Lincoln City manager Danny Cowley supported West Ham United and was a regular visitor to Upton Park in the early years of the Premier League.
The Hammers missed out on the League’s maiden campaign, although promotion to the top flight in 1993 ensured that Cowley would get his first taste of Premier League football as a supporter.
At the time the likes of Julian Dicks, Tony Cottee and Don Hutchison wore the famous claret and blue kit as the club became a mainstay in the Premier League until relegation in 2003.
Cowley’s time as a match-going supporter ended when he embarked on a playing career of his own in non-league football, representing the likes of Romford and AFC Hornchurch.
In 2006, shortly after helping AFC Hornchurch to a historic treble, a career ending injury meant Cowley made an early start to his career in the dugout, although it is safe to say he has made good use of it.
Cowley began his career in the dugout at Concord Rangers, helping the Beachboys to three promotions, two Essex Senior Cup wins and and Isthmian League Cup win during his eight year stay at the club.
He stepped down at the end of the 2014/15 season to take over at Braintree Town, replacing a former West Ham United legend Alan Devonshire at the Essex-based club.
Once against working alongside his brother Nicky, his stay at Cressing Road lasted only one season, but what a season it was for the Iron.
Under the Cowleys tutorlage, Braintree secured a third place finish in the National League table, securing an unexpected play-off place and finishing above the likes of former Football League clubs Tranmere Rovers, Wrexham, Grimsby Town and Lincoln City.
And it was the latter that secured the Cowleys services at the end of the season, meaning that the brother moved into professional football for the first time as a management team.
The move has been a success so far.
At the time of writing The Imps sit three points clear at the top of the National League table and hold a game in hand on most of their fellow title contenders.
They have also made national headlines, with a historic run to their Fifth Round of the Emirates FA Cup.
With that run has come an unexpected return to viewing Premier League football for Cowley, only this time it is on a scouting mission, not as a supporter.
Last Sunday, Cowley travelled from Essex to Burnley’s Turf Moor to take in the Clarets’ Premier League fixture against league leaders Chelsea.
Sean Dyche’s side put on a fine performance in front of the man that is currently trying to plot their FA Cup downfall, with a sublime Robbie Brady free kick securing a point against a side that many believe will go on to be Premier League champions in May.
The next visitors to Turf Moor will be Cowley’s Imps, as they look to pull off another major FA Cup upset.
And after seeing their opponents at first hand, Cowley is under no illusions of the task that lies in wait for his side.
He said “We watched Burnley against Chelsea and what a performance they put in.
“They were so disciplined, so organised, at home they are one of the best in the league to be honest.
“For us, we grew up watching the Premier League. Watching the big clubs playing each other week-in, week-out on television.
“We went to games growing up so watching a game to scout opposition like this was a new experience but it was an exciting one.
“We know what is ahead of us but we are enjoying the challenge of going up against Burnley”
The challenge of going up against Sean Dyche’s side is “the toughest draw we could have been given” according to Cowley.
And the statistics certainly back him up.
Burnley have played fourteen Premier League home games this season, winning nine and losing just three.
That gives them the fourth best home record in the Premier League, with only Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal able to better that record.
Since their opening day home defeat against Swansea City, only Arsenal and Manchester City have come away from Turf Moor with three points.
It’s also worth pointing out that both of those losses were single-goal defeats, with the Gunners snatching a controversial injury-time winner through Laurent Koscielny.
Established Premier League clubs like Liverpool and Everton have been defeated at Turf Moor, as Sean Dyche looks to keep the Clarets in the Premier League.
And Cowley is a keen admirer of the work done by the former Chesterfield and Watford defender.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Sean Dyche” said the Imps boss.
“For me, along with Eddie Howe, he is the best English manager out there at the moment.
“He is single-minded and forthright in his views. He is the sort of manager that I think players would love to play for, you can see that in the way his players would run through brick walls for him.
“I honestly believe it’s the toughest draw we could have been given and I take into account that we could have ended up going to Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, teams like those.
“It’s a tough test for us, they are an outstanding team at home and it will be a monumental task for us to get a win.
“It’s a one in one hundred chance of winning because we have to match them technically and tactically.
“But we have to go there believing it can and will be that one game in one hundred”
Despite his scouting trip to Burnley, Cowley insisted that preparations for the game will be no different.
The Imps boss has a reputation for working hard on the finer details of his own side and their opposition.
One well-versed story suggests that before taking the Braintree Town job he sat down and watched videos of every game they played in the season before his appointment.
And he is a regular visitor at National League grounds when the Imps aren’t in action.
For that reason he believes that, despite the high-profile nature of the game, it is “just another week” preparing for a game.
“Preparations have been good for us” revealed the thirty eight year old.
“It is just another week and our preparation has been the same as it was for Guiseley in the Fourth Qualifying Round, the same as it was for Nantwich Town in the FA Trophy and the same as it is for every league game.
“We watched those sides when we could, just as we watched Burnley against Chelsea.
“The opposition makes no difference to preparations. We do our research, we do our homework and we prepare for each and every opposition as best we can”
The Imps have become giant-killing experts this season in the competition.
After disposing of National League North strugglers Altrincham in the First Round, they saw off League One Oldham Athletic in the Second Round.
That set up a Third Round tie against Championship outfit Ipswich Town, with the Imps knocking the Tractor Boys out of the competition after a replay in front of the BBC cameras with a 1-0 win.
Their Fourth Round opponents were another Championship side, Brighton and Hove Albion, with the TV companies surprisingly choosing to snub the tie.
That move proved to be a wrong one, as the Imps sealed a historic 3-1 win over the Seagulls in front of a bouncing Sincil Bank crowd.
Their tie against Burnley will be played out in front of live television coverage, with BT Sport selecting the game for their Saturday lunch-time kick-off.
The cameras will make no difference for Cowley and his players, with the Imps boss joking that his players would still give their all if they were “playing in my own back garden”.
“The television stuff doesn’t matter to us, it doesn’t matter where they game is, who we are playing. All of that stuff honestly doesn’t matter to these players.
“I know they will give me one hundred percent and they would do that even if they were playing in my own back garden.
“We will give every last drop of energy we have, we will be disciplined and we won’t be found out of our depth. It’s a great challenge”
The FA Cup run has given the Cowleys and the Imps faithful some life-long memories.
They have taken the club to a point in the FA Cup that they hadn’t reached for well over a century.
However, Cowley believes that the enormity of their achievements throughout the cup run will only sink in once their FA Cup adventure comes to an end.
“When things calm down, when things end in this run, then there may be a realisation of what we have done. For now we are in a bubble and we are enjoying it.
“We have learnt a lot, we have learnt that we can match Football League clubs and we can match Championship opposition.
“We have learnt from them and how they organise their sides. We are doing the same as players and coaching staff with Burnley.
“Their players know their roles in the side in every different scenario, it’s a great blend that they have on the pitch.
“Nick and myself are learning from that. They are the blueprint, they are what we need to match to take this club forward.
“If we can be what they are, on and off the pitch, we can have success with Lincoln City in the near future”.
And if they can do that then maybe, just maybe, Lincoln City and Danny Cowley can deliver a hammer blow to Burnley’s FA Cup hopes.
Article: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Images: Reuters Media (Action Images)