What a strange weekend this is going to be for me, with the final automatic promotion place in the Championship coming down to two matches, Reading v Birmingham City, and my club, Crystal Palace, against my old club, my hometown club, Sheffield United. I suppose I am in a no-win situation. If I get the win that stops the club I support going up, I upset the away fans, my own so to speak. If we get turned over, I'm sure fans of Birmingham and Reading, and some at Palace, will think it was on purpose.
But I think anyone who's followed my career will know I'm never going to send out a team that is not trying to win a game. United's manager, Kevin Blackwell, who worked for me for 16 years, will know not to expect any favours, and so will the half of the team I brought to the club, or gave debuts to, including lads like Nick Montgomery, Chris Morgan and Paddy Kenny.
The fact that Reading are involved gives it another twist. As you might recall, I'm not that popular with some there, so it's a bit ironic they'll be supporting my team tomorrow. I wonder if those Reading fans who tried to smash my car up a couple of years ago will be rooting for me.
I've been thinking Sheffield United's season might come down to this match for a while and I obviously was not alone as the letters started coming in from their fans a few weeks ago. They'll be down in force. The chairman said to me: "We usually only allow 3,000 away fans but they have requested a lot more. What shall we do?" I said: "Let them have as many as they want. We need the money." I think we gave United 7,500 tickets and they sold them all. With the £60,000 television fee it's turned out to be a good last day of the season, given we have nothing to play for.
Obviously, I'm disappointed that we are not in the frame but since Christmas we have been treading water. The fans have been fantastic, even when we lost six out of eight they stuck with us. I think they realise how difficult it is without a lot of finance and blooding so many youngsters. We could easily have been where Charlton, Norwich and Southampton are.
Because of the fans' support, and the fact that the family have settled really well down here, I told Simon (Jordan, the Palace chairman) that I would do another year and I signed an extension to my contract yesterday, taking me to 2011. He's delighted, he's been asking me to extend for a few months. Though the club's up for sale, and Simon's haemorrhaging money left, right and centre, he still wants to see Palace progress. But that would be difficult in the atmosphere of insecurity which would be created if players thought we could both be gone by the end of next season. Now we can look at least two seasons ahead, and I think it will take the best part of that, not just to improve our talented youngsters, but to get in the players we need to improve the squad and take on all the big-money clubs.
I hope this is good news for Palace fans. I'd like them to know I'm committed, I still have that enthusiasm, and want to win something else before I pack in. I'm going to have to work the oracle to do it, though. The three clubs coming down will have plenty of money, coming up with cash are Leicester, Peterborough, and perhaps Leeds. I expect QPR, Nottingham Forest and Ipswich to splash out. That's what I'll be up against, but it's the type of challenge I relish. And don't forget, only two, at most, of Birmingham, Reading and Sheffield United will be going up. Whoever doesn't will be strong.
I've always said, since I left, that Sheffield United have the best squad in the whole league and nothing has happened this or last year to change my mind. That shows how well Mick McCarthy's done at Wolves. Another manager who's had a great season is Owen Coyle at Burnley. I didn't think they were good enough but they've been a credit to the Championship with their cup run and are still in with a shout of promotion.
2. Gee is at the very top of my musical A-list
Sharon and I enjoyed one of the advantages of living in London this week when we went to the Royal Albert Hall to watch Kenny Gee. If you don't know him, he's the world's best saxophonist by a mile. I saw him first 15 years ago at the Apollo Theatre in Manchester. He was amazing then and I got his records. As soon as I heard he was coming to the Royal Albert Hall I thought, I have to go. The acoustics must be the best around and it's a wonderful atmosphere. He does a number called "Songbird", it's in my top three.
3. Hip hop practice for my big day this week
I have another big day on Wednesday when I go into hospital for a hip resurface. So I've been learning how to use crutches. I've been hopping up and down stairs, round and about to get some practice. Sharon's done her bit, she's been on the net and bought me two nightshirts. I look like Sherlock Holmes.
I can't wait. I've been suffering for 14 to 15 months, really. It just stops your quality of life. I would have liked to do it earlier, but it did not feel right to have it done in the season, though I'm now knackered for the summer. It's quite a big procedure, the operation is a few hours under general anaesthetic then I have five days in hospital recuperating. So that's where I'll be writing my column next week. I'm still not sure which club the surgeon supports. I hope it's not the team that misses out in the Championship promotion race this weekend.
4. Summer holiday? Try meze in West Wickham
We found ourself stuck in traffic in West Wickham, Bromley, on Wednesday evening, outside a restaurant called Marmaris Ocakbasi. There were two tables outside. It was a lovely evening, and we were hungry. A couple of minutes later the car was parked and we were sitting outside enjoying meze. It was like being on holiday – and it's the nearest I'll get this summer – except for the traffic going past. There's that many courses we moved inside by the end, watching William doing his robot dance outside. He's much better than Peter Crouch.
We'd been to the dog hairdressers. I don't think the Norfolk terrier appreciated it, he's a man's dog, but Percy the griffon would be happy being pampered all day long.
5. Getting to sleep's easy when Chelsea are on
Having read Guus Hiddink's pre-match claim that Chelsea would match Barcelona shot for shot, attack for attack, I wasn't at all surprised they set out to get a goalless draw. I did watch, but only just stayed awake. I then missed the first half-hour, the good bit, of Wednesday's game because of our meze. But the games have set up the second legs. Both ties are wide open.
6. Thankfully Albion didn't go for a Burton
Thank goodness Burton Albion made it. We watched the second half and I was so relieved when Altrincham didn't concede four or five to Cambridge. Congratulations to Ben Robinson and everyone at what is a fabulous club. I hope they do well in League Two, though I think they'll find it hard if, as I've heard, they stay part-time.Reuse content