WIN, lose or draw, John Ward and Danny Wilson will share a bottle of red tomorrow evening.
This fixture at the Weston Homes Community Stadium not only brings together two of League One’s most attacking teams but also a pair of genuine nice guys.
“We’ll sit down and have a drink with each other afterwards,” Ward said. “Make no mistake about that.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Danny because not only is he excellent at his job but he’s also a damn good bloke,
“And in this business you don’t often get both.”
Ward, whose Colchester side hope to inflict a first league defeat of the season on Wilson’s Sheffield United, can not recall when he first encountered his rival across the technical area.
But the 61-year-old does know he commands the visitors’ utmost respect.
Speaking before last season’s 1-1 draw at Colchester, Wilson made no attempt to disguise his admiration for Colchester’s vastly experienced manager who recently celebrated four decades in the game.
Confidants turned enemy combatants.
“I’m a manager in name only. To be honest, I’m probably more of a coach,” Ward told The Star.
“That’s why I’ve never turned down a job because it doesn’t involve being the number one. Just being involved in football is enough for me.
“What makes me tick, what gives me the most enjoyment, is putting my tracksuit on and getting involved with players.
“Young lads need a bit of guidance and there’s nothing more satisfying when you bump into them later down the track and they thank you for teaching them something.”
Despite preferring to spend match days suited and booted, Wilson is also a blue collar kind-a-guy.
Only by spending long hours on the training ground has the Blades boss been able to transform United from being a club which used to be famed for its route one approach into arguably the division’s most attractive side.
“Danny and I have known each other a while,” Ward admitted.
“Danny is very knowledgeable and I enjoy the challenge of pitting my wits against him because he’s sharp. He’s got a good footballing brain.
“We do speak a lot and give each other little bits of advice or information about this and that. But we both want to win. There’s no doubt about it.”
Ward, who cut his teeth as Graham Taylor’s assistant at Watford and Aston Villa before striking out on his own at York, has never worked for United.
But he does know some of Bramall Lane’s most fondly remembered names. Gary Ablett, who seven months ago lost a hard-fought battle with cancer, lured him to Edgeley Park soon after taking charge of Stockport County while Paul McGrath helped shape Ward’s approach to his trade.
“If you didn’t meet Gary then you definitely missed-out. He was a wonderful bloke,” he said. “I’d actually gone for the job myself but Gary got it.
“He wanted someone to come in and work alongside him and my CV was still on the desk in his office so he gave me a call and within a day I was up there.
“It didn’t last long, only six weeks, because of the situation County were in but they were six good weeks.”
“Paul didn’t train on Fridays if Villa had a game, he used to sit at the training ground having a cup of coffee when the rest of the lads were working,” Ward added. “There were a lot of big players there at the time, the likes of Gordon Cowans and David Platt, so I can remember being really worried about whether they’d accept someone doing that.
“In fact, when Graham signed Paul, I though ‘what on earth are you doing?’ I couldn’t have been more wrong because he was an excellent professional and Graham tailored a programme for him.
“That taught me a very important lesson. That although we work with teams in this business, you’ve also got to treat people as individuals to get the best out of the group as a whole.”
United, who began the new campaign by beating Shrewsbury followed by a draw at Coventry, travel to Essex as one of the favourites for promotion. Colchester’s ambitions are much more prosaic.
Nevertheless, with Freddie Sears and Clinton Morrison among Ward’s summer signings, they have the potential to upset the division’s most fancied sides.
“We’re all under pressure,” he said. “Sheffield United are arguably going to be under more than us because of the expectation levels up there but we all want to achieve our targets, no matter what they are.”
Teams and ref
COLCHESTER (possible): Cousins, Rose, Okuonghae, Heath, Wilson, O’Toole, Bean, Wordsworth, Morrison, Sears, Henderson.
UNITED (possible): Howard, McMahon, Maguire, Collins, Hill, McAllister, Doyle, McDonald, Quinn, Blackman, Cofie.
GARRY SUTTON (Lincs): Sent-off nine players last season and started the new campaign by issuing a red card during Barnsley’s Capital One Cup success at Rochdale. Averaged nearly three cautions per match throughout the 2011/12 campaign but did not book a single player on his previous visit to Colchester in March.