Only three years separate Alan Pardew and Iain Dowie and only about eight feet kept them apart yesterday. That was the distance between the managers in their respective technical areas down at pitchside at the Millennium Stadium here in Cardiff, and for just over an hour the similarity in their actions was so close they were almost a carbon copy of one another.
They were so close at times, they could probably have reached out and touched each other, if only in the spirit of sharing such a common goal, namely promotion to the Premiership. But Dowie, the Crystal Palace manager, and Pardew, his friend and West Ham counterpart, were not going to have much time for touchy-feely pleasantries.
Better instead to patrol the technical area surveying the wide expanse of this great stadium. Fix your gaze on a player, encourage him and try to make yourself heard. Spare the sentiment for each other until later. They were both models of impassive patience for the vast majority of the game, which was billed as the single most valuable club match in the world. Each time it was mentioned, its worth seemed to edge up higher.
What you can be sure of is that if Pardew and Dowie were facing each other in a Sunday afternoon game of bowls, with the stakes being who paid for tea and scones, they would go about it the same way. Fixed glares, saying only what had to be said, no excessive posturing or flailing of arms, or bawling out a player who made a mistake 80 yards out of earshot.
Both were bathed in Cardiff's late afternoon sunshine but neither would have noticed that. The odd sip of water was their only concession to the conditions in which Dowie must have suffered slightly more, clad as he was in his dark tracksuit. Pardew, for his part, donned shorts and a tee-shirt, stripped and ready for action.
But that all changed with 62 minutes gone. As the saying goes, goals have a habit of changing games and when Neil Shipperley tapped in from three yards out, Dowie was not about to remain the brooding, pensive manager.
It was with good reason as well that he went charging around inside his technical area, slapping high-fives with his coaching staff and waiting substitutes. This was not a Jose Mourinho-style celebration, in the way that the Porto manager had so wound up Sir Alex Ferguson when beating Manchester United in the Champions' League earlier this season.
A swift tour of his colleagues and then back to the serious stuff of watching his team play out just under half-an-hour of such an important match. The goal got Pardew thinking. Substitutions followed and his notes began to proliferate. The former Reading manager, who joined the Hammers last October from the Berkshire club, is famous for his pieces of paper as he jots things down during a match.
But still, despite the scribbling, Pardew remained in control of his emotions. He had been here before, losing the Second Division play-off final to Walsall three years ago, yet this defeat will have hurt far more. He is, after all, a West Ham fan and this will have cut him to the bone.
Only with about 10 minutes to go and all his substitutes used did he resort to last-gasp tactics of shouting and waving at anything within range. It was to no avail. His players heard him and tried to respond but they had nothing left to give and it is doubtful if Pardew, who cares so much for his club, had much in the tank either.
As for Dowie, he was gracious in victory but his facial expression cracked into one big smile. All that concentration had to give way to joy or sadness, and for the former West Ham centre-forward he beamed with happiness like he cannot have beamed before. "It's quite incredible," said Dowie. "The players have shown great commitment and desire. West Ham are a good side but we did what we could and stuck to our game plan. We showed today that we are a good football side and now we have to take on the superpowers in the Premier League. We have got to come up with a format for staying there. It is a huge ask."
The final episode of Friends was shown on Friday night, after a 10-year run. Dowie has known Pardew longer than that, but like those celebrated Americans, the paths of these two old stagers will diverge from now on.
'Now we must stay there. It is a huge ask'
You would not have written this story - you could not. It is not about fate and all that. We have written our own script and are proud to have done it. As far as I am concerned it is about commitment on the training ground. It has been a 28-round fight since I took over. We have got to come up with a format for staying in the Premiership. It is a huge ask.
Iain Dowie, Crystal Palace manager
All our fans, their dreams and ambitions for the club, have ended. We have been through a lot. All you have to do is be stronger for it and go forward. It is hard to reflect on the performance today, there is a lot of frustration. It was always going to come down to who would take their chance.
Alan Pardew, West Ham manager
It's unbelievable, we knew it was going to be a tough game. I'm so happy for the boys. A fantastic day. This is why we are football players. This is why we show dedication and do the hard work. The gaffer has worked us really hard but nobody has complained.
Nico Vaesen, Palace goalkeeper
I am emotional, very emotional. A great day, quality. It just shows how much guts and determination this team have.
Andrew Johnson, Palace striker
All we have worked for this season, everything we have put in comes down to 90 minutes. You take that feeling with you next year, that you don't want to have it again. I have lost in the play-offs before and come back to win promotion the next year. That is the character and spirit we have to look for. We will sit down and look a few people in the eye and maybe make some tough decisions.
It's quite incredible, but we are not going to go bananas. We need to make sure this is a legacy which improves the club overall. But they are thoughts for another day. Today is about thanking everyone in the club. It is a wonderful achievement. I am a Premiership manager, but they are Premier League players and have shown that since I have been here and have done us proud. I thought against a side with as much quality as West Ham that they did very well.
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