After eight successful seasons with Concord Rangers, guiding them through the non-league pyramid to the Conference South, Danny Cowley moved onto National League side Braintree Town in the summer.
Braintree have been a fixture in the National League (Conference) since 2011/2012 and when I spoke to Danny, I wanted to find out how he could improve Braintree's fortunes in this division, considering they are a part-time football club and Danny himself holds down a day-job.
Braintree finished 14th last season is it possible to improve on that?
It will be a challenge certainly. Nicky (Cowley) and I went to Chester and Tranmere in the past week, and that emphasised the magnitude of the challenge. In the first week of the season we play Chester, Lincoln and Tranmere, and they've all been football league clubs. Whenever you've got big challenges in front of you, it's important that you break them down individually and that's what we will have to do. Our first objective has to be to get to 50points.
In the National League there are more league games to contend with
Yes, there are 46 league games. It's a long tough season, the first month is especially hectic. The players so far have been excellent, their attitude and application has been first class during pre-season and it's all been positive to date, and now it's down to the serious stuff.
You start with Chester away this weekend
I went to watch them last week when they played Liverpool U21's and there was near on 3000 people watching the game, and it was an 11-hour round trip for me. I dropped Nicky off at Tranmere so he could scout them as well.
You're certainly covering the miles early
Well part of our successes as managers has been having detailed analysis on our opposition, and to look at ways to outwit them. Especially as we are new to the league, it's imperative that we get to know the teams/players as quick as we can, and that's what we're aiming to do.
You're know for asking your players to give that extra 1% which the opposition aren't doing. Is that something you're going to have to drawn on even more this season?
Oh yes, it's not an even playing field, when you look at Braintree's resources and infrastructure and compare that to the other clubs in the league. 99% of the clubs at this level are full-time. I think at this level it's going to be more challenging as myself and Nicky are part-time, and we've got full-time jobs, and so do all of our players. It's going to be our biggest challenge, but it's something we are really looking forward to.
Saying that, can you combine a day job with managing a National League side?
Ask me in 10 months haha! It will require a balance, I have a young family as well, so it will need juggling at times. It will definitely demand long hours from me.
Well you've already clocked up 11 hours travelling to Chester in midweek, and you've got sides like Barrow and Torquay in this league.
There will be some long journey's in this league, no doubt. But a lot of people have asked this question already and it doesn't affect me. When I was Concord Rangers manager I put every spare hour into that, so the work increase has not been that great. Obviously at this level there is an added pressure, but that's what I thrive on and enjoy. Anyway work's only work if you don't enjoy it. I'm a very lucky person to have two jobs that I love.
However these long hours must put a strain on your home life?
I think you have to have an understanding family definitely. My wife is an international athlete (Kate Cowley) so she knows what commitment is required, and is very understanding which certainly helps. But yes as I've mentioned before it's a juggling act there's no doubt about that. However it's something we are used to, and dealt with successfully and will continue to do so.
Will there be a time when you step away from the day job?
You never know in football, I don't think it's worth predicting what the future may bring. What you have to do is put all your focus and energies into what we can control, and at the moment that is trying to move Braintree Town forward and remain competitive in this division.
You've mentioned that magic 50points before
Yes, the quicker we get there, then we can look at mid-table, then the top 10...then you dare to dream.
We are looking to create a culture at the football club which is professional and demanding, and looking at making the most of the opportunities which are presented to us, and hopefully mould and create a group of players who can cope in this competitive division.
Was it important to you to bring in some players you knew as well, or did the squad need a freshen up anyway?
The biggest challenge was to try and keep the group together, and we spent three weeks reviewing the club and looking at the structure and why and how the club had achieved the success it had. When you can answer these questions, then you can add continued success, and we thought very much that the success achieved at the club was down to the players. So keeping those players at the club was the first challenge and we were pleased that we managed that. That was hugely importantly as they have been the foundation of the club in recent years. Continuity is key at any football club, that's something our success at Concord Rangers was based upon. We've brought 3/4 in from our previous club, who we see are on an upward curve in their progression in the game. These players are looking to improve and are hungry, these are the kind of players I'm looking to bring in.
Well I suppose if the player improves, then the club improves so it's beneficial for both parties.
Character is very important. Signing a player with the right character is crucial. When you've worked with players in the past, and you know that you've got a relationship that works then it's a lot easier to manage them, no doubt about that.
Is this something in which the day job (Head of PE) comes in handy, or is it something you've always been able to do?
There are a lot of transferable skills from my day-job to football management. As a head of a department, it's a challenge of my man-management skills so conversely I can lean on my football experiences as well. I've nine seasons now as a football manager and it in that time I've developed my man-management skills, and these things can only improve with experience.
Your relationship with your brother Nicky (who is Dan's Assistant Manager) is key. I've seen the pair of you on the touchline your more animated, whilst Nicky is more studious, you compliment each other. How do you find working with your brother?
Nicky and I have always been close, we have the same interests and obviously growing up together we have shared the same experiences. We're similar in ways, but different in others and I think it is very important as a manager to rely on good people around you. Trust is key as well, and our relationship is a strong one. Looking back at our time at Concord Rangers, Nicky had a huge part to play there, both on and off the pitch. He's enthusiastic and an excellent coach, and he's a big part of the success we've had in the past and hopefully will be in future successes at Braintree.
You've mentioned that you've been a manager for nine seasons now, can you still see yourself managing in ten years time?
Football is in my blood. My dad played at a good level, and I grew up watching him play. I couldn't imagine my life without football. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, I only want to think about the here and now with Braintree Town.