The TV crews turned up in force to our press conference on Thursday and they all wanted to know if I was worried about taking the team into what will be a hostile atmosphere at Cardiff today. Worried? I'm excited. A sell-out crowd generating a fantastic atmosphere: this is what we are in the game for.
Besides, I've been going down to Wales to play football matches for a long time and I doubt I'll ever be as unnerved as I was as an 18-year-old with Chesterfield after playing at Swansea's old Vetch Field. There was a prison opposite and when we came out of the ground to wait for the bus the prisoners started banging metal spoons and cups against the bars and shouting abuse. That was intimidating.
Both Cardiff and Swansea have new grounds now and, although they are both fantastic stadia, there was something special about the Vetch and Ninian Park. I had good memories of the latter place as well, as that is where we got the points with Sheffield United five years ago that took us into the Premier League. We won there on the Good Friday and when results the following day went our way we were up.
We're back at home on Monday but that may not be an advantage as the visitors are the best away team in the country – Hull City. They have gone 17 undefeated, which is fabulous at any level but especially in the Championship. Nigel Pearson deserves a pat on the back for his work there which could end up in promotion this season.
Both matches will be tough but, as I said to the players after our goalless draw with Derby on Monday, the opposition will be trying to win which means there will be space to play. Derby came with the aim of avoiding defeat and the onus was on us to break them down. We needed to score early but couldn't. We could not score late either, but all credit to Derby. Besides, a point is not a bad result at this stage of the season and, while Adel Taarabt wasn't able to celebrate being voted by his fellow pros into the Championship's team of the season with a goal, Paddy Kenny did mark his equally deserved inclusion with a clean sheet.
2. Without silly errors Arsenal would have won the league
Arsène Wenger must have felt like shooting himself last weekend when Arsenal couldn't beat Liverpool despite going ahead in the eighth minute of injury time. But as upset as he was by the penalty decision he must have been absolutely gutted by the pathetic way Emmanuel Eboué gave it away. Why do players do that in the box? It does my head in. He showed a total lack of responsibility. Arsène knows his team have had such an opportunity this season. They should have won the league. That is what makes it all the more soul destroying.
Then on Wednesday it happened again. Arsène watched his team play some exhilarating football, go 3-1 up at Spurs, get pegged back to 3-2, then give away another daft penalty. Aaron Lennon was never going to score from where he was so why didn't Wojciech Szczesny pull out of the challenge? Why go down and give Lennon the chance of a penalty? I asked our keepers, "Is it me or can you not pull out once you know the kid is going to get there first?" They thought he could have stopped himself, but he's a young keeper and still learning. I do think he will be the best Arsenal have had for a long time, but his learning process involves some expensive mistakes.
Like most people I couldn't take my eyes off the match but what went unnoticed by the majority was what a fantastic game the referee had. When Martin Atkinson first came on the scene I wasn't convinced, but he's now one of our best officials and I was delighted to see him appointed the FA Cup final referee. At White Hart Lane he showed just why he was such a fine choice with an excellent performance. I thought he not only got the big decisions right, the way he handled the match was one of the reason it was so fantastic. We are quick to criticise refs when they get it wrong, so it's only right we praise when they get it right.
I must be going soft because I was also impressed with a ref on Tuesday. I've had one of two run-ins with Lee Probert in the past, but other than him laughing all the time I thought he had great game in Newcastle v Man United, it was probably the best I've seen him have. Although he incurred the wrath of both managers when it came to penalty incidents, I thought he was right. When I think of some of the decisions in the Barcelona-Real Madrid matches this week it shows how lucky we are to have such good refs in our top flight.
After watching Real and Barça draw on Saturday I changed channels after Spurs-Arsenal to the Spanish Cup final because I was interested to see Jose Mourinho's tactics. You have to say he is a top-class manager. He knew that his side were not good enough to play open football against the best in the world, so he got numbers back and made it very difficult for Barcelona, then hoped for a goal by breaking quickly. Which is how it played out in extra time. I know he likes to wind people up about coming back to England, but I think any league is better with him in it than without.
3. Get well soon, Gérard, I know how painful it can be
I'd like to take the opportunity to send Gérard Houllier my best wishes for a swift recovery. It is a stressful job and I doubt my wife would have let me return after suffering a heart attack. But he took advice from his doctor and obviously thought he would be OK. It certainly can't have helped being abused by his own fans. Recent results will have eased the pressure but it won't have taken away the hurt. Even though we all say it's water off a duck's back, it's not really. It used to hurt when Sheffield United fans chanted "Warnock out" even when it was only 200-odd out of 20,000. The good news is the situation does not seem as serious as last time and I hope Gérard will be up and about no time.
4. After years as a manager I can take a roller-coaster – just
The press are always talking about clubs having a roller-coaster ride. Well on Sunday I went on a roller-coaster and I can tell you there is no comparison. I was absolutely terrified, which doesn't happen often in football. We went to Chessington World of Adventures and really enjoyed the day. I haven't been as brave for many years – Vampire and Dragon's Fury were unbelievable. We went up and down, and sideways, and upside down – I don't know how they keep the things on the track. I had a permanent smile on my face as we whizzed around, but don't think that meant I was enjoying it. Underneath I was full of fear-induced adrenalin.
Which means you may be surprised to hear I suggested we go on Dragon's Fury a second time. William was right impressed. It was actually a cunning ploy as I knew closing time was coming and the kids were steering me to Rameses' Revenge, in which you get soaked. I figured I'd rather have the life frightened out of me than be wet through on the way home.
5. Good to see Brighton back and heading for a new home
Congratulations to Gus Poyet and Brighton on their promotion to the Championship. I've a soft spot for the club because I scored the best goal of my career down there. We then stopped over and had a wonderful night out. That was at the old Goldstone, of course, more recently they've been at the Withdean which, let's be honest, is a dump. I've nothing but admiration for the Brighton fans who have loyally kept going along to support their team. They deserve the new stadium they'll be going to next season. I know from my time at Huddersfield when we left Leeds Road – which was so terrible no woman would have dreamt of going there – that a new ground will provide a real boost. Our gates trebled as families flocked to the new facilities.
6. Our recharged chameleon is going like a traffic light
I've a bit of a crisis this week. Elvis the chameleon had to have an operation. He had lumps on his side and went into the vets for a biopsy. He had to stay for a few days – the total bill was £600 which is a bit steep. Whatever they did seems to have worked because when he came out he was full of life. He's eating locusts like they are going out of fashion and changing colours like a traffic light. The only drawback is I've had to inject him every day, which isn't easy. At least I won't have to do it today as I'm in Cardiff. If it starts getting lively I'll think of Sharon trying to inject him and realise I'm in the best place.Reuse content