have been unavoidable and not only from what was described by Mark Catlin as “a small vocal minority”.

And thus the most successful post war manager in Portsmouth Football Club history departed.

The overall reaction amongst the fans was one of relief, and elation. The man that was sapping the life from a recently revived football club was excised, and a new sense of hope was to be found around the ground.

Enter Danny and Nicky Cowley.

Less than a week had passed and Mark Catlin announced the hiring of the family duo, who most recently had been on the harsh end of a sacking at a Huddersfield that were in turmoil, after guiding them to Championship safety with 3 games to spare.

The idea of two progressive, fresh thinking, young coaches was the perfect antidote for Pompey fans, desperate to escape the tedium and pragmatism that trademarked Jackett’s sides.

The Cowleys made an immediate impact, winning 6 of the final 12 games of the season, and narrowly missing out on the playoffs on the final day with what must be said, a poor result at home against a side that had nothing to play for in Accrington Stanley.

That summer, after taking the job on full time and signing what was described as a “long term deal”, there was a feeling of renewal and ambition once again.

The brothers made an immediate attempt to connect with fans, regularly being seen at fan events, community events and giving time to local causes.

The following year finished in disappointment as Pompey sputtered along and failed to make the playoffs, but the feeling remained amongst the fanbase that these guys were the right people to guide Pompey up the leagues.

Fast forward to this summer just gone, and with a raft of new signings and the main addition of local boy Marlon Pack, this finally felt like the squad Danny Cowley wanted, and we were excited as a fanbase to get the season underway.

The opening day saw Pompey go 2-0 down away from home against a promotion rival in the form of Sheffield Wednesday before roaring back to be unfortunate to draw 3-3.

A fantastic start to the season saw Pompey top the table at several points in the early going, all the while DC would still be seen around the local area, being a presence in the local community.

Cowley was instrumental in getting the players to fight back and respond in the second half, and more than once he compelled players to go and applaud the travelling fans.

October came around, and the injuries mounted. The pressure began to show and some of the interviews became more spiky and critical of the medical team.

The poor performances continued, and the boss was taking the brunt of it himself and wasn’t shying away from the responsibility of it being his team that had “let the fans down”, a phrase Danny used on several occasions while speaking to the media after games.

Finally, it all culminated on New Year’s Day against Charlton at Fratton Park. Portsmouth had lost. Again. In very poor fashion. The Fratton End filled the air with toxicity and were their typical selves in not shy about letting their opinions being heard.

Regardless of the negativity in the air, and on a biblically wet day that even Noah himself, would have conceded was a “bit much to be out in”, Danny Cowley marched over to the Fratton End to applaud the fans for turning out even though he knew that his team had let them down.

The next day he was gone.

But unlike Jackett, the following day wasn’t one filled with hope and joy. It was filled with sadness, and a feeling of what could have been.

Social media these days is normally a sea of bile and hatred, and doubly so when it comes to sport, but the post that confirmed Cowleys departure wasn’t filled with tweets of “Good riddance” and “get out of my club” like they were immediately following the Jackett sacking. Many tweets highlighted how they wanted him to succeed because he was such a nice guy, but ultimately understood why he needed to be replaced. Some even revealed times that Danny had reached out to them privately when they went through tough periods in their lives.

So for that reason, 14th March 2021 and 2nd January will be forever linked through actions, and forever different in emotion.

Thank you for your hard work Danny and Nicky, and truly, best of luck wherever your next club is.