AS teenagers starting out in football as apprentices at Southampton, Chris Wilder and Phil Parkinson shared digs.
A bond was formed amid those hopes and dreams of making the grade, but tomorrow those ties of 30 or so years ago will be cast aside as both men look to start new managerial reigns on a high.
Wilder left Northampton Town this summer to take charge of the club he has supported since boyhood, while Parkinson opted to call time on nearly five years at Bradford City to join Bolton Wanderers.
“I actually know all three of the Bolton coaching staff,” said the Sheffield United chief to The Yorkshire Post, “Phil from when I was 14 and a schoolboy at Southampton.
“We shared digs down there and played in the same youth team. (Bolton assistant) Steve Parkin, being a Blade, is someone I have bumped into quite a few times and spoken to him on numerous occasions. He is a great guy.
“Then there is my old mate (goalkeeping coach) Lee Butler, of course. We all get on but, come three o’clock, business is business. They are three great guys and we will have a beer afterwards, but we will all be desperate to win.”
Parkinson’s exit from Valley Parade was perhaps more of a surprise than Wilder’s return to the Steel City.
Bradford had reached the League One play-offs last season, while Bolton had suffered an ignominious relegation amid a season dominated by financial problems at the Macron.
Swapping a club where he had enjoyed five years of continuous improvement in terms of league position and some thrilling Cup runs for Bolton stunned Bantams fans, but Wilder is certain his old friend will have had sound reasons.
“People were surprised when I left Oxford, but people probably don’t always know what goes off behind the scenes at a football club,” said the United chief, who quit the Kassam Stadium in early 2014 despite the U’s being in the hunt for the League Two play-offs.
“From a distance, yes, it probably looked surprising. But, underneath, lots of things go off that people don’t always get to know about.”
United, once again priced as favourites to win League One by the bookmakers, set the tone for what turned out to be a hugely disappointing campaign on the opening day 12 months ago when losing 4-0 at Gillingham.
The Blades went on to finish 11th and Nigel Adkins paid the price with his job. Wilder, fresh from leading Northampton to the League Two title, is now hunting a second successive promotion.
And with 4,000 United fans set to travel to Bolton, the 48-year-old wants the campaign to get off to a positive start against Parkinson’s men.
“It is not where you start,” added the United chief, who has named Che Adams in his squad in the wake of two recent bids from Birmingham City being rejected for the 20-year-old. “Instead, it is where you finish and I truly believe this group will get better as the season goes on.
“But, equally, there is no reason why we can’t do well to begin with. We don’t want to be playing catch-up. With the standing of the opposition – the big clubs in a division they shouldn’t be in but are – and with the players on show, this is the stand-out game in the division.
“It will have the feel of a Championship game rather than League One. There are some talented players on show, but it is all about the team.”
Wilder has worked hard to refresh a squad that so badly under-achieved in 2015-16 and United are likely to field several debutants at Bolton.
“It is easy playing (computer game) Championship Manager,” said the Blades chief, “picking players and signing players. But we have to do it the tough way and in budget.
“All different types of qualities are needed to pull a team together.
“We are happy with the recruitment we have done and there is still a bit of work to do. But the players have taken on board what we are trying to do and they are looking forward to it.
“I think the players understand what we have brought to the club. They get our core philosophy.
“They know we are here to compete, to win tackles, to win races and play positive football. There have been times this week when we have had to slow them down because they are raring to go.”
As for the challenges that both Parkinson and Wilder have faced this summer, the United chief added: “We all have the problem as new managers, that there are seven or eight new signings to integrate, players you have inherited, players who can do it and players who won’t or can’t.
“Then, you also have to assess. But the top and bottom of it is, Phil has got some quality players there.
“Phil will be saying the same as us – that they are probably not the finished article yet. But he will still be looking for a good season.”