The game has changed a huge amount over the decades I have been in it. What with the advice they get about diet on the one hand, and the interest of the media on the other, players are much more professional, and careful, in the way they behave. But despite all that, Christmas parties still cause problems.
Our players have arranged their do for tonight, so I said to them, "You better play well on Saturday as I don't want to end up butting anybody". Then I saw Clint Hill and said, "Not that I'll be butting you, even if you play bad."
On a serious note, they are always a nightmare for managers. I know most of us prefer to get them out of way well before Christmas and are always relieved when Monday morning comes by and there's been no calls from the media, police or solicitors.
In recent years I've been fortunate in that at my old club Sheffield United [who we play today] and Crystal Palace the players have been pretty good. I've trusted them a lot and they've repaid my faith. There's been a close call or two though. I remember at Sheffield I heard a newspaper was going to send a couple of ladies along with a view to enlivening the evening then writing about it. I was able to mark the lads' card.
Even if things do not go well today I won't be copying Gordon Strachan after Middlesbrough drew at Peterborough. His lads had booked a coach to take them to London but he told them to get back on the bus north. They'd driven an hour before he changed his mind which meant by the time they got to London they'd missed their meal. It's a brave thing to do at a new club but it must have worked as Boro then beat QPR 5-1.
My worst Christmas party memory came years ago when I played for Rotherham. I'd only left Chesterfield, where I had some good mates, the previous summer and they invited me to their do on Christmas Eve. We were playing them two days later on Boxing Day but I thought nothing of it. Little did I know all my drinks were spiked. Within two-and-a-half hours Tony Moore and Kevin Randall got me absolutely sloshed. I don't know how I got home. When it came to the match my feet couldn't feel the grass and my head was in the sky. We lost. It was a massive lesson to me, and not just to avoid drinking with the opposition two days before a match.
Tony and Kevin are still good mates, Kevin's now my chief scout, and they still laugh about that night when I see them.
2. I'm all set for the big night out in Sheffield
I'm going to BBC's Sports Personality of the Year in Sheffield tomorrow. I think it'll be a cracking show and I'm really looking forward to it. Jensen Button is favourite, but so was Lewis Hamilton last year and he lost out to Chris Hoy. I'd like to see Jessica Ennis, the heptathlete from Sheffield, or Plymouth's Tom Daley, the schoolboy diver, do well but they might find it hard against people from bigger sports. That said footballers don't win very often and I don't think this year will be any different although Ryan Giggs is an outstanding candidate.
I'd don't think there will be a better example to any young player for many years, if ever, than Giggs. I'd go anywhere to watch him play.
I was thinking about Giggs this week as I asked one of my players to man-mark a Reading player on Tuesday.
It's not something I do often, but when I was managing Notts County in the top flight I asked a young full-back called Chris Short, who happens to be my fitness coach now, to man-mark Giggs when we played Man United in the top flight (yes, that's how long Giggs has been playing). I told Chris to go everywhere with Giggs, even if he went off to the toilet (I used different words, ones I won't repeat in a family newspaper).
Thirty-five minutes into the game Giggs had not had a kick. The ball went out and I noticed, just over the halfway line, Giggs facing Chris holding his hand out, all puzzled. At half-time I asked Phil Turner, the skipper, what it was about. He burst out laughing then explained Giggs had said to Chris: "Look, just what do you want?" United were quite fortunate to get a draw, they equalised late on.
When I faced Giggs again in the top flight with Sheffield United a few years ago I didn't man-mark him. I would have also had to man-mark Ronaldo, Rooney, Scholes etc. It would have been impossible.
3. Being skint is no reason to miss sitters
We were paid on Thursday, just as the chairman had promised. Which was a relief as the novelty of eating frozen food is wearing off. To explain, the kids suggested, in the circumstances, we should only eat food which was already in the fridge or freezer. Well, I bet everyone in country could do that if we are any guide. It's been almost like opening Christmas presents. There's been things I'm sure we've not seen before.
The players were also pleased at being paid, not that it's affected performances. After we lost 3-0 at home to Doncaster on Saturday I could tell the press wanted to use the fact we've not been paid as the reason. As I said to the journalists, "Are you telling me those players missed sitters as they had not been paid?"
It was a strange game. We could have lost 6-0 yet I was disappointed we had not won the game. We had two of the worst misses you'll ever see, and their goalie, the ageless Neil Sullivan, pulled off a couple of great saves .
The game summed up the Championship up for me. Games are won by whoever takes their opportunities.
I notice one well-known columnist had a dig at me suggesting the result made a mockery of my saying the club had pulled together in the wake of our delayed wages. He doesn't seem to have noticed we then won 4-2 at Reading on Tuesday. I was delighted with that response. It was a great night, especially at a ground where I've not had many victories but had cost me plenty of money in fines, usually due to incidents involving Wally Downes.
When Brendan Rodgers said to me before the game, "Are you coming in for a drink afterwards?" I wondered if he was talking to me. I had to ask for directions to the manager's office.
Despite the result he and Dean Austin, his assistant, were very good hosts. It's difficult when you've lost, you don't want to talk to anyone least of all the bloke who's beaten you, but it's a good part of our game. It isn't that easy to be a gracious winner, when you've won you want to enjoy it, because you know there always another Doncaster round the corner
4. Give Sven a chance to run County properly
I hope Sven and Peter Trembling get a package together to buy Notts County. Football people are bound to be more committed than a finance company, or whoever they are, and if Sven bought the club he'd be totally committed.
I never quite understood why the company bought them in first place. It's a great club but even when we were in the top flight we struggled to get 15,000. It's not like buying a club like Sheffield Wednesday, who can attract 40,000.
5. My family are dead pleased we lost
Sharon had a positive spin to put on the Doncaster result. Like a lot of people in football I'm quite superstitious, even after all these years, though I'm not as bad as I was. When played at Rotherham if we won I never washed my strip. We once went 17 games without losing. And don't forget the pitches were terrible then. I used to whistle my kit to me.
I don't go to those extremes now, just trivial things like keeping the same razor blade if we win and only using it on matchdays, having the same pre-match meal and wearing the same clothes. Oh, and I also banned the family from coming to matches because when we were having a dodgy spell earlier this season they missed a game, and we won it. So they went to Chessington zoo on Saturday, then came home and put the Christmas tree and lights up. So you can imagine when I came home, all grumpy, Sharon said, "At least we can come to the Christmas games now".
Are fans just as superstitious?
6. Owen still won't make it to South Africa
Well done Michael Owen. I was chuffed for him after his Champions League hat-trick in Germany on Tuesday. I hope he scores and scores and scores but while he's always scored goals for England, I think it will take a lot for him to be selected. We'll see.
7. Sometimes the good guys do score
Congratulations to two young men who scored their first goals this week: Lloyd Doyley, at Watford, who had to wait 269 matches, and our own Nathaniel Clyne, who scored at Reading. They are great lads with really good attitudes, which is not as common as it should be in the game today. I'm right proud to have Nathaniel in my team and I know Malky Mackay feels the same about Lloyd.
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