What a week for God’s own county. Bradford City knock Arsenal out of the Capital One Cup, Sheffield lad Joe Root makes a stunning debut in India, Leeds gets the nod to kick off the 2014 Tour de France, and on Wednesday we play Chelsea in front of a 38,000 full house, aiming to join the Bantams in the last four.
I’ve already sent Phil Parkinson a text congratulating his team on their stunning victory and telling him how much I’m looking forward to a Yorkshire derby in the semis. And before Chelsea fans write in, or Rafa pins this up on the wall, it was very much tongue-in-cheek. I know we’ve got a really tough tie first against a team who may well be crowned world champions by then.
We’ve had a terrific cup run but this will be the toughest tie of them all. With Arsenal going out, Chelsea are now hot favourites to win the competition and, while I know they’ll have been to Japan and back, I noticed Rafa has saved John Terry for us. He’s just the man you need for a big cup tie on a cold Yorkshire night.
In fact, watching Arsenal at Bradford, I thought that a John Terry – or a Tony Adams – was what they lacked. I know people are saying that Arsène’s reached the end of the road but I really don’t think they are that short, they just need an experienced leader type on the pitch. I would still put my money on Arsenal to finish in the top four, which most teams in this country would relish, and it would not surprise me if they reached the later stages of this season’s Champions League. I accept Arsène’s pulling fewer rabbits out of the hat than he used to now other clubs have improved their scouting systems, with Newcastle stiff competition in France, but Arsenal fans should be careful what they wish for.
2. Mick’s lifted Ipswich
I’m pleased to say no one has been talking about Chelsea around the club as we have been concentrating on the league. We’ve a tough one today against in-form Ipswich Town. It’ll be nice to see my old mucker Mick McCarthy. I’m not surprised they are now one of the form teams. Mick knows what the Championship is all about, hence the results he has obtained since taking over, lifting them into a comfortable position. He’s organised them and brought in some loan players who he knows are good Championship players.
In fairness to Paul Jewell, he brought in DJ Campbell. DJ was quite poorly when I was at QPR; we were worried about him as he couldn’t shake off a viral infection. He’s a smashing lad and it is good to see him back among the goals, though if he carries on Harry might think about recalling him.
We go into the match lifted by the news that El Hadji Diouf has agreed a new contract to the end of next season. I know people had their doubts, including Sharon, but he has been a great signing for us. Negotiations have been so lengthy I think Ena Sharples was still in Coronation Street when we started so I’m glad they are concluded.
3. I’m Rooting for Joe
Joe Root was just what England needed to come to their rescue in this Test, a good old-fashioned Yorkshire born-and-bred cricketer. Joe’s a Sheffield lad too; he played for Sheffield Collegiate, who play at Abbeydale Park, a lovely ground where I also used to play, for Sheffield Bankers – that’s Bankers with a B, no funniness, please.
I gather his mum, dad and granddad all went down to London to see him presented with the Cricket Writers’ Club Young Cricketer of the Year award. I’m sure they are all rightly proud of him.
4. I’d be furious at Nasri
I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the dressing rooms last weekend after the Manchester derby. I’m sure my lads would have known what was coming if we’d lost in the last minute to a defensive wall like that – all that hard work coming back from two down thrown away.
If Nasri stands tall, the worst that can happen is he gets hit with the ball and City come away with a point. It beggars belief to see somebody get out of the way of the ball like that. I’d have been distraught – and furious. It happens three or four times a season at the top level and it is scandalous.
In the other dressing room I expect there was quite a lot of relief from Sir Alex – and in the referee’s room, since United should have been three up but had the third chalked off for a non-existent offside. It is fair to say Sir Alex would have been in fine voice had United not won.
The coin-throwing incident was terrible to see but I don’t think putting netting up is the answer. It would be the start of going back to where we were. The next step is wire-netting, then we’re back to fencing and we all know what happened with that. The worst areas are actually not behind the goal but by corner flags. Clubs need big stewards who can get in there and pull the culprits out.
5. Winter travel’s no fun
I went home for a few days in midweek. I flew down but drove back. Why? Well, when we were sitting on the tarmac they announced we could not take off until the plane had been seen to by the de-icing machine. Then, while we were waiting, thick fog came down. I said a few prayers as we took off, I can tell you. Mind you, it was a slog coming back, with a lot of fog and accidents as I drove north. Travelling really is no fun at this time of year.
My first morning at home both alarms failed and Sharon woke up at 25 to eight – which is about the time the kids should be getting on the bus to school. Sharon had to drive them in. Somehow I got the blame!
While I was home I did something which made me far more nervous than I will be in front of 38,000 people on Wednesday: I agreed to give the speech for the kids’ school’s sixth-form prize-giving. The ceremony was in the Guildhall in Plymouth. As I’ve mentioned, Tom Daley attends the same school, one of four Olympians they have. He won a couple of prizes. He’s such a nice young man.
6. Personality all round
It’s a shame we can’t have more than one Sports Personality of the Year. To think Andy Murray will probably not even make the top three.
Myself, I can’t forget that night in the Olympics watching Jessica Ennis round the last bend, then Mo Farah running away with the gold. The dedication they have is so impressive. I think the award must go to one of those two.
There really has been a feel-good factor for Britain, what with Murray, Alastair Cook scoring centuries, the golfers, Bradley Wiggins… it’s been refreshing, even to me, to have football taking a back seat, the more so since the back pages seem filled with problems at present. Sadly, there’s not much of a feel-good factor being generated by our national game right now.
7. Join me for lunch!
Once again readers can bid in The Independent’s Christmas Charity Auction to spend the morning at training with me and then join me and the staff for lunch.
I’m looking forward to seeing who joins us to be shown round our wonderful training ground and see how things are run. Hopefully, it’ll be a Leeds United fan, though it is an interesting visit for anyone who likes their football.