Willing a return to health for the surprise Portsmouth figure remembered fondly

Ask the sports desk who their favourite Pompey managers of the past 20 years are and there’s an inevitability to the names in the frame.

Wednesday, 27th January 2021, 6:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th January 2021, 6:33 pm

Harry Redknapp and Paul Cook were everything you would’ve expected them to be: funny, witty, charismatic and very often combustible.

Their success on the pitch was echoed by their forcefulness of character off it, but both men are remembered fondly and come loaded with a back catalogue of anecdotes and memories which spring into life at the slightest mentions of their names.

But perhaps the identity of the other person remembered warmly when conversations turn to his Fratton tenure would raise an eyebrow or two.

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That man is today fighting to recover from coronavirus after recently being hospitalised in a Bristol intensive care unit.

We wish Steve Cotterill a speedy return to health - but this is a man who has shown himself to be made of stern stuff.

Cotterill’s time at the PO4 is maybe now remembered a little unfairly with a degree of indifference for events on the pitch, after 61 games in charge with a middling win percentage of 29.51.

But that doesn’t begin to tell the tale of 16 months at the helm which saw the 56-year-old deal with a period of administration, threats of liquidation and untold chaos behind the scenes.

An emotional Steve Cotterill leaving Pompey in 2011. Picture: Robin Jones.

Thanks to Cotterill, The News were afforded front-row seats and can confirm - from the very outset - chaos is exactly what it was. Actually, chuck in pandemonium and bedlam as nouns which help us to get somewhere nearer to a fair assessment of proceedings.

From the moment the man from Cheltenham and his emaciated squad set off on the most ill-fated of pre-seasons in the club’s history, the die was cast.

Enough happened on that trip to warrant a tome on how not to prepare for a campaign, but eight flights, six hotels and airports, four different time zones, two delayed and cancelled flights is perhaps the most succinct way to sum up one almighty mess of a North America trip.

Steve Cotterill

Former Pompey and England fitness coach Chris Neville went one further, as he stated the tour nailed virtually everything the players shouldn’t have been doing to prepare for the season. That as they finished off a nightmare period losing 4-0 to DC United in a game played in 115 degree heat and 90 per cent humidity, after losing their kit en-route.

Cotterill’s mood over that fortnight scarcely dropped below fever pitch, from the minute he blew his lid at an airport check-in attendant on an epic 42-hour journey to San Diego.

Manchester United were the catalyst for a fearsome rant, as they were ushered through to a connecting flight while Pompey’s players were left lingering once more on a pre-season done on the cheap.

The sight of Cotterill storming across Chicago airport shouting ‘who’s with me?’, and the likes of a bemused Michael Brown, Richard Hughes and David Nugent eventually falling into formation behind their new manager shoulders slumped was a scene which endures.

If those events set the tone for his tenure, so did the run-ins he frequently had with rookie chief executive David Lampitt.

Lampitt is a man not remembered too fondly by many who encountered him at Fratton in that era. Cotterill very quickly believed he had his measure, however, and wasn’t afraid of saying so when reporting news of their furious exchanges.

Former The Quay reporter Martin ‘Scoop’ Hopkins was another with the ability to rub the man now at the helm of Shrewsbury up the wrong way.

Hopkins’ would often enjoy painting an ornate picture with his post-match line of questioning, which didn’t necessarily have the desired response at Swansea one freezing November night.

The long-established commentator chose that occasion to deliver an epic monologue describing Pompey as taking a fearsome pummelling, before channelling Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope tactics in the Rumble in the Jungle to land the telling blow.

Trouble was, by the time Hopkins had finished his lengthy description of the early battering in the 2-1 win, Cotterill was livid and the interview was at a close.

Theirs was a relationship which had deteriorated to the point a Pompey media of staff was asked to ‘get him away from me’, when questioned over whether he’d resign after a 3-0 loss at Watford a few weeks later.

Not that The News were immune from being on the receiving end of Cotterill’s wrath. Far from it.

In fact, there’s a long line of run-ins from those who had incendiary dealings with the ex-Blues boss when covering his stewardship of the club.

Take chief sports writer, Neil Allen, who travelled to South Carolina with the club in 2011 on pre-season duty.

Allen’s crime was to report Pompey had laboured to a draw against a side made up of college lecturers and students masquerading under the moniker of Charleston Battery XI.

When Cotterill took umbrage at the reporting of these facts, it was politely pointed out what was written was, in fact, the truth.

‘I didn’t bring you here to tell the truth!’ came the Pompey boss’ deadpan response.

Likewise, our former colleague, Steve Wilson had the temerity to ask a perfectly reasonable question, after a costly Liam Lawrence red card contributed to defeat at West Ham in 2011.

‘Do you think Liam has to take any responsibility for getting sent off?’ came the initial enquiry, which was suitably fobbed off with blame afforded officials for giving out cards too easily.

‘Okay, but if you are on a booking, you have to take that into account don’t you?’

Cue EPIC meltdown.

‘A lot of words began with “f”, some began with “c” and sometimes they were put together (and it didn’t stand for football club),’ Wilson reflected of the clash, before he was informed in no uncertain fashion where he could place the newspaper which paid his wages.

Incidentally, Lawrence revealed a few weeks later he’d been hauled over the coals by his manager for the dismissal...

There are many other tales, like the time Cotterill took exception to a picture caption - yes, a picture caption - on a fans’ comment piece from Blues follower Brendon Bone, who branded his football direct. Then there was national reporter Alex Crook, who was politely asked to boost his match ratings because they were demoralising Pompey’s players.

The recurring theme from The News’ Pompey writers was there was never lasting recriminations from these flashpoints, however. And often there’d be a follow-up phone call to smooth things over once the dust had settled.

Speak to all of the sports desk from that era and there’s a respect for the West Country man which endures. The same can be said of the Pompey staff who dealt with him in his time as manager.

So there was a warmth towards Cotterill from many of those familiar with him around PO4, as he returned to the managerial hot-seat at Shrewsbury in November after a 33-month hiatus.

He was quick to make his mark and also help his old club with some results which saw him ‘working miracles’ according to Shropshire Star reporter Lewis Cox, as he was named manager of the month for December.

So now we wish an old friend well as he battles to recover from this horrible, debilitating disease which continues to take and wreck lives.

And we circle that March 27 date on the calendar when acquaintances will hopefully be renewed, Cotterill will be back in the dugout and, no doubt, plenty of those old memories will be raised once more.

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