The Pompey manager who has gone onto success

Former Pompey boss Steve Cotterill
Former Pompey boss Steve Cotterill
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Steve Cotterill’s name flashed up on the iPhone. It was answered with trepidation, positioned well away from the ear.

Except, surprisingly, there was no ranting, no expletive-filled message, merely a man showing humility.

‘Hi Neil,’ came the address, ‘I’d like to apologise for the way I spoke to you last night. Losing against Burnley hurt’.

That was Cotterill embodied – Pompey’s boss for one year, three months and 27 days.

Andy Awford left Fratton Park as manager on Monday – within 24 hours Cotterill’s Bristol City had clinched promotion to the Championship.

Accompanying last month’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy triumph, the success continues for the only manager since 2007-08 to have served an entire season with the Blues.

Still, back to January 2011, and Pompey had just suffered a Tuesday night 2-1 defeat to Burnley – Cotterill’s former club.

It emerged during the subsequent post-match press conference the Blues would be jetting abroad for warm weather training, requiring ‘a bit of a lift’.

Yet when questioned over the duration and their destination, Cotterill exploded.

‘Blow me, what is this? Flippin’ hell, bog off Neil, you’re not having all the info so don’t go sniffing around it, alright.’

Of course, some words have been altered to protect our readers, but you get the gist.

However, Cotterill’s apologetic response which followed better illustrates the character of a manager perhaps largely misunderstood by the Fratton faithful.

He could be combustible, certainly erratic and infuriatingly irrational.

Regardless, he is considered by The News’ sports desk as comfortably one of the more popular managers we have worked with.

A good man who relished leading, he possessed integrity, honour and loyalty. It is no coincidence three of his former Fratton staff would eventually follow him to Ashton Gate.

Meanwhile, those regularly on the receiving end of that often savage tongue, such as Balram Chainrai, Levi Kushnir, Dave Kitson and David Lampitt, hardly endeared themselves to both club staff and supporters.

But to this day the 50-year-old possesses little positive standing among Pompey fans, many of whom branded the era as ‘Cotterball’.

Not without its irony then that three-and-half years after his departure, Iain McInnes & Co would dearly love a manager able to produce results he is currently enjoying with the Robins.

It was June 2010 following Premier League relegation when Cotterill was entrusted the Pompey job, arriving at a club still in administration under the stare of Andrew Andronikou and with Lampitt as new chief executive.

The Blues ended a largely mundane first campaign in 16th spot, with a high of 12th and a low of 20th.

David Nugent was top scorer with 14 goals, Hayden Mullins was crowned The News/Sports Mail Player of the Season, and Joel Ward established himself as a regular.

In addition, ever-present goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown created a post-war league record of 636 minutes without conceding.

It was also the campaign Matt Ritchie was sold to Swindon Town – a costly decision which casts the biggest shadow over Cotterill’s stay.

Still, life was never dull with the ex-Cheltenham boss at the helm.

Cotterill once accosted me by a Holiday Inn outdoor pool in South Carolina during the July 2011 pre-season tour of USA.

The previous day Pompey had drawn 2-2 to a Charleston Battery XI side made up of, as my report described, ‘college kids and fringe players’.

The Blues boss was furious at such a depiction of the opposition in the behind-closed-doors fixture.

‘But they actually were college kids and fringe players. It’s the truth,’ I argued back.

Cotterill snarled: ‘I didn’t bring you on this tour to write the truth,’ and stormed off.

During the same tour, the media accompanied Pompey’s non-playing staff to watch baseball side the Charleston Riverdogs.

With one innings remaining, the hosts were leading by just one run – but Cotterill decided he’d had enough.

Taking to his feet, he instructed it was time to go and was followed out of the ground by his now grumbling and griping companions.

Conditioning coach Chris Neville had to buy a paper the following day to discover the final score.

On another occasion, he insisted all coaching staff and players attended The News’ Sports Awards – largely unheard of at that time.

What’s more, he wrote the questions and presented the half-time Mastermind quiz which involved the players.

There was also the time he erupted at Pompey fan Brendon Bone’s Gaffer for the Day column for describing him as ‘long ball’.

Of those he worked with, Cotterill had no time for Chainrai, particularly once the Hong Kong money-lender promised a new contract – then changed his mind for no reason given.

With Lampitt, it was toxic. Once I had a bust-up with the chief executive during which I accused him of lying.

Within two minutes of phones being slammed I received a call from the manager: ‘Good lad,’ he chuckled.

Cotterill’s tenure ended in October 2011 when Nottingham Forest came calling with the Blues in 19th spot.

Out of respect, he gathered staff into a dressing room at the Wellington Sports Ground in Eastleigh to inform them of the decision. Bursting into tears during his address.

It was genuine – and Cotterill all over. Heart stitched onto his sleeve.

And do we miss those days of histrionics in the Championship?

Of course we do.