Neil Warnock: Arsenal's magical shoot-out helps me recover from rush-hour crush

What I Learnt This Week
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Our epic "Eagles Tour of England and Wales" has begun, 1,256 miles on the road playing three demanding games in a week.

The odyssey began at 7am on Wednesday with William acting as my eager alarm clock. He happily jumped on me to start what was to be a long day. I joined up with some staff and players at Beckenham train station just after eight. There were seven or eight of us, all in our tracksuits. We were on our way to Turf Moor, Burnley, via London Bridge, Euston, and Preston railway stations. I had my eyes opened when we went to the Underground. It was my first time in the morning rush hour and to say it was an experience would be a huge understatement. When we walked down those narrow tunnels, probably 20 abreast, it reminded me of a holiday in Vietnam. I tried to cross the road with about five million pushbikes bearing down on me.

On the train we were packed in like sardines. I would imagine dressed in ordinary clothes it would be bad enough, but to be in the midst of the crush wearing tracksuits with "Crystal Palace FC" emblazoned all over them heightened the experience. Everyone seemed pleased to see us, if a bit surprised. I don't think they get professional footballers going to work in the rush hour very often.

We got to Euston to find the escalator was out of order. Londoners tell me the Northern Line is the deepest. I believe them. We must have been in the bowels of the earth. I've never seen a longer set of steps in my life. I needed binoculars to see the top. It reminded me of my Chesterfield days in the Sixties when we used to train by running up and down the terraces.

We met up with the rest of the squad at Euston. There were 26 of us in all. At the back of the compartment was a family with a young child wailing. I said to the guy, "Don't worry, we've all been there". Once we were under way the Lancashire girls looked after us with a super breakfast and excellent service.

We had a bus meet us at Preston which took us to the hotel. After a meal the players had a sleep. So far so good, and it looked like it was going to be a great trip when, with seven minutes to go, we led 2-1.

We lost 4-2. I've never conceded three goals like that. And guess what? Our collapse started with a penalty given by a linesman. The ref, who was in a fantastic position 10 yards away, waved play on after a challenge by Clint Hill. The crowd went nuts and the young linesman, a Mr Cummings, suddenly flags as if his life depends on it, then puts his hand on his chest to signal a penalty. The home fans erupted and the ref had no choice but to give it. Mr Cummings was loved for the rest of the evening. I'm sure he enjoyed that.

I cannot go on too much about the officials because apparently this last week a couple of lesser columnists have taken issue with my writing about them. A Patrick Collins mentioned some of my quotes regarding linesmen and referees, and said he hoped that I'd soon be on my tractor in Cornwall.

Pat, who works for the Mail on Sunday and is, incidentally, a fan of our rivals, Charlton, last week won a journalism award. I assume he was the only entry, although I gather another Mail columnist, Martin Samuel, who also gave me a critical mention this week, won last year. Martin's also had a few things to say about the Carlos Tevez affair, generally critical of Sheffield United's case. He's a West Ham fan, by the way. It's just as well I turned the Mail down when they offered me more money to write for them. I'd rather write for a paper I trust than chase the money.



2. Gerrard was brilliant but why the swan dive?

When I went into the press conference after the Burnley game all the journos were looking at the telly. Arsenal's penalty shoot-out with Roma was just starting. I said, "Sorry, lads, you'll have to wait for a quote. This is too exciting. Turn the sound up."

It must have been the longest press conference I've ever given. We were there about 20 minutes, cheering when Arsenal scored, being deflated when Roma did. It was a great result.

Talking of the Champions League games, I sat there on Tuesday night with William watching Chelsea and, until they scored to kill the tie, Liverpool. The quality and pace Liverpool showed at the start is made to measure for European football. Liverpool wipe the floor with teams that don't harass them. They played some unbelievable football, but I had to smile when I saw Steven Gerrard do the most ridiculous dive at the edge of the box and the ref fall for it hook, line and sinker. Gerrard got all the right headlines for the way he played that night, so why on earth does he have to do things like that? And why aren't referees good enough to spot it? Just think if that had been Cristiano Ronaldo diving. There'd have been bedlam.

We also have to bring in technology to confirm if the ball has crossed the line. Chelsea's "goal" from Drogba was so far over it was untrue. When that happens you feel things are against you but Drogba's goal near the end thankfully sent them though.



3. I hope mud treatment will do the trick again

Having stayed overnight after Burnley, we got up early the following morning to get the 9.58, only to arrive at the station to find all trains to London had been cancelled as a freight train was blocking the line. I had to talk the driver of our bus into taking us down to Crewe to catch one from there. When I got back to London it was to find Sharon had lined up a series of house viewings. Our landlord is kicking us out, so I spent the afternoon looking round houses before getting dolled up for a do in London. It was a Red Nose fundraiser organised by Theo Paphitis, who owns Ryman. He used to be chairman at Millwall, though you may know him better through the Dragons' Den TV programme.

As I was getting ready William said, "Dad, you can't put that on your nose, it's too big". When Sharon picked him up off the floor I gave him a goodnight kiss.

I'm only joking, but he did have a bruise having got a kick on his ankle playing football. They lost 2-0 as well. Amy is away in France for five days on a school trip and we've been told we can't ring her. It's called PGL. I said to her, "What's that mean?" She said, "Parents Get Lost".

It was a good do, which must have raised a lot of money. Sadly, I had to leave early as we were off to Swansea in the morning. As it was I bumped into the milkman on the way home. I felt like asking him if he could drop me off at the station

So it was back on the commute and a train to Wales. We had arranged to train near Neath but we found we were on a muddy rugby pitch, and just across from us was the Swansea team on three lovely football pitches. I could see them watching us, so I looked at the mud and said, "We'll just play head tennis". Something similar happened before we played at Plymouth and we won 3-1 , so I hope we'll be celebrating on the journey back tonight. I expect to get home about 11.30pm. Then, on Monday, we're off to Barnsley.



4. Botham's censure of Strauss just not cricket

I had to laugh when Ian Botham criticised Andrew Strauss for not declaring in time in the last Test against the West Indies. I don't remember him being a fantastic England captain.

Strauss has done well so far, and he's also been batting superbly. Once the No 3 position is sorted out I think we'll go from strength to strength. No disrespect to Owais Shah, but I do think, speaking as a Kentish Man these days, that they should give Rob Key a chance. I know Michael Vaughan has had a few mentions but I think Key has earned a go with his professionalism and attitude.

Comments