Neil Warnock: How Cup knockout, M6 roadworks and FA alarm call make for a grim 24 hours
What I Learnt This Week
Saturday 27 February 2010
It was a miserable journey home from Villa Park on Wednesday night and not just because we were out of the FA Cup with only an unexpected relegation battle to look forward to.
It was also because some genius had decided that 10pm that night was the perfect time to start roadworks near the M6/M42 junction. Whoever it was obviously didn't check the football fixtures first because this was exactly the time 4,000 of our fans, and a few thousand more from Reading, were headed for that junction after FA Cup ties at West Bromwich and Aston Villa. It took us an-hour-and-three-quarters to go eight miles. We still hadn't got past Birmingham.
I felt for the fans, and for my players. Eight miles of three lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic, and when we finally got to the bit where we were all squeezed into one lane, we see two men walking – not working – and nothing else. It sums the country up, no one knows what anybody else is doing, and no one gives a damn about the poor old ordinary punter. Why couldn't they start at midnight? I guess those two men didn't want to miss out on their overtime.
We got back to the training ground at 3.35. Some of the lads then faced another hour's journey to get home. They'd be in bed at five, then woken up in many cases by the kids at seven. I gave them Thursday off to recover, then yesterday we travelled up to Doncaster. Any Doncaster fan or player reading this column must be relishing the prospect of facing us but although it's been a very difficult week we need to lift ourselves for a difficult fixture.
I will be at the Keepmoat Stadium, despite what you may have read in some places, but what the future holds I really don't know. The honest truth is there's a lot going on behind the scenes and I don't know what will happen.
2. My early-morning wake-up from sweet FA
There was more good news when I woke up after snatching a few hours sleep on Thursday morning, when my old friends at the Football Association got in touch to tell me I was being charged with improper conduct in relation to comments I made after the first match against Villa (you may recall their late equaliser came from a corner which should never have been awarded). Obviously I will be asking for a personal hearing so I can't comment further.
In the circumstances it was ironic – or should that be inevitable – that Villa's first goal on Wednesday came from a corner which should have been a goal-kick. The press asked me about it but having had time to shower and everything I was a bit calmer than after the first match and I just told them, "I think you got enough out of me last time. I'm disappointed a top official didn't see it but that's all I'm prepared to say."
I did ask Martin Atkinson, who I do think is one of the best refs in the country, at half time was he 100 per cent sure it was a corner? To which he replied, "I wouldn't have given it otherwise." However, he and his officials had scarpered by the time I got to the referee's room after the game to ask him how he would feel when he sees it on video.
I thought Martin got all three penalties right that he awarded, but I didn't understand why, when Alan Lee was pulled down as he prepared to pull the trigger, the defender did not even get a yellow card. It was a pretty clear goalscoring opportunity. I'm in full agreement that you don't want to see too many red cards, but when it's your defender who's guilty he always seems to go. It is this inconsistency which annoys managers.
There were some positives. It was a great effort by my lads against a cracking Villa side, our support was unbelievable, and it was wonderful seeing Nathaniel Clyne blossoming on the big stage. He was a little overawed by the crowd and stadium at first but up against Ashley Young he more than showed he can play at that level. I'm sure Palace will get their rewards for him turning down a cut-price deal before the transfer window closed.
3. Running the line was a harrowing experience
We've not been the only team getting the wrong end of a decision recently. Chelsea should have had a blatant penalty at Internazionale when Walter Samuel fouled Salomon Kalou. Samuel should have been sent off, but if the ref didn't think it was a pen, he must have thought Kalou dived, so why didn't he book him? But Kalou had already been booked and would have been sent off. It does worry you.
There's also been some major errors by linesmen. I do have some sympathy for them, having ran the line in an international competition. It was in the Seychelles when I was a young player. Bob Matthewson, the former League ref, was in charge of an Indian Ocean tournament and he was without a linesman. Knowing I was a qualified ref he asked me to help out. In one game the Seychelles were playing Reunion and late on they got a free-kick. This kid made a clever run and was obviously onside to me. He scored and all the defence questioned me but the goal stood and I thought no more of it. When the game ended I ran over to Bob only to see him sprinting towards me. "What's up?" I said. "Follow me," he shouted running past. I did, we sped down a tunnel and through some iron gates which a security guy quickly locked. Seconds later the Reunion team were lunging at the bars trying to reach me. Bob, with his experience, had sensed there'd be trouble.
Having run the line in those two games I realised how difficult it is to judge offside when a long ball is played as you are trying to watch the player on the ball and the runner at the same time. But there's no excuse for not noticing, as last week, that Jermain Defoe was offside when Gareth Bale crossed at Wigan because then everything was in the linesman's line of vision.
4. Handshake almost cost me Styles points
The picture all the photographers will want today is the handshake – or lack of one – between John Terry and Wayne Bridge. It looks as if Wayne is going to refuse and I can understand that. There are times when you can't forgive and forget. In a very different context I felt similarly about Rob Styles. He gave what I thought were criminal penalty decisions against the Sheffield United team I managed in the Premier League. Given the narrow margin we went down by, after which I left the club, he cost me my dream job, managing the Blades in the Premier League.
After I took over at Palace he was appointed to ref one of our games. When I went in the referee's room before the match he held his hand out but I said, "I'm sorry, Rob, but I can't be a hypocrite."
It's the only time I have not shaken a ref's hand before a game. I remember saying to the boys, "Sorry, lads, but I couldn't shake his hand, you won't be getting much today." We still got a draw.
I am disappointed Wayne's not going to play for England. For me he's a cracking player and with Ashley Cole out he's the obvious replacement even if his withdrawal does give my nephew, Stephen, a chance (only joking). I don't think anyone can make the decision other than Wayne, he knows how he feels and if he can cope with the situation. It's sad but you have to respect his decision.
5. Stone the crows, Sharon is into curling
While I was sitting on the M42 Sharon was watching the Winter Olympics... the men's curling... until half past one in the morning. When she told me I said, "Darling, how sad is that?"
6. William's dream card is out of our price range
William is into those Top Gear trading cards. I think they are a bit of a rip off, £1.50 for a pack of nine cards. There's one card he really wants so Sharon looked it up on the internet and someone wanted £20 for it on eBay. William thinks that's for the real car.
7. Palace's lack of security makes for a terrible time
I have a lot of sympathy for everyone at Portsmouth. I guess the points deduction is less of a blow to them as it looked as if they were going down anyway, whereas we've been catapulted from chasing promotion to fighting relegation, but it's still a desperate situation. The last few weeks have been the worst of my career, and I've been in this game a long time. It's not straightforward getting back on an even keel and there are a lot of casualties, it really leaves a nasty taste. The one positive is that, like Palace, they have a great set of fans. They are going to need them.
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