Neil Warnock: Hectic Christmas schedule still allows time for fun, but we must not put fans at risk in the snow
What I Learnt This Christmas Week
Friday 24 December 2010
I know we got beat at Leeds last weekend, and deservedly so, but I do wonder whether the game should have been played. It wasn't that the pitch was impossible or anything like that, I'm thinking about the people who are always the last to be considered: the visiting supporters. The authorities decided the roads around the ground were OK, but they never thought about those making the journey from London.
We were lucky, in a way, because we went up on the Friday by train. We had to cut short training because of a blizzard but only had a slight delay getting to Leeds. The following morning everyone was being advised not to travel, but fans are so dedicated. We had an open day at the club on Tuesday for the Junior Hoops and I spoke to a couple of lads, they were about 10 or 11 years old. They said they got home at quarter-past three in the morning – from a 3pm kick-off! I thought it was bad enough the players arriving back at half-two. You can't tell me football is worth people putting their lives at risk.
In the circumstances I was surprised Chelsea v Manchester United did not go ahead – and it wasn't because of the difficulty the away fans had travelling from Surrey, sorry, Salford. Apparently the streets around the ground – that big shopping mecca called the Kings Road – were unsafe. All you can hope for as a club is a sympathetic local council at moments like this. I do hope Frank Lampard is fit when it is rearranged.
It shows how far Championship facilities have come when that division staged more games than the Premier League, including the one at Portman Road in a snowstorm. That was a real throwback. With Ipswich 3-0 up Roy Keane must have been crossing everything under his coat in the hope referee Stuart Attwell would play to 90 minutes. What a great win. I smiled at Sven Goran Eriksson saying it should have been stopped, but if the Leicester manager had been in Roy's boots he'd have wanted to carry on. Maybe Sven should have taken a leaf out of Cloughie's book when they came off to clear the lines. I'm sure he once told his lads: "In the shower, quick, then they have to call it off."
2. I've finally met a referee who can give as good as he gets
The TV cameras picked up some banter between me and referee Scott Mathieson coming off the pitch at Elland Road. As they showed, Scott gave as good as he got. I was disappointed because I thought he'd missed the worst tackle of the game, by Bradley Johnson on Jamie Mackie. When it wasn't a yellow card our lads were incensed and Clint Hill was booked. If the ref had seen the original offence my lad would not have got booked. But Scott's response was that if my lads had made as few mistakes as he had in the game we'd have got a better result. There was really no answer to that.
I've known Scott for many years, and we had a laugh afterwards, but I don't want every ref to think he can now have a go at me.
3. One of the wonders of winter is letting yourself go
To get over the defeat we had to go to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. In the space of a few hours we had candyfloss, German sausage with tomato ketchup and mustard, garlic bread and cheese with garlic mushrooms, a chocolate pretzel, and to finish it off, a doughnut each. We should have walked out with a health warning.
We didn't go ice skating because of the weather, but Sharon surprised me going on the Power Tower, which lifts people up about up 500ft in the air and drops them down again. Fortunately, this was before she ate all the above.
When we got back Will said: "Can we make a small snowman?" I said no, his face fell, then I said: "It has to be a massive one." Halfway through, when my back was hurting, it did not seem a such a good idea, but like the true soldier I am we persevered. Incidentally, you may think the picture looks a bit dark . We were going to take a better one the following morning, but when we got up William looked out of the window and said sadly, "Dad, it's fallen down." Such is Christmas.
4. Despite our defeat my lads manage to raise a smile
With the training ground under snow (it's near Heathrow, and look at the problems they've had) we've been using Loftus Road most of the week to train. That was quite helpful on Tuesday for the Junior Hoops open day. In the circumstances there was a fabulous turnout. It was great to see the kids' faces when they got their autographs and bag of presents. They were so excited standing next to their idols. You can't put a price on that. These supporters are the future and I don't think it is asking too much of the lads to take a little bit of time to see the junior side of the club.
We were also due to visit a children's ward at a hospital near Paddington, but unfortunately had to postpone it because of an outbreak of swine flu. I'm hoping to re-arrange it because I think it is good for everyone, players and patients, and I've done it at most of my clubs. It opens your eyes to what a fantastic job the doctors and nurses do, and makes you appreciate how lucky you are to have your health. It always makes you think about your own kids. What I find amazing is it's usually the ones with the most serious problems who always seem to be the ones that have the biggest smiles.
With all that going on at Loftus Road, the groundsman was as pleased as the players when I said they did not need to come in for training tomorrow. I know a lot of clubs do, but I don't see any point in dragging players away from their families on Christmas Day. Most would spend more time in the car than actually training, given we have a match on Boxing Day, so wouldn't do much. Instead they can do a light workout at home just to keep sharp.
This has been my approach for 10 years. I've told the players I trust them not to overdo it, and asked them to respect that trust. And I reminded them that with modern technology, heart monitors and so on, my staff can tell me if they've done the work they've been asked to, and if they've eaten or drunk the wrong things.
I'm so glad we're at home on Boxing Day. We usually have a quiet family day with us all in our pyjamas, though this year I have got to get changed for a couple of hours to do a Christmas special on Talksport. It's on from 12 to 2pm, so you can hear the Queen afterwards. Among my guests are Harry Redknapp, David Moyes, Mick McCarthy and my fellow Independent columnist Ian Holloway.
Then it is on to matches against Swansea City, Coventry City, Norwich City and Bristol City in nine days. It's a hectic schedule and I expect, like most managers, to use the whole squad.
5. The first silverware of the season is already in the bag
This week I won my first silverware of the season at The Independent sports desk's Christmas party. No expense is spared, as you can see from the size of the trophy our team won in the quiz. But like the Ashes urn, it doesn't have to be big to be prestigious. Our team (me, Sharon, and football writers Mark Fleming, Glenn Moore and Nick Szczepanik) all contributed, but we found ourselves facing a tie-break against a team that included the sports editor. Fortunately it is an honest paper and we lifted the cup. Now to find room on the mantelpiece.
6. Everton victory shows the value of teamwork
I was fascinated to watch Everton's win at Manchester City on Monday night. What a great example of team spirit. I think Roberto Mancini will be glad everything is sorted out with Carlos Tevez, he can now concentrate on football until the end of the season at least.
I wasn't surprised Sam Allardyce said someone must have been saying bad things about him around takeover time at Blackburn. Sam will know that happens at every club. There are always people who will do anything to survive. Anyhow, the owners quickly had Steve Kean over to India and gave him the job to the end of the season, so whether they like it or not the fans will have to get behind him.
I have always found Steve a smashing bloke when I had dealings with him when he was working with Chris Coleman over the last few years, but it is entirely different being No 1 to being an assistant. I do feel he's being a little bit optimistic when he says he can get into the top five spending £5m, but only time will tell. I'll see how he's settling in when we have a drink after our FA Cup tie up there. I just hope he's not promised the owners he'll win the FA Cup as well.
And what a nice Christmas box for Rafa Benitez, £2m-£3m I gather. That'll buy a big turkey.
7. Our new arrival makes it a very happy Christmas
The one good thing about travelling to Leeds was it gave us the chance to see my first grandson, Charlie Warnock, born to my son James and his wife Sarah at 8lb 12oz. He's a wonderful little boy, as you can see from the photograph. It just fascinates me looking at his fingers and toenails and so on, how perfect they are. And I love seeing William stroking his hair so gently, a new baby brings the caring side out of everyone.
On that positive note, I'd like to wish all my readers a wonderful Christmas.
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