We have got a nice, easy day today – Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. I still have to stop and pinch myself when I think about it.
The big question is: how do we beat them? We might not be able to. They only lost one League game at home all last season and I'm not stupid, I know the odds are against us.
But for me it is like playing squash. To improve in that game you can't play against someone worse than you. You have to play against a better player. You will lose and lose and lose, but eventually you might beat them. This level of football is just like that. You have to be aware of what you are doing and if it doesn't work, look at why. Why did we get beat and what are we going to do next time to try and be better?
Life is like that. Look at everyone in business. They might have done things in years gone by that worked but, now we are in a recession, they need to think about how they are going to adapt. That's what I am trying to do with our lads. Today might be too much because it doesn't get tougher than the champions. It is the biggest game of my career but I wouldn't say biggest test because it's my lads who will be tested, not me. I'm not important. I'll just make sure each of my players knows exactly what I want them to do.
We got beat by Arsenal 6-0 the other week but our attitude afterwards was we want to play them again as soon as possible and see if we can do better. Playing Chelsea is the closest thing we can get to a rematch. Maybe they are even tougher than Arsenal; last year's results suggest so.
I think we've come a long way since Arsenal. I think we stood off them and were a bit nervous. But was our result so bad when you see a Champions' League team get beat by six? And they had 11 men.
It is very easy to write us off but we will give it our all and, whatever happens, I will be proud of my lads. I love this group, they are totally genuine. We are trying to work on getting some old-fashioned values into our lives, such as caring about other people. It used to be the case in the world, and it still can be because I believe there is more good than bad. Our lads are trying to do a little bit of good.
Manage my time better
It would be nice to spend some time with Carlo Ancelotti today and have a chat about football. But I doubt we will because managers don't get the chance to meet up nowadays.
In the first four matches I've only been able to sit down for a coffee with Arsène Wenger, and that was because we met by chance in the directors' box before the game. The problem is that we've so many media commitments to carry out after the match has finished. When Fulham played at Bloomfield Road a few weeks back, Mark Hughes came to my office and had a drink with my wife and a few friends of mine. But by the time I had finished doing my interviews with the TV and the papers, he had gone. It is my own fault really. I probably talk too much in interviews. They go on way too long and it's ruining my social life! I'll have to learn to be a bit quicker and not natter quite so much.
Sadly I did not get a chance to speak to Chris Hughton after we played Newcastle but he made a point of ringing me on the journey home and left a lovely message, passing on his best wishes to Gary Parkinson. That was such a classy gesture and it sums up Chris – he's a lovely man.
It is probably a shame us managers don't get a chance to talk with each other more. It would be nice if we could all meet up now and again and discuss some problems, although to be honest it probably wouldn't work if we did. When you meet with a group of other managers it's all a little bit "who you watching? ... who you scouting? ... oh, I'm not telling you", so maybe it's not worth it after all.
Bridge of highs
Our fans will love Stamford Bridge, I know I did the last time I went.
I had been promising my wife Kim for years that I would take her to a football game that I wasn't involved in. So when I was out of work for a year after leaving Leicester, I got us tickets for the Champions' League quarter-final between Chelsea and Liverpool. Chelsea had won the first leg 3-1 at Anfield and the return at Stamford Bridge turned out to be a classic, 4-4.
We were in a couple of seats in the bottom corner of the ground but there was so much going on, we spent the entire 90 minutes stood up. I've played there a couple of times but the ground wasn't finished like it is now. It is quite a stadium these days, with a team to match, and I am looking forward to getting there with my Blackpool boys this afternoon.
I'll turn off players' rap music and get George Benson in the dressing room
People often ask me what the hour before a game is like and how nervous we get. It sounds odd but for managers that hour is quite dull.
Once I've told the players the team, my assistant Steve Thompson and the coaches will take the lads out on the grass and put them through their paces.
As a manager, the next time I'll speak to the players is about 10 minutes before they go out, when I will give my team talk. So it is a pretty idle time for us really.
Sometimes one or two things crop up that need addressing. For example, at Newcastle last week I spoke to my centre-half Ian Evatt because I felt I needed to tell him how well he is doing. I told him the only obstacle I see in him is himself. I felt it was important to get that message across and he went on to play brilliantly in our 2-0 victory.
When all the players and staff are out doing the warm-up, an empty dressing room can be a good place to grab a bit of quiet time to think.
Mind you, I have to turn that horrible music off – the players' mix tape which they have blaring. I can't stand it, the players have terrible taste in music. Instead of a bit of class like Luther Vandross or George Benson (right), I get all these rap artists. Good gracious me, what is going on?
Very superstitious? Not now
I used to be terribly superstitious as a player but as a manager I'm nowhere near as bad. Mind you, I made sure I didn't go out on to the pitch to watch the lads warm up at Newcastle. I did that at Arsenal and we got trounced, so I didn't want to do it just in case history repeated itself.
When I was a player I was awful. I remember always having to fill up my coffee cup, put the sugar in and get the milk ready before the kettle boiled because if I did that I thought we'd win on the Saturday. If I'd had a particularly good game and had done something specific beforehand, I'd have to do the exact same thing the following match. Even David Beckham has a touch of all that. He has to get everything in order, like his CD collection. But I think if you're not careful you can end up getting paranoid so I don't do that sort of thing any more.
I don't believe those things can affect what we do on the pitch, and when you are a manager it is a totally different scenario. The biggest thing I can do as a boss is think about who we are playing and how to beat them. In 14 years as a manager I don't think that I've ever done as much research and preparation on the opposition as I do now.
Whether that will be enough to help us at Chelsea today is another matter!
No training as our coach fights for life
Gary Parkinson, our youth-team coach, has had a terrible stroke and his wife and father came to see me on Friday. The doctors can't do much more and there are only two people who have got over a stroke this severe. But his wife Debbie is fantastic.
She believes he is there and she wants to try and get him out and get him home, saying: "If two people have done it before, why can't Gary?" Our determination is to help her.
He is a very fit man. His body is still very fit. Unfortunately his brain is not. I am amazed at the strength of Debbie. As long as someone has come back before, then hopefully Gary can. But it's a shock to everyone, he's only 42.
I have tried to keep filling the players in on any news. It was a bit strange that I wasn't taking training, particularly on a day so close to the match, but I felt it was more important that I spoke to Debbie and try and allay some of her fears. This is all new for everybody. She is the mother of three children and wants to be as positive as she can. Gary has chosen well. They've known each other since they were 14, they met at school. If anybody can help him then she can.
We've spoken to the players about how lucky they are and you never know what is around the corner. I've had illnesses and bereavements before but not where someone is trapped in a body that is healthy and they can't get the messages through.
Family comes first and always will. The job is secondary and any time my players or staff have a problem, I give them time to be with the people that matter.
Gary was out of football for a while. His wife was telling me he was lost in the real world, delivering pies and stuff. But he loves working in football. I told Debbie we are waiting for him to come back: "get your backside out of that bed and get back in here"; that's the attitude we've all got to have.Reuse content