Royle return for no ordinary Joe
It all happened so quickly.
Joe Royle was walking his dog in the woods near his Merseyside home when his mobile phone rang.
It was Sunday, 15 March and within hours the 59-year-old was back in management after an absence of almost three years.
Royle's last position had been with Ipswich, but he left Portman Road at the end of the 2005-06 season after almost 200 games in charge.
He felt he had done a pretty good job at the East Anglian club, taking them to the play-offs twice in his final three seasons, only narrowly missing out on automatic promotion in 2004 despite financial problems that forced Royle to slim down his squad.
After regarding his time there as a qualified success Royle expected to return to management, but as time rolled on he began to think otherwise.
"I had applied for three or four jobs recently and did not get any replies," Royle, who has also managed Manchester City, told me.
"I thought that perhaps football had forgotten me."
But this isn't just an ordinary story of a last chance for an ageing manager. What gives his latest appointment added poignancy and romance is its location. Big Joe was back at Oldham Athletic, the club he managed with notable success between 1982 and 1994. It was one of football's fairy stories.
Those of a certain age will clearly remember the exploits of 1990. Royle's Second Division Latics pushed Manchester United all the way in their FA Cup semi-final, eventually losing the replay, which went to extra-time, 2-1 after the first game had finished 3-3. The club did reach the final of the Littlewoods Cup but were beaten 1-0 by Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest. Scalps such as Arsenal and Everton were taken along the way.
Royle's team, with the likes of Andy Ritchie, Earl Barrett, Roger Palmer and Nicky Henry in the side, caught the imagination not only of the residents of Oldham but the wider public. His team played with a directness and intent that was exciting and fearless. Oldham's tale was also one of the classic British stories of the mouse that roared even if they fell short of a fairytale ending.
However, his team did go on to win promotion from the old Second Division in 1991 and remained in the top flight to become an inaugural member of the Premier League in 1992.
"They were magical times," recalls Royle, whose first four seasons at the club had resulted in mediocre league finishes.
"We had the pinch-me season in 1990, the fans couldn't believe it. At one stage we had three queues outside Boundary Park - one for FA Cup tickets, another for Littlewoods Cup tickets and a third for league tickets.
"Gates were up to around 17-18,000. It was a fantastic time for a club that at times struggled to get 3,500 fans."
Eventually the financial realities of life in the Premier League caught up with the Latics, always a selling club, and Oldham were relegated at the end of the 1993-94 season.
The Oldham years, however, always remained special to Royle, who regards the Latics promotion to the top flight as he his greatest achievement in management alongside keeping Everton in the Premier League after he left Boundary Park to take over at Goodison Park in November 1994 with the Merseyside club in a perilous position.
"I have always kept in touch with the club," said Royle, whose two sons still live in Oldham.
Most of his Saturdays over recent seasons had been taken up with media work but an occasional weekend off would see him down at Boundary Park. He had been three times this season prior to his appointment.
He accepted the offer of a return in seconds, but what about the old adage that you should never go back? Doesn't he risk sullying some rich and cherished memories?
He prefers to point instead to Graham Taylor, who took Watford into the Premier League during his second spell at Vicarage Road.
"I am well aware of the unwritten rule but there are exceptions and there is no scientific reason why it will not work second time around," said Royle.
Unfortunately for Oldham, results so far suggest that anyone hoping of a sensational return will be disappointed.
After his first game in charge, a 2-0 home defeat to Tranmere, Royle visited an Indian restaurant he used to frequent during his first spell in charge, taking his sons along with him. Ian Stott, the chairman at Boundary Park during the Royle years, and several former directors turned up to see the manager's first game back. "It was just like old times - except that we lost," Royle told me.
After the initial phone call, Royle met officials from Oldham in a hotel in Worlsey and talked about the squad and Oldham's prospects for the remainder of the season.
Royle did not feel the need to formally sign a contract and took over with nine games left to salvage a season that had promised so much but lost its way. His position will be reviewed at the end of the campaign.
John Sheridan had been sacked amid some poor results and a night at the dogs that allegedly spiralled out of control, with one player holding the manager in a headlock.
Royle needed a good start to boost the Latics play-off prospects but after the defeat to Tranmere it took a 94th-minute equaliser at lowly Cheltenham to rescue a point in his second game.
The manager was less than thrilled with his team's first-half showing at Whaddon Road and delivered the first serious rollocking after his return to the game.
"Some were starting to put on their shorts and get on the suntan cream but it's a bit early for that," said the Latics boss.
Royle is savvy enough to know that his team are up against it and just wishes that he had taken over with five more points. Then again, if Oldham had five more points they probably wouldn't have sacked Sheridan.
Oldham's current standing means that Royle will probably be denied a first outing at the new Wembley when the League One play-off final takes place on 24 May.
But given the history of Royle and Oldham Athletic, don't write off the prospect just yet.