Sunday, 31 October 2010

Strange behaviour in the Darlington dugout

What is the point of any away team's manager getting involved with heated banter and bickering with the home fans? The very idea that a manager would even bother seems ludicrous. What possible good is ever going to come of it in terms of the team's performance on the pitch?

Some context. Yesterday I was at AFC Wimbledon v Darlington. The first thing to say is that Darlington got their tactics right, worked their socks off and were probably deserved winners. But Darlington manager Mark Cooper's conduct in the dugout was really bizarre.

Stood in my usual spot on the terraces behind the dugouts, I get to hear a lot of what the managers say during the game. I pick this spot because I find Dons manager Terry Brown's continual encouragement of his troops to keep calm and play attractive football rather heart-warming.

Opposition managers - Crawley's Steve Evans aside, obviously - have generally conducted themselves in a good manner this season at Kingsmeadow. I had always been under the impression that Mark Cooper was an intelligent, forward-thinking young manager - but that was not the impression I left with yesterday.

Some fans behind me were giving Cooper a little bit - and I emphasise the words 'little bit' - of stick, largely about how things hadn't worked out for him as manager of Peterborough. Cooper was giving a bit back for some reason, but it was largely harmless at this point. Then one fan quipped "How much dodgy money are they paying you at Darlo?", or words to that effect. Cooper's response was quite surprising.

He paused for a moment, then turned around and snarled: "About one-hundred-and-fifty grand, tax-free, ah-reet?!"

It's one thing to banter with the away fans - as the likes of Dagenham keeper Tony Roberts regularly demonstrate, you'll quickly gain widespread respect if your banter is good - but to spitefully start boasting about your salary just because a couple of fans have harmlessly taken the mick... as you can imagine, the fans took a real shine to Cooper from this point on.

During the second half, the manager continued to argue with the home fans. There was a lengthy debate between Cooper and the fans over a free-kick in Darlington's favour. And at one point, responding to a throwaway comment from a Dons fan, Cooper crowned his afternoon with a really bad 'Your Mum' joke aimed at one particular fan. And not a funny one either. How much is a manager's mind on his team's performance if he's coming up with crap jokes about supporters' mothers?

One final point. While Cooper remained a distracted presence for large periods of the game, his assistant Richard Dryden acquitted himself well. For much of the game it appeared that Dryden was calling most of the shots. On a couple of occasions it even appeared that Dryden had overruled Cooper on a couple of decisions. I'm sure it wasn't quite as it seemed, but there's no question that Dryden was the only one of the two that was fully focused on the game. Indeed he was the only person in the stadium who realised what had happened when the referee gave Darlington a penalty for more-or-less nothing in the second half.

Apologies if any of this sounds like sour grapes. Darlington did play well, with some impressive performances from the likes of Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Chris Senior and live-wire substitute Daniel Powell. But their manager's behaviour was just plain odd.


Charles said...

Good piece.

I forgot to mention after the game, I wasn't sure you'd heard what had gone on between him and Dryden around their penalty and, since you didn't include it, I guess you probably didn't.

What happened was:

-Jefferson Louis picked up the ball to take the penalty.
-Dryden started yelling "Take him off it, get him the fuck off it, he's just come on, he's cold."
-Cooper and the players ignored him.
-Louis took a shit penalty and they score from the rebound as you saw.
-Dryden said "I told you to get him the fuck off it."
-Cooper: "Hey! Hey! Don't tell me to fuck off!"
-Dryden: "No, I said..." etc, etc.

It was hilarious.

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