Braintree Town's Danny Cowley: The PE teacher on verge of Football League

Danny Cowley
Danny Cowley is in his first season as Braintree Town manager

More often than not, there is a PE teacher in school who takes their classes so seriously it almost feels like students are being worked like genuine athletes.

But at one school in Essex you could probably not blame two of them for forgetting where they are for a moment.

By day, Danny and Nicky Cowley teach boys physical education at The FitzWimarc School in Rayleigh. But in evenings and weekends, the pair are pulling off a "miracle" in the National League.

Danny, assisted by brother Nicky, has led part-timers Braintree Town to the verge of the National League play-offs, above former Football League clubs Tranmere, Wrexham and Macclesfield.

"Every morning I enjoy going to work, whether it's at school with the pupils or whether I'm at Braintree Town with the players," he told BBC Essex. "It's only work if you don't enjoy it and I love what I do.

"I look forward to the summer, but we all know for football managers there's no such thing. You're normally more busy in the close season than you are during the season.

"It's about trying to be successful and the only way I know to do that is to work hard."

Unromantic miracle-makers

Oxford v Braintree
Braintree took League Two promotion hopefuls Oxford United to an FA Cup first-round replay this season

Since Cowley left Concord Rangers to replace Alan Devonshire 12 months ago, the Essex club have been on an upward trajectory.

Despite criticising the National League schedule after four matches in 10 days and having to deal with a number of postponements, Cowley has won 22 of his 45 league matches in charge.

Now all that is left to do to finish in the top five is draw against struggling Altrincham on Saturday.

"I think we've been dreaming all season," he said. "I haven't got quite this far in the dream so I'm expecting someone to wake me up and I'm not quite sure how it unfolds.

"It's important we don't get ahead of ourselves. The moment you think you've worked [football] out, it normally bites you on the bum.

"A lot of people from the outside question how and why we are where we are in the league when you consider how many big clubs are in it.

"Saturday's an opportunity to say we might be a small club, an unromantic name with average facilities, but we have really good players in that dressing room."

A man with a plan

Simeon Akinola
Simeon Akinola's nine league goals for Braintree this season have helped them into fifth position

Cowley has been here before.

During his eight years as Concord boss he guided them to three promotions and left them in the Conference South.

And he wants a team representing a town of just over 41,000 to show no fear as they close in on the Football League for the first time.

"I've been in these weeks before at the end of the season, and the best way to approach them is to put as much effort and work as intelligently as you can from Monday to Friday," he said.

"If you do that, you wake up Saturday morning kind of without any pressure because you know you've done everything you can.

"There should be no fear or anxiety in our group. The only thing running through our veins should be pride of what we've done.

"I'm sure whatever happens the people of Braintree will be really proud of this group but we know there's a possibility of us doing something that will probably never be forgotten.

"We'll use that to drive us, we'll embrace it - if you don't enjoy it, what's the point?"

Avoiding speculation

Braintree's Cressing Road
Braintree have won their past three matches, all of which were away from their Cressing Road home

As a result of his success at Cressing Road, Cowley has been linked with the vacant Colchester United job following their relegation to League Two.

Cowley says he "owes it to Braintree" to not have his head turned by the speculation, and that he has not thought about beyond this season.

"We're on a journey at the moment, we're a part-time club and I'm a part-time manager," he said.

"As a football manager you have to put everyone else first. I don't always think about myself and I try to put all my energy into my players.

"That's what I'll continue to do until this process is over. When the season ends, then we'll draw breath and take it from there."