This is the first season since I was 17 I’ve not been playing or managing, and slightly to my surprise I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve been almost as busy doing media work as I was when I was managing. As well as writing I’ve done television for BT Sport and radio for talkSPORT.
For BT I’ve been pundit, co-commentator and even interviewer. There’s also been plenty of variety in the matches as I’ve done Premier League, Conference, Scottish football and the FA Cup from the first round to next Saturday’s final.
It has been nice to be able take a break whenever I’ve wanted, and to watch games without the gnawing stress and pressure of being manager. When I see them on the touchline I can feel what they are going through and I don’t miss that. What I do miss is mixing with the players, the dressing-room humour, taking training. I took a session at Cambridge United this week when I went up there to interview their manager Richard Money, an old team-mate of mine from Scunthorpe, ahead of next week’s Conference play-off final and really enjoyed it. You cannot replicate that outside football. I think that is what all managers miss.
I have had opportunities to go back into the game this season, but after my last three clubs, all of which had takeovers while I was there, I have probably been looking for the perfect job, one with some stability. Maybe that doesn’t exist these days, with managerial tenures down to 12-15 months.
The 20 most shocking moments of the 2013/14 Premier League season
The 20 most shocking moments of the 2013/14 Premier League season
1/13 Michael Jackson removed, only to reappear elsewhere
Just weeks after buying Fulham from Mohamed Al Fayed, new owner Shahid Kahn decided to remove the most famous statue in football, despite threats from his predecessor that his moustache would be cut off if he dared to do so. Few knew the whereabout of the King of Pop after it disappeared from Craven Cottage, until rather bizarrely the National Football Museum revealed Fayed had donated it to their collection. The eccentric Egyptian owner said the removal of the statue had been the reason for Fulham's relegation.
2/13 Theo Walcott mocks Tottenham fans... twice
Despite being stretchered off with an injury that would rule him out for the rest of the season and the World Cup - Theo Walcott had a big grin on his face as he was carried off the Emirates pitch. That's because he was winding up the visiting Tottenham fans by making a gesture about the 2-0 scoreline. Spurs fans were furious with some pelting Walcott (and those carrying him, even though it turned out some were Tottenham fans) with coins. Despite causing such a furore, Walcott made the same gesture during Arsenal's parade around the pitch after their final home game.
3/13 Ian Holloway walks away
Managers are rarely short of confidence, despite nearly half of them not being deemed good enough and replaced during the course of the season. So it was rather refreshing when Ian Holloway held his hands up, admitted he didn't feel things were working out with Crystal Palace and left the club. At the time Palace had lost seven of their first eight Premier League games. The decision by Holloway was in retrospect possibly the best of the season from the Eagles' point of view, with Tony Pulis coming in and against the odds guiding the club to safety.
4/13 Swansea at war
Six Swansea players were reportedly involved in a fight at the club's training ground - an incident made all the worse thanks to chairman Huw Jenkins happening to witness the clash. While training ground bust-ups are nothing unusual, the frequency with which they happened at Swansea over the course of this season has been. In January a 'screaming Chico Flores' was reported to have picked up a brick during a row with Garry Monk, the man who would later replace Michael Laudrup as manager.
5/13 Alan Pardew
Alan Pardew has always been rather animated on the touchline (just ask Arsene Wenger), but the Newcastle manager took it to a bizarre new level when his team played Hull this season. As David Meyler looked to quickly retrieve the ball from Pardew's technical area, he came into contact with the Newcastle boss. That was enough provocation for Pardew to go and head-butt the defender. It led to his club fining him £100,000 and giving him a warning and the FA banning him from stadiums for three games with a further four-match touchline ban. Quite easily the strangest moment of this, or indeed, any season.
6/13 Cardiff employ Kazakh work experience kid
Vincent Tan is something of an unorthodox club owner - from his leather gloves to disregard for Cardiff fans in changing the club colours from blue to 'lucky' red - but his choice of replacement for Iain Moody after the head of recruitment was sacked was even stranger. The man charged with replacing the experienced Moody was Alisher Apsalyamov, a 23-year-old from Kazakhstan who had been at the club on work experience over the summer. Apsalyamov, reportedly a big fan of Fifa and a friend of Tan's son, didn't last long in the role due to problems with his work visa.
7/13 Chris Hughton sacked
That Chris Hughton was sacked during the season came as little surprise. But that Delia at the Norwich board left it so late was bizarre. There were just five games of the season remaining when it was deemed a change was needed, so out went Hughton and in came youth coach Neil Adams. At the time the Canaries were five points clear of the relegation zone. Before the season was over they were relegated.
8/13 Luis Suarez becomes likeable
Having missed the first six games of the season due to biting an opponent, changing opinions seemed an impossible task for Luis Suarez. But across the season the Liverpool striker has been the best player to watch, hitting the 30 goal barrier in the process. The Uruguyan's redemption was confirmed with the two highest individual honours - the Football Writers' Award and the PFA Players' Player of the year.
9/13 The quenelle
When Nicolas Anelka made a gesture during a match around Christmas time it went largely unnoticed, probably because people were more in shock that he had actually found the back of the net for West Brom. But it turned out the gesture, dubbed the 'quenelle' or an 'inverted nazi salute', is deemed by anti-semitic by some. It led the FA to issue the Frenchman a five-match ban and £80,000 fine. Meanwhile the Baggies sacked him for gross misconduct. Despite Anelka having played for half the teams in England, no-one seemed particularly sorry to see him go.
10/13 Mark Clattenburg upsets Adam Lallana
Mark Clattenburg, something of a moth to the limelight, found himself the centre of attention for what seemed to most an innocuous remark. While officiating a Southampton match, he allegedly told Adam Lallana: 'You are very different now, since you've played for England - you never used to be like this.' It was enough for Saints to lodge an official complaint and suggest that Clattenburg had insulted their player and should not referee their games again. The official was cleared of any wrongdoing.
11/13 Steven Taylor Twitter gaffe
Steven Taylor escaped FA action, but needed to be reminded of his responsibilities after an ill-judged tweet. In response to being mocked by team-mates over his poor French, The Newcastle defender tweeted a picture of Massadio Haïdara along with some 'look-a-likes' - two other black players - Papiss Cissé and Moussa Sissoko - as well as a tribesman. It was accompanied by the words 'it's always good to see you guys smiling'.
12/13 Tom Huddlestone haircut
Tom Huddlestone's hair was getting out of control. But having vowed not to cut it until he found the back of the net, it just kept getting bigger. So when the Hull midfielder ended his 32-month goal drought in the 6-0 win over Fulham (a game possibly deserving of it's own mention in this countdown) the barber was called in. In front of the photographers in the KC Stadium changing rooms, his unwieldy hair was trimmed and in the process a lot of money was made for charity.
Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
13/13 Arsenal get smashed - again and again
Arsenal were genuine title contenders for much of the season, but defeats to the top sides saw their challenge come undone. Losing to the teams at the top isn't unforgivable, but the manner of many of the defeats was shocking. Over the course of the season, Arsene Wenger's side lost in equally disastrous circumstances to the other three teams in the top four, going down 6-3 to Manchester City, 5-1 to Liverpool and 6-0 to Chelsea.
Instead I’ve had a box seat for the most exciting season in a decade. As I said last week, my player of the season is Luis Suarez, whoever wins the title. It is not just his goals and ability, but his willingness to work hard for the team is a great example for kids. I’m not surprised he won both the football writers’ and players’ award.
Preventing him joining Arsenal was not just brilliant work for Liverpool by Brendan Rodgers, it also left one of their main rivals short. I think Brendan has had a terrific season; even if Liverpool miss out on the title we should not forget what an achievement it will have been to go from seventh to second. But you have to ask if they get can as close again next season with the cash Man City, Chelsea and Man United are going to spend this summer.
At Everton Roberto Martinez has done well, building on the defence David Moyes left him and taking it on. I also have to mention Tony Pulis at Crystal Palace and Steve Bruce at Hull City, who have both shown the value of having a manager who knows his way around the English game.
The clubs who panicked, went foreign, and ended up going down might ponder on that. I think Fulham, with an ageing squad and a manager with no experience of the Championship, will find it difficult. But they do have a terrific academy, which I saw at first hand with William three weeks ago. It makes you wonder whether they should sacrifice a year and give the kids a go. They do get parachute payments for four years. Will the owner be brave enough? I doubt it.
Norwich have the players to come back, and, like Cardiff, recent Championship experience, but they will find it hard to keep their best players, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has no experience at that level and Neil Adams has just begun managing.
Maybe the bravest board decision was West Ham keeping Sam Allardyce when other clubs changed manager, because it is often easier to give in to fans. The Hammers ended up comfortable. I know there are still unhappy fans, and talk of Sam going, but as I always say, be careful what you wish for.
The League Managers Association have been voting for our manager of the year ahead of Monday’s awards dinner and it is a tough choice. In the Championship Sean Dyche, with his budget and squad, has been a revelation at Burnley, while Nigel Pearson at Leicester has done a great job, confounding those who thought he should be removed 12 months ago. Both, though, face difficult summers. Nigel has a lot of players out of contract, while Sean will find it hard bringing in players of the right quality on his budget.
It’s been wonderful to see Kenny Jackett bringing Wolves back up. At last they seem to have found the right man to steady the ship. When you see them taking 8,000 to MK Dons for a League One match it gives you an idea of how big a club it is.
In League Two well done to three of my old clubs getting promotion: Paul Cook’s Chesterfield, who won the division, Russ Wilcox’s Scunthorpe and my old player Keith Hill at Rochdale. Keith had a rough deal at Barnsley but, like Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, found going back to a club you love, and where you have support from the chairman, can work. When a manager is happy in the job, and his family are happy, you do perform better.
At the other end I was very disappointed to see Torquay and Bristol Rovers get relegated. The west country has too few league clubs as it is; to lose two like that is a massive blow to the area. I do think it will be tough for Rovers in the Conference as they will be seen as a scalp by other clubs.
Dyke’s Conference B-team proposal may be worth trying out
Dyke’s Conference B-team proposal may be worth trying out
Greg Dyke’s plan to create a fifth division of Premier League B teams and Conference clubs is an intriguing one. I think people have to be prepared to consider it and in the long term it could be beneficial, and not just in helping bring through more young English players.
The standard of the Conference has improved a lot; it is not a kick-and-rush league like it used to be, but it is still physically tough. If you have a lot of young players in a team – as the B teams will – they will get a rude awakening about what football is about at that level with the crowds by the touchline and the intensity of the football. Will it help them to become a technically better player when there is no time on the ball? It will some, and what have we got to lose? The current Under-21 league does not prepare you for being a first-team player. After playing Conference teams at least the physicality of first-team football won’t be a shock.
Having managed in the Conference, and been to a lot of matches in it this season, I don’t think it will “destroy the fabric of English football” as people have said, as long as the promotion link to the Football League is maintained. Part of the deal is three-up, three-down so it might be easier for Conference clubs to get into the league. The one safeguard I’d add is that one promotion place should be guaranteed to a Conference club – not that I believe that will be an issue as I don’t think the B teams will find it that easy. At least Greg is trying to do something.
More positively, going to matches all over the country, and talking with people everywhere, underlined to me what a great game it is and how fortunate I am to enjoy it and mix with people at every level. As for the memories I will take from the season...
Best match: Everton v Liverpool, the 3-3 draw at Goodison Park
It had everything. There was ability, passion and two teams committed to attack. It was a cracking game to commentate on.
Best goal: Jonjo Shelvey v Aston Villa
His brilliant volley from the centre circle for Swansea. It wasn’t just the execution that stood out, it was the speed with which he summed up the possibilities.
Most interesting commentary position
Shortwood, in the first round of the FA Cup against Port Vale. Climbing that gantry to a rickety platform, with the wind gusting and all the fans looking and shouting, was an experience. When I got up there I realised there was no chance of going to the toilet before the end.