Neil Warnock: Avram Grant taking over at Pompey? I'm sure none of us saw that coming - News & Comment - Football - The Independent

Neil Warnock: Avram Grant taking over at Pompey? I'm sure none of us saw that coming

What I Learnt This Week

Paul Hart's fate at Pompey looked harsh given what he had had to put up with from the start of the season, but although he'll be disappointed I'm not convinced managing is his forte.

He may not agree with me but I think he is one of the top youth coaches in the country and I think he will end up with one of the big clubs in charge of their academy. He has patience galore and can improve young players so I don't think he will be out of a job for long.

To everyone's surprise Avram Grant has taken over. Another reminder that in football you've got to know who your friends are. On the positive side, I like having Avram around, he makes me look young.

Actually, I am getting younger. I've decided having reached 60 last year it's time to start counting backwards. So I'll be celebrating my 59th birthday again on Tuesday. I guess I'll have to stop using my Freedom Pass.

2. Heroes put squabbles of football in perspective

On Tuesday morning one of the lads finished training early as a result of a bad finger. I did wonder at the time if that was a bit soft, that night I had my feelings confirmed at the 10th anniversary of the South London Press Our Heroes awards, at the Shell Centre on the South Bank. There were many wonderful stories throughout the night of local people making a difference.

A couple of people stood out for me. One was the community campaigners' nominee, Solomon Smith, a remarkable 24-year-old who was in a gang at 15 and has since turned his life around. He's working hard to reduce violence and tensions between gangs in the Brixton and Peckham areas.

Then there was Grace Idowu, whose son died in July a few weeks after being stabbed though the heart in sight of his home, aged 14. Instead of moping around she has established the David Idowu Foundation in his name and goes everywhere, talking in schools about knife crime. She's made a remarkable impact.

I was there to present a spirit of courage award to an amazing four-year-old called Bayley Woodgate, who was viciously attacked by two Staffordshire bull terriers and had all his scalp ripped off. Obviously he has no hair and a scarred head, but he had come through it with a smile on his face. His was one of many tear-jerking stories.

It shows how pampered we are in our game when you compare what gets people moaning in football to people like Solomon, Grace and Bayley.

3. Nasty surprises lurk in the back seats of taxis

We went back on the train from the awards. As we pulled in to Lewisham we heard a low voice saying the train was terminating. We thought, "what now?" but managed to find a guard who told us we had to catch a bus at stop G over the bridge. We couldn't find G so decided to get a taxi. We managed to flag down a black cab and got in. Sharon said she could smell wet wipes, but we thought nothing more of it. Arriving home we paid the taxi and I was opening the front door when a strange feeling hit me on the right cheek of my backside. My trousers were wet through and so were my underpants. Yuk. If the driver is reading this, I'm just so glad I didn't have a light grey suit on.

4. Rafa's problem? Not enough squad talent

Although everyone is trying to suggest it may be for the best, it has to be a massive blow for Liverpool going out of the Champions League. The Europa League is no real consolation, even if it does offer the mouthwatering prospect for Reds fans of a Merseyside derby.

I'm sure they would rather tomorrow was their only trip to Everton this season. This is a huge game for Liverpool. Their fans are more patient than most when it comes to managers but I think if things go wrong at Goodison you will hear some critics. It is human nature at this time of year. Through divisions directors and boards start thinking, "Should we change our manager? Will we have a better chance of surviving, or being successful, with someone else?"

Rafa's biggest problem is that, despite all the money he has spent, when Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are out, they are woefully short of the quality that is needed.

Arsenal's defeat at Sunderland last week suggested they are in a similar situation with Robin van Persie. He is such a big loss. When he's out, or Cesc Fabregas, against well organised sides like Sunderland, there will always be the possibility of defeat.

Whatever happens at the Emirates tomorrow against Chelsea, and you would not write off Arsenal beating anybody, I think once again we are down to the title race being about the usual two. Chelsea had a little spell, when teams pushed up on their full-backs, when they began to look average but then they regained their spark when Joe Cole returned. Now they look formidable again.

Not that Arsenal and Liverpool are alone in relying on a couple of players. I can pick three players in my team who, if they were long-term casualties, would leave us struggling to get results. Clubs just can't carry the size of squads you need to cover for every eventuality nowadays.

I don't worry as much now when I get players injured, like Paddy McCarthy, my captain, damaging his shoulder this week which will put him out for a few months. Although it is disappointing, as you get older you accept injuries more and think instead about the opportunity it gives someone else.

5. It's a struggle to get a whopper in my mouth

Now I know what footballing dads are all about. William was picked to play for Palace's Under-9s at Ipswich on Sunday. The bus left at 7.15am, we got back around four. How many families must do that every week?

It sounds daft, I know, and you think it must make more sense to spend that travelling time training, but, when you watch the games, both teams have so much ability, and in a competitive match they learn to pass more and use the space better.

We won about 7-3, but the real talking point was the conditions. You may remember it was grim on Sunday in most places, but in Suffolk it was a glorious blue sky right up until we left the training ground. Then, as if someone had flicked a switch, the heavens opened and the wind got up to about 100mph.

On the way back we stopped at a Burger King and Sharon bought me a triple whopper. I almost got lockjaw, even my mouth couldn't get to grips with it. Every mouthful was hard work and I had to wipe my face after every bite. William loved his.

Just before we left, a steward flagged me down and asked me what I thought of "A Christmas Carol", the film I mentioned last week. I said, "I didn't think you guys got top-class papers out here." It shows you how many people are reading. I'm still smiling about a letter I had from a Leicester City fan who said he'd never liked me, but had started reading my column and then gone out and bought my book "Made in Sheffield" (still available at some good bookshops, or Amazon, probably for £1 now). He'd even persuaded his wife to read the column, and they both read it in bed on a Saturday morning.

6. We should make it a West Country World Cup

Obviously I'm right behind Plymouth's bid to be a host city for the 2018 World Cup. They didn't ask me to speak on their behalf at Wembley on Thursday but I'm happy to tell everyone what a great part of the world it is.

It would be super to have World Cup ties at Home Park. They could expect full houses as everyone in that part of the country is crying out to see top-class sport in any form.

People think that anywhere west of Bristol is like going abroad (it must be the palm trees) but Plymouth is a fantastic place and they could use that investment to enhance it even more. The only problem would be understanding the accent – it is as thick as Geordie or Scottish.

7. Secret Seven has me reaching for the hankie

Amy went paintballing and lasering on Sunday, as you'd expect a lady to do. I must be a bit softer because when William was reading a Secret Seven story to me he noticed that I had a tear in my eye. He said, "Dad, what are you crying for? It's only a book." I think it opened the ducts because I didn't know what would hit me when I went to the Heroes awards and heard all those tear-jerking tales.

8. I'll miss Rolls-Royce of right-backs

Thursday was a sad day as I attended the funeral of Richard Walden who I played with at Aldershot. He was one of the most wonderful men you could wish to meet and was a Rolls-Royce of a right-back, the best I ever played with. He'd been battling cancer for a number of years so I was pleased that I spoke at a dinner last season for him, in Aldershot, and was able to tell him exactly what I felt about him. He was such a humble person, he was embarrassed to have people talking about him like that. He'll be missed by his wife, Jayne, and children Natalie and Nick.

I was sorry to hear another former team-mate died this week, Tony Parry. I used to play with him at Hartlepool, who he saved from extinction in 1972. Tony had played under Brian Clough, when he was manager at Hartlepool. When Cloughie heard the club were going bust, and needed to sell a player to survive, he signed Tony for Derby and the fee kept the wolves from the door.

One bit of good news, even though I'd shout at him if he was doing our game on Saturday, is that Mark Halsey is stepping up his recovery from cancer. He's one referee that I wouldn't mind seeing in the Championship if he wants to ease himself in gently before going back into the big time.

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