I enjoyed watching Everton against Liverpool on Wednesday night, and not just because there is such passion in those games. I was delighted to see Phil Jagielka handle Fernando Torres so well again. I gave Phil his debut for Sheffield United when he was a teenager and it's great for a manager to see a player you have brought through develop so well.
He is still learning all the time but it is the right time now for him to mix in with the England squad. I'm crossing my fingers he will be involved when it is named tonight. When I look around, there's no one playing better than him at the moment.
It just shows you cannot tell sometimes. You see these world-beaters aged 12 or 16 who don't make it, then there's players like Jags. If anyone had said when I first went to United that he would play for England – as he did last summer – people would have laughed. He was a half-decent player but he had been released by Everton and he wasn't a world-beater. But he worked very hard at it, though he needed some encouragement to do so at times. I'm sure he will always remember his time with me as I had to give him a few jolts. Like all youngsters, they all feel at times they are doing enough, I felt he could do more.
Most of the time, he reminded me of Craig Short in his attitude. Craig wasn't gifted but I have never seen anybody working on their weaknesses as much as Craig. He ended up playing a lot of Premier League games for Everton and Blackburn.
Phil would have been about 17 when I first saw him. In the academy, he played every position going and carried on doing so in the first team. I know he treasures the memory of going in goal against Arsenal when we beat them one-nil at Bramall Lane. I think his best position is centre-half, where he is now. Everyone told me he was a right-back or a midfielder, as he was not a great header of the ball or overly quick, but he's worked hard on both points. When we got into the Premier League we found his pace was all to do with his speed of thought, and he did not get caught out very often.
At Bramall Lane, the other players used to kid him he was my son, as when it was raining I used to take my umbrella and put it over me and him. We'd have a talk and I'd offer him a piece of my chewing gum. I always pick one, a make-believe favourite, and the other lads take it in good spirit.
He's got a lovely family. His mum and dad were always dead keen. He's got a baby. Everything is going for him and it couldn't happen to a nicer lad. He goes with his father and brother Steve – who I also signed and now plays at Telford after a good few seasons at Shrewsbury – every summer for a week's golf. He's a low handicap – one of those lads who would top the league at tiddlywinks, or croquet, whatever he turned his hand to – and he admits it. A few tried to stitch him up with their handicaps but Phil would never kid anyone about his. He's a modern Gary Lineker.
2. Former players should be refs of the future
I wasn't at all surprised by the Frank Lampard sending-off against Liverpool last Sunday, given that Mike Riley was in charge. He has done well on his limited ability to get where he has in refereeing, because he's without a doubt one of the manufactured referees of today's game. Someone tells me my old adversary, Graham Poll, even stated this himself. Well, Graham and I have had our differences over the years but he definitely was not a manufactured ref. Until he forgot that a good ref should not be noticed and disappeared up his own backside, he was for many years one of the best. He understood the game.
Riley will get 95 per cent of decisions right, regarding the laws of the game. It is only when he has to make a major decision – on something you can only know by having played the game – that he gets it wrong. That is why his mistakes are few, but major.
If the Merseyside derby had been overseen by a manufactured ref, it would have ended up two-a-side. Fortunately, Alan Wiley was in charge. It does concern me that when Keith Hackett, the current referees' supremo, packs it in next year the favourites to take over are Riley and another manufactured ref, Steve Bennett. I was discussing the matter this week with a number of fellow managers and I have to say my assistant, Mick Jones, has a good idea. He's written to the League Managers' Association suggesting a fast-track scheme for ex-players as the only way forward to improve referees over the next decade.
There's a lot of lads who drift out of the game at a young age, either through injury or being not quite good enough. What do they do afterwards? Mick's idea is for the FA and PFA to set up a partnership which would fund them on a three-year fast-track course, after which they either make the grade or they don't.
Experienced former refs, like Steve Dunn, Dermot Gallagher and Keith Hackett, would oversee it. The existing pathway for amateur refs would also be protected. The FA gets better refs, the PFA keeps ex-pros in the game. Everyone wins. I gather the LMA is going to look into it.
3. Building a snowman was highlight of my week
It was another depressing weekend for Crystal Palace. Having played against Blackpool's 10 men for the best part of 88 minutes, we lost out again. As you can imagine, confidence is quite low. But it was the start of an interesting week, as on Sunday, having heard the forecast, I went out with my son William to try to get some snow shovels. I couldn't find them anywhere – it was as if no one anticipated snow.
We got our wellies and everything out, then it hit us, and everybody else. We must have had almost a foot, or to my younger readers about 30 centimetres (it's nothing to do with the story, but isn't it nice we can buy in pounds and ounces again for our fruit and veg?).
I had woken in the middle of the night, a common experience when you've lost four on the trot, but in this case because the dog was barking. I went to the window expecting to see a fox and just saw snow everywhere.
On Monday morning, I went to the training ground, which is only five minutes away, and thought, "This is impossible." I rang my secretary, and Mick Jones, and said to them, "We're cancelling training, it's too risky. Ring the players and ask them to call in at teatime to see if the game is off." It was, and we didn't train Tuesday either. We do have an indoor place, our academy, and used it on Wednesday but you couldn't even drive there on Tuesday.
On Thursday, we actually went back to the olden days. We cleared some grass, about 40 yards by 30, split the squad into two, and trained on it. We took the snow off on the morning and it was reasonably soft. I didn't want to train indoors again, it's not suitable for some of the lads.
It didn't help that Monday was transfer deadline day. We were still trying to get a couple of players in, so Mick and I met at the ground at about 1pm, walking part of the way in our wellingtons. I finally got home about six to find Sharon and the kids having a cup of hot chocolate, having built some small snowmen. They said, "Have a nice glass of wine and relax." I was tempted but said, "No. Kids, get the gear back on. I'm a world champion snowman builder [that's what I told them] and I want to build a snowman." Credit to them, they came out with me and I really enjoyed making a snowman in the dark, although in the morning it looked like a snow lady.
I showed William some of the tricks of the trade, while Amy was the designer, smoothing things off with a couple of knives. It was great. I know the snow caused havoc, but how much good must have come from people spending time with their families? Except, however, for the tragic accident that happened near Sheffield. That reminded me of a time we ended up on a runaway sledge in Holmfirth. Amy was on board, and quite young then. We went too fast, flew off and I went through a wire mesh fence. The tragedy reminded me how very fortunate we were to suffer no serious injury.
After building the snowman, we had a magic snowball fight. What is it with kids? They are not happy until they have got snow down your back. Still, I'm safe from them at the moment. They all went down to Cornwall for a few days and now they are snowed in. I think it'll take them a while to dig themselves out.
Which leaves me home alone today as our match at Barnsley is off. As we were due to travel by train yesterday lunchtime I asked for an early pitch inspection. So I'm sitting here finishing my column over lunch at St Pancras. We heard before boarding, but not before we'd all travelled up from Beckenham. As the lads queued up to buy their own tickets I said to Rui Fonte, who's on loan, "I bet it's not like this at Arsenal." He said, "No gaffer." I said, "Do they have a private train?". "No gaffer, Arsenal don't get the train."Reuse content