The Championship is really hotting up, and although we have only an outside chance of getting into the play-offs I realised how tense things have been in the last few weeks when I looked down at my nails.
Nearly every one of them is hacked and nibbled. Another indication that the season is coming to a climax is that our last two games have concluded with Ian Holloway and Darren Ferguson going ballistic and me being the one calming them down. Ian is an experienced manager and Darren one of the younger ones, but I love the fact both are so passionate.
I was as disappointed as either man as we had chances to win both games ourselves. But there are still plenty of points to go for and, unlike the Premier League, the Championship will be going to the final day. We play another derby today, against Huddersfield. It’s our fifth game in 14 days and, as I write this, I’ve no idea what our team is. We’ve had six games with an unchanged XI but, after Tuesday, the physio’s room is like Emergency Ward 10. But that’s what management is about. You lose a player, then someone comes in and surprises you.
Elland Road should be a sea of white today as the club have a promotion enabling everyone with a ticket to buy a first-team shirt for a tenner. It’s the latest of a series of offers which have led to some very good gates. We had 25,000 for Blackpool and 24,000 for Peterborough, yet one paper said it was a “sparse crowd”! Having that support really can make a difference to the team.
In the match at Huddersfield earlier this season Adam Clayton, who I let go in the summer, scored for them, then ran towards the dugout to celebrate. I didn’t think anything of it at the time until the press made an issue of it afterwards. They asked me what I felt about it. I said I’d have loved to have done the same to every manager who released me, so I wasn’t going to knock it. Still, I hope he doesn’t do it today as it’ll mean we’ve conceded.
2. Gunning for Arteta
Watching Arsenal in midweek I did feel for Arsène Wenger. It was great to see Arsenal play so well and put themselves in with a chance, then you get an experienced player like Mikel Arteta giving away silly free-kicks in the last minutes. Arsène must have been infuriated. To do it once is bad enough, twice is unforgivable. You know the opposition are laughing at you. He also took the worst free-kick there’s been. Arsenal’s last chance to get the ball in the box and he overhit it.
Sometimes players do make you despair. There was also Olivier Giroud trying to score from a 40-yard volley when off-balance. When one of my players does that I always say out loud, “In your dreams” because they only go in when you are dreaming. On the plus side, I thought Arsenal defended superbly, with Carl Jenkinson outstanding.
3. Sad life of Brian
How disappointing it was to see Brian McDermott leave his position, especially with such a short time left to the end of season. I know what he feels like and it doesn’t half hurt. You look back at incidents in the season and ask, “Why? Why? Why?” You wake up in the night and it is on your mind. Then in the morning it is the first thing you think of. It is almost impossible to set aside and, having loved the club like he has for so many years, Brian will find it even harder.
I sent Brian a text, but I’m not sure if he got it as the screen is smashed on my iPhone and I had to send it off for repair. I’ve put the SIM card in an old phone but it seems all the numbers I need must be in the phone memory. It makes you wonder how we ever got by without phones, though from what I can remember we were happy enough. I can remember running down the road with four pennies to a telephone box to ring my grandma up. It was all you knew.
Incidentally, the screen wasn’t smashed because I threw it at somebody who’d missed an open goal. It was a pure accident. It was already cracked, then I dropped it in the dressing room.
4. Jackett looks good
I was delighted for Kenny Jackett to get through to Wembley in the FA Cup. If anyone deserves a day like that it is Kenny, but knowing him he won’t be treating it as just a day out. Millwall will be well organised and looking to give Wigan a run for their money. Their goalscorer Danny Shittu played for me at QPR. He’s a super gentleman, but even he has his moments. When we beat them recently at Elland Road I went towards him at the end of the game to shake hands but he had a big sulk on and he just headed for the tunnel.
Kenny’s joy meant disappointment for Blackburn’s Michael Appleton, and I had sympathy for him. But he’s young and talented and will have many more chances.
5. Boxing clever
Another of my old players, Curtis Woodhouse, made headlines this week when he decided to visit someone who had been abusing him on Twitter. The troll soon backtracked. I take my hat off to him. How many other people would like to do that? The trouble with most celebrities is they’d be knocking on doors in every road in the country, the amount of abuse they get. Curtis was a good lad, though I did have to get him out of one or two scrapes when he went home to Goole at weekends, so I wasn’t too surprised when he took up boxing. It’s been good for him and he’s been good at it. I’ve watched a few of his fights and enjoyed them.
He’s taken it really seriously, which I guess you have to or you get hurt.
6. Screen memories
Watching the cricket this week, I began to nod off, so I thought, “It’s time to get to bed”. But Nick Compton had 46 so I decided to stop up until his 50. The next thing I knew I looked at the TV and he was 76 not out. It reminded me of when I was a kid, when TV was new. We would watch all night, then wake up with a white dot in the middle of the screen. How many readers remember that? There was a noise which would wake you up. Now there’s 125 channels on all night, which is why you go to bed early.
It is hilarious that Australia banned four players for not handing their essays in. If that is the coach making a statement, they need better communication between him and the players. It can’t be good for morale, but being Australia, who cares?
7. Broken dreams
I went to Scarborough on Thursday for a Leeds On The Road night, talking to 250 fans from the local supporters’ branch. Scarborough is close to my heart, having got promotion there in 1987, but while it is always good to go back it was heartbreaking driving past the old Seamer Road ground on the way in. It’s just mud and rubble now. It is so sad.
8. William the brave
William enjoyed a 5-2 win at hockey this week but it has been unusually cold for Cornwall and he’s picked up a hamstring injury, which forced him to miss his football training. He’s desperate to be fit as quick as possible – that is what kids are like.
9. Impossible ending
I heard something this week which made me smile. “Every team could use someone who knows how to play in every position, never misplaces a pass or makes a mistake. The only problem is, it’s hard to make him put down his hot dog and come down from the stand... or he already has a career in journalism.”
My own fitness test
“Whatever you do, don’t put that picture in your column,” said my wife this week. Sorry, Sharon, but it’s in a good cause.
As you can see, I’ve been to hospital, but it was nothing to worry about. Like everyone turning 65 I had been offered an abdominal aortic aneurysm screening. The aorta is the main blood vessel and, apparently, 6,000 people a year die of ruptures, but screening can pick the danger up. So off I went to Otley’s Wharfdale General Hospital.
People criticise hospitals, but I can’t speak highly enough of my experience – everything went like clockwork. I did get preferential treatment. Suzie Clark, who was looking after me, warmed the gel before it went on my tummy. I said to her: “If it is someone you don’t like I bet you don’t do that.” When I was a chiropodist after my playing days, some procedures could be painful. Occasionally there would be a patient who I didn’t like very much, so I would not take quite so much care over not hurting them.
I’m pleased to report I was given the all-clear, which was a great relief because you do fear the worst as you get older. I’d recommend the screening to anyone. It’s quick, painless, and it might save your life.