Neil Warnock: How I played a (small) part in Reading's rise to top flight
What I Learnt This Week
Congratulations to Brian McDermott and Reading for gaining promotion to the Premier League. I know just how he feels and it's a wonderful emotion. I'm delighted for Brian, who has been an unsung hero – until now. I'm also pleased for three of my old players who have been part of their campaign. Mikele Leigertwood, who scored the goal that took them up, Kaspars Gorkss and, on loan, Matt Connolly.
The irony is Kaspars should be playing for their promotion rivals Southampton. When I was at QPR, we agreed a deal in August and he was on his way there to finalise the move. But I got cheesed off with the way Nicola Cortese, the Southampton chairman, was messing us about. I'd spoken to Brian McDermott about Kaspars, and how good he'd be for Reading. Brian was interested so I called Kaspars and told him to divert. I told him Reading was a better bet for him, a lovely club and no need to move house. I bet he and Brian are glad he listened.
Mikele and Kaspars are two wonderful professionals. I'm sure they won't mind me saying they are not the most technically gifted, but both go about their jobs without fuss and I'd imagine they are the first two names on Brian's teamsheet, as we all need players like that. Matt's another good pro and while he's only played five games for Reading they won them all, conceding just one goal, so he's done his bit.
I don't think Reading will have anything to worry about next season. There's a good harmony there. It is one of those places where having a director of football – Nicky Hammond, who worked with me years ago at Plymouth – works.
Today, Southampton hope to follow in Reading's footsteps and I must say it looks a big ask for West Ham to catch them now. Not that Saints' match today will be a forgone conclusion as Middlesbrough are still in the hunt and will be hoping they win while we do them a favour at Cardiff. While I think Malky Mackay's done a great job at Cardiff, what with reaching the Carling Cup final as well, we won't make it easy for them. We played at Blackpool, also play-off contenders, in midweek and, although they scored a late winner, we made some chances.
Our match is on BBC TV today, at lunchtime. There will be a minute's applause for Eddie May, Cardiff's former manager who has passed away. I knew him as a manager, but it was when he was a player and I was first starting out that I first met him – or, rather, met his left foot.
He was a big, strapping player and he kicked the hell out of me when he played for Southend and I was a kid at Chesterfield. I remember after my first tackle – somewhere around the waist that put me on the floor – he ran straight up to me as a good professional so the ref wouldn't do anything. He leant down to pick me up, and said in a nice quiet voice, "There's more to come of that, son". From that day onwards we always had a laugh. Incidentally, we beat them on the night, 1-0, and I made the goal.
2 German ref could teach our guys a thing or two
I was riveted to the settee watching the Chelsea game. From the kick-off, William and I counted the passes before Chelsea got a kick, it was more than 20 and that set the tone. We saw everything good and bad about football for the first 45 minutes. I've never seen anyone be poleaxed as many times as Didier Drogba. We found ourselves saying "get up, he's not touched you". Then he limps away as if his leg's broken. He was offside five times in the half, a manager's nightmare. Then just as I am moaning about him, he goes and scores a great goal and then works his socks off in both boxes for the rest of the game.
It was a fabulous result and no mean feat, given they only had 28 per cent of the possession. It was a tremendous example of backs to the wall and everybody putting their bodies on the line. I had to laugh once, though, when Lionel Messi was touched in the box going through. William piped up, "If that had been Ashley Young, Dad, it would have been a penalty." I have to say the contact made on Messi was more than both of Ashley's penalties in the last couple of weeks. Then, during the second half, we saw Ashley Cole put his left leg out to get a free-kick in a similar situation – so it is not just attackers, or players on the Continent.
The biggest laugh of the night for me was when I saw Javier Mascherano put his arms out to Drogba and accusing him of diving. The phrase about pots and kettles came to mind. Of all the people, how could Mascherano have a go after his time in England? Some of his antics made Drogba's look mild.
I thought the referee, Germany's Felix Brych, was excellent in such a high-pressure game. The best thing you can say about him was that he went into the background after the initial 20 minutes, which refs should do. It is something our referees should think more about. Nine times out of 10, if you've not noticed the ref he's had a good game.
3 Dowd is definitely the best man for the Wembley job
One ref who must wish he'd not been noticed is Martin Atkinson. He must have been distraught when he saw Chelsea's second goal at Wembley. I know people will say it didn't have an effect as Spurs got beat by five but, let me tell you, the psychological blow of losing a goal, and the travesty of knowing it should not have been given, was 90 per cent of the reason Spurs capitulated. How ironic that Martin was given the goal-line shift for Bayern Munich v Real Madrid in midweek.
On a brighter note, I'm pleased to congratulate Phil Dowd on his appointment as FA Cup final referee. I think all managers have had a shout at him once or twice, but he is what I call a bread-and-butter referee. I am delighted he has got the biggest reward in English football. It'll be a proud day for him and his family.
I can remember when Phil first started. I'm pretty sure he refereed an FA Cup match between Telford and Huddersfield Town when I was manager of the Terriers in late 1993. We got a draw and won back at Huddersfield – I think he also did the replay. I remember thinking, "I don't know why we have this youngster to ref a cup match", but even then he used to man-manage which I still feel is one of the most important parts of a referee's job.
4 I'm in the wrong job, TV repairs is where the money is
Sharon and the kids are back in Richmond after spending half-term in Leeds – where they enjoyed the rare experience of me winning a home game. I popped in on Thursday night as I had to go to the dentist, and it meant I could see the family before joining up with the team yesterday – we trained in Wales before staying down there overnight.
Sharon said, "The TV's broken, I can't get any channels." She had changed the fuse, but I decided to put my own fuse in. Then I checked the plugs at the back of the TV. Nothing worked. It was obviously dead. We rang a TV engineer and told him what happened. He came, had a look, and turned a button camouflaged on the left-hand side at the back. The TV miraculously came to life. There was a 50 quid call-out charge. To turn a button on.
5 I'm delighted to see Francis and Muamba out of hospital
It is tremendous news for everyone in football that Fabrice Muamba is out of hospital, something which did not seem possible a few weeks ago. Who knows? With modern medical technology, having won this battle I wouldn't bet against him returning to football.
It was also good to see Trevor Francis discharged from hospital after his heart scare. Every time something like that happens Sharon starts talking about the stresses of my job.
6 People with disabilities want work, not benefits
Once a year at Sheffield United, myself and a couple of players used to visit a local factory, Remploy, which was part of a network of factories that enabled disabled people to work for a living. Going there, you really appreciated how much it meant to them being able to work. For some it was their lives, it gave them pride and self-respect. And they were good, they made a wonderful doll's house for Amy one year.
Now I've heard that the Government is closing the centre down, one of 36 factories being closed, throwing 1,700 workers out. The people making this decision can have no idea how much this will damage people's lives. It's unbelievable. They don't want to sit around on benefits at home, they want to work, but with disabilities they find it hard to get employment elsewhere. I hope somewhere somebody can reconsider this. When you look at some of the things the Government spends money on, this must be one of the better causes.
There's a very good video by a Remploy worker, Steve Collins, on YouTube, which says all this far better than I can. Watch it here: http://bit.ly/HKAiHW
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