Short extends career to lend wealth of experience to youthful Blades runners

Craig Short was poised to leave football until Neil Warnock persuaded him to give it another year. Paul Newman reports
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The Independent Football

If Craig Short's move this summer from Blackburn Rovers to Sheffield United seemed to fit the mould of a player desperately clinging on to the only career he has known, think again. Neil Warnock, the United manager, needed all his powers of persuasion to convince Short to stay in the game.

"I've got a little sailing school in the Lake District and that's what I hope to do in the future," Short said. "A friend and I have a couple of yachts and we've set up a business teaching people to sail, though I have to get one more qualification.

"My mother used to sail and I always loved reading sailing magazines. I went up to the Lake District a few years ago and decided to go for it. I bought a boat, got some instruction.I like meeting people, so it seems the ideal business for me to go into."

Warnock's sweet-talking task was made more difficult by the incident at the end of last season which made Short unavailable for the first two matches of the new campaign. The defender could make his debut in today's trip to Queen's Park Rangers.

There were 22 minutes remaining of Short's final competitive match at Ewood Park when he became incensed by a bad foul by Fulham's Luis Boa Morte on Ryan Nelsen. Short pushed the Fulham forward over and was shown the red card.

"I shouldn't have reacted like that but I just lost it for five seconds," Short said. "The referee said: 'I've got to send you off.' I said: 'I know you have.'

"In the dressing-room afterwards I just felt embarrassed. I had loads of friends and family at the game, including some people who had never been to a match before. It was my wife's birthday and Mark Hughes had made me captain for the day. Actually I'd just been pleased to be playing, because I'd been left out a lot in the previous few months.

"There was a lap of honour after the game. They said I should go out, but I was just too embarrassed. I thought about packing it in. I knew the ban would carry over to this season, which I thought might be the nail in the coffin for me at Blackburn, because my future still hadn't been decided.

"I thought other clubs might not be interested in me because I'd be missing the first two games, but Neil Warnock asked me if I'd sign a contract with him if I didn't get an offer from Blackburn. He kept ringing me through the summer, because for a long time I didn't decide whether I would carry on playing."

Short had already given his word to Warnock when he was made a similar offer by Kevin Blackwell, the Leeds United manager. The three know each other well: Short made his League debut as a substitute at Hereford in 1987 in a Scarborough team featuring Blackwell in goal and Warnock as manager.

"I played as a midfielder wide on the right in those days," Short said. "When Neil brought me on he just told me to stop their full-back getting forward. I remember having a shocker in my first full game. We lost 3-0 at Swansea, who had Tommy Hutchison in their team. Neil Warnock nearly had a fight with their goalkeeper after the match. I remember thinking: 'Does this happen every game'?"

Short and Blackwell followed Warnock to Notts County, where the team trained by the Trent alongside Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest. "Cloughie was the manager Neil used to look up to more than anyone else," Short recalled. "We didn't see Cloughie very often, but he used to walk through our sessions. He never walked round us.

"Mick Jones, our assistant manager, had played at Derby under Cloughie, who would walk past him and say: 'Morning, Michael.' He'd reply: 'Morning, gaffer.' Then one day Cloughie walked past the manager and said: 'Morning, Neil.' Neil said: 'Morning, Brian.' Cloughie turned round and said: 'No - it's morning, gaffer.' It was the first time any of us had ever seen the manager stuck for words.

"When I was about 21 I remember walking into a newsagent's shop in West Bridgford which one of Cloughie's sons owned. He was in his green sweat shirt, stacking shelves. I whispered to my fiancée: 'That's Brian Clough!'

"I was walking round the shop and the next thing I remember I was falling into a magazine stand. Cloughie had shoulder-barged me into it. He turned to me and said: 'Not very strong for a big lad, are you?' We got out of the shop as quickly as we could."

Short was sold to Derby for £2.5m in 1992 and established himself as one of the Premiership's most reliable defenders. He moved to Everton for £2.7m in 1995 and to Blackburn - at the age of 31- for £1.7m in 1999.

Who, present manager excepted, is the best he has played under? "Graeme Souness - and not just because I had the best years of my career under him," Short said. "I liked the way he treated you as an adult and I liked his passion for the game.

"I remember a game against Arsenal when Keith Gillespie took the ball up the right wing. Graeme ran out of the dug-out and chased Keith down the line, screaming at him to take on Giovanni van Bronckhorst. Seeing that made you appreciate his passion for the game."

Short also recalls the manager's kindness over the biggest disappointment of his career, when suspension ruled him out of the 2002 Worthington Cup final against Tottenham. "Garry Flitcroft and myself were both banned, but Graeme made sure he involved us in everything. He included us in the build-up, he took us to the stadium before the game with the players and he got us on the pitch at the end."

What of Short's new club? Although Warnock felt he could not stand in the way of his striker Andy Gray, who joined Sunderland this week, the manager has money to replace him and has hung on to other key players like Paddy Kenny and Phil Jagielka. Moreover, he has reinforced his squad by paying Millwall £800,000 for Paul Ifill and Watford £500,000 for Danny Webber.

To the relief of Short, he has also gone for the experience of Crystal Palace's Neil Shipperley and Leicester City's Gillespie and Lilian Nalis.

"I felt old on my first day training here," Short said. "In the summer, before he made the other signings, the manager said the oldest player after me would be Chris Morgan, the captain, and he's only 27.

"Even if we get promoted I know that I won't be that much use to Sheffield United in a year's time. I'll be a year older and I was already finding it hard in the Premiership last season.

"I've a got a one-year deal here and then that will be it for me."

Fan's eye view: Nottingham Forest

By Alex Walker (editor of 'Lost That Loving Feeling' fanzine and website)

Having been relegated to League One you won the opening game, then lost at Walsall in midweek. Did that fill you full of foreboding? In a way, but we always lose to Walsall. We'll see how we get on in the next few games before we start to panic.

The manager, Gary Megson, seems to have fallen out with several players. Is this a bad thing? Who is at fault?

Megson has only fallen out with the players that the fans fell out with a long time ago. Far too many players have been letting themselves and the club down. It was overdue for someone put a stop to it.

Is the manager a) a genius; b) a fool; c) the best we can afford; d) better than the last bloke [Joe Kinnear]? Certainly better than the last bloke and probably better than we can afford. In fact, I'm not sure why Megson even came here?

Are the glory days of Clough and Taylor an impossible burden, or a source of inspiration? A comfort. Even for those of us who missed out by birth it's nice to know that somewhere in the mists of time Forest ruled Europe - most clubs we play now have only been on their holidays.

With Forest in League One, and County in League Two, are you worried that kids in Nottingham will grow up following Chelsea/Man Utd/Arsenal/Liverpool?

Nottinghamshire football is in a sorry state and it is a worry that the future support won't be there but I think Forest do better than most in the torch (curse?) being passed on.

Where will Forest finish (if not first)?Anything less than automatic promotion and we're done for. We'd never make it through the play-offs.

Which player must you hang on to? Kris Commons.

Best all-time game? I've very good memories of a 1996 FA Cup tie with Spurs which was snowed off, rearranged, then replayed and went to a pen-alty shoot-out that we won.

Best all-time goal? Ian Woan's impossible free-kick in that Tottenham Cup tie.

Best moment following Forest? Winning promotion in 1998 - the future seemed so bright back then!

Worst moment? Last year was the lowest ebb anyone could experience following Forest - I hope!

All-time terrace hero? PSYCHO!!! PSYCHO!!!

All-time Forest XI

Peter Shilton (1977-82)

Viv Anderson (1974-84)

Des Walker (1983-92; 02-04)

Kenny Burns (1977-81)

Stuart Pearce (1985-1997)

Steve Stone (1991-99)

Roy Keane (1990-93)

Lars Bohinen (1993-95)

John Robertson (1970-83; 85-86)

Stan Collymore (1993-95)

Trevor Francis (1979-81)

Manager: Brian Clough (1975-93)