LONDON: A burning sense of injustice will accompany Dave Jones back to Southampton on Sunday when his Wolverhampton Wanderers team contest a place in the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
Jones returns to the south-coast club for the first time since his life was thrown into turmoil by unfounded child abuse allegations when he was Southampton manager almost four years ago.
The personal nightmare that followed would have broken lesser men.
Jones was arrested in Liverpool, the city of his birth, in June 1999 and five months later the ex-Everton defender was charged with several offences relating to his time as a care worker in the 1980s.
In January 2000, against his wishes, Southampton gave Jones paid leave to fight the impending court case.
But by the end of the month, Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe had appointed Glenn Hoddle as manager, so that when Jones was acquitted of all charges in December 2000, he had no job to return to.
Luckily for Jones, ambitious Wolves offered him a route back into management within a month.
Despite remaining angry with the authorities for their handling of the case – the strain of which he blames for causing the death of his father Bill – Jones says he holds no grudge against Southampton or Lowe, who is still chairman.
“I have no animosity towards anyone there. I still speak to the chairman on a regular basis and it will be nice to go back,” the 46-year-old said after the draw for the last eight in February.
But at the time of his appointment at Wolves, in January 2001, Jones had elaborated further: “Let's put it this way. It will now be an ambition to take my Wolves team back to the Dell (Southampton's old ground) where a 10-0 win would be really nice.
“I don't think I should ever have been forced to leave the Premiership in the first place.
“The strains of an impending court appearance were not weighing me down or affecting my work. But they (Southampton) took a decision, one with which I did not agree, and that was the end of that.”
At the Football Association's National Conference on Child Protection last October, Jones revealed his anger at the Crown Prosecution Service and a legal system he feels betrayed him.
“I feel bitter about the people who brought the allegations but more bitter towards the police and the CPS because they knew,” Jones said.
“They had the evidence that I was innocent and still proceeded with the case.”
In an interview with The Guardian newspaper in October 2001 Jones also revealed some of the almost Orwellian torment he had endured.
“I moved into a world I knew nothing about, a world of police and private investigators,” he said.
“It was like going into a nasty book. I was frightened and embarrassed. I didn't know what would happen and I didn't have any control over it. They could have taken my family away from me at any time,” said the father-of-four.
On Sunday, Jones will attempt to focus fully on football, as his club seeks to reach the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1998, when they lost 1-0 to Arsenal who went on to complete a league and Cup double.
The sense of a fresh start will be accentuated by the fact that Southampton have moved into their new St Mary's Stadium since Jones' days at their antiquated, if atmospheric Dell ground.
He should be able to count on a warm reception from the home fans – before the first whistle at least. After that an enthralling contest is in store between one of the Premier League's most improved teams and Jones' Division One promotion-chasers.
Wolves have won the FA Cup four times, but not since 1960. More recently, they reached the semi-finals in 1998, losing 1-0 to Arsenal.
Against Southampton, Wolves have failed to win any of the last eight encounters, the last of which was nearly 19 years ago, when Southampton won a League Cup third round replay 2-0 at Molineux.
But they did win the last FA Cup encounter between the two teams – a 3-0 first round success way back in 1914.
Nobody would be happier than Jones if they were to repeat that on Sunday. – Reuters