Michael Nelson has fond memories of his time at Hartlepool United working under passionate Scot Neale Cooper.
His one big regret though was that Cooper wasn’t sat in the dugout to watch the team he built take on Sheffield Wednesday in the League One Play-Off final in Cardiff.
Cooper first spell at Pools had been a resounding success, with free-flowing attacking football a feature of the campaign.
Towards the end of the season the home form fell away and with one game remaining Pools found themselves needing a point away at Bournemouth to clinch the last spot.
But just days before the crucial match, came the shock news that Cooper had left – the reasons for which have never been fully explained.
Pools though, under the stewardship of Cooper’s assistant Martin Scott, clinched the final play-off spot and went on to reach the Cardiff final – without Cooper.
And Nelson admits the players were “gutted” for their former manager, who had done so much for the club.
“I was gutted for the manager that he wasn’t there, he deserved to be there,” Nelson told SportMail.
“It was down to him why we were there and it would have been nice for him to share the moment.
“It is probably the two most successful seasons in his career.”
Cooper loved a joke – as anyone at the recent Cardiff Reunion event will testify – but Nelson insists the players never pushed it too far and knew exactly where they stood with him.
“It wasn’t like everything was just a joke,” added Nelson.
“You knew were the line was but every day going into training was a laugh and you didn’t know what was going to happen.
“Martin complimented him well and from going into training on Monday to finishing after the match Saturday, it was a good week.
“Unless the result didn’t go your way! But there weren’t many of them that season.
“You have to enjoy it as much as you can because you don’t know whether it will be the same under the next manager or at a different club.”
Pools forked out £70,000 for Nelson in 2003 to sign him from Bury and he went on to make 250 appearances over six seasons before signing for Norwich City, Scunthorpe United, Kilmarnock and Bradford City and last season Cambridge United.
Nelson, now a free agent, was one half of a formidable defensive partnership with Chris Westwood at Pools.
In the Cardiff matchday programme, ‘Westy’ speaks fondly of his Gateshead-born teammate, nicknamed Bean Head because of a mole on the back of his head.
Westwood wrote: “Michael and I have an understanding at the back and you don’t normally get that straight away. A great colleague to play alongside.”
And Nelson agrees that it was a match made in heaven.
“From first coming into the club, me and Westy didn’t really have a great amount of time to try to hone a partnership,” Nelson told SportMail.
“It was just a case of getting on with it.
“I was slightly taller and maybe a bit more aggressive, while Westy had to go and mix it, which he could and the balance was good.
“The amount of games we played together, it was one of the best partnerships I have ever been involved in.
“We were consistent, Dimi was playing really well and the full-backs too.
“It was a real team effort and we had quite a few clean sheets.
“You always try to build from a solid base.”
And from that solid defensive base, the side’s flair players were able to strut their stuff at the other end of the pitch during the 2004-05 campaign.
Nelson added: “Joel Porter, from the minute he signed to the minute he left, was on fire.
“They complimented each other really well, him and Boydy.”