Neil Warnock: The magic of the Cup - losing 6-1... then getting the replay we deserved
What I Learnt This Week
Today is one of the best days of the year: the FA Cup third round. I still believe it is the most magical round of any cup in any country. I have so many memories of when I was young gathering round the kitchen table to hear the draw on our old valve radio, then when the matches were played tuning in to hear all the scores coming in from up and down the country, with the giant-killers having their day of glory.
One tie in particular today brings back fond memories. Leicester City v Burton Albion seems a run-of-the-mill tie now, a Championship club playing a League Two club, but in 1985 Leicester were in the top flight and Burton were in the Northern Premier League. I was manager of Burton and getting Leicester, a big club and a local derby too, was a fantastic draw.
We switched the game to Derby County's old Baseball Ground and more than 22,000 turned up. After half an hour we were drawing one-each on an icy pitch and fancied our chances. Then Paul Evans, our goalkeeper and my best mate, was hit by lump of wood thrown from the crowd. Paul went down, the physio treated him, we carried on, then a couple of minutes later the referee had to stop the game again as Paul was chucking up on the pitch.
We made it to half-time but Paul was in a bad way, still throwing up, and I told the ref he should abandon the game. There were no substitute keepers then, remember, only one sub at all. The ref said no so Paul soldiered on but he was in a daze and Leicester took full advantage. Gary Lineker got a hat-trick and Alan Smith two as they won 6-1.
After the game I said an injustice had been done and because we were just a little non-League team we were expected to be grateful just to have reached the third round. John Sadler, an influential writer at the time, took up our grievance and it became a cause célèbre. We were summoned to the Football Association (a journey I would become familiar with) and they ordered a replay.
It was played behind closed doors at Coventry City's Highfield Road stadium (another ground since consigned to history). Leicester scored early but we not only kept them out after that we hit the post ourselves. It really was an amazing few days.
While I wish Burton all the best today I'll focusing on our tie against Birmingham City. While I know it won't be the first match on the TV highlights it's an important game for us. We had some wonderful nights in the Capital One Cup and it would be great to have a similar run in the FA Cup. I'm sure Birmingham won't be taking it lightly either, so it should be interesting.
2. Bust-ups part of game
Obviously, everyone is talking about the set-to between Roberto Mancini and Mario Balotelli, but these things are not unheard of. I've never actually experienced anything quite like that but I have had players react when I've been criticising them at half-time or after a match, not that it has ever become physical. How you handle these things depends on the circumstances and the individual. I remember one player who'd not been with me long answering back and some of the long-serving players saying to each other, "He won't be with us long". They were right, but he wasn't as talented as Mario.
City are a bit unlucky that their training ground is so visible, because every club has flashpoints at times. It is inevitable, with people living in each other's pockets for 10 months in a job with so much physical contact and pressure for results. Robbie's obviously got upset but I don't see anything wrong with that, you need that passion as a manager, it is what keeps us going. Look at Sir Alex. I know he was wrong in his outburst during the Newcastle game, but you don't become the best manager there's ever been without passion and desire. It is great to see he still has that at 71. It shows how much he cares. No wonder he keeps proving people wrong.
3. Hill had his peaks
The latest Championship casualty (as we go to print) was my old player Keith Hill at Barnsley. I think Keith can leave with his head held high and I'm sure he'll be back in a job soon. The Championship is such a tough league and Keith has tried to play attractive football on one of the lowest budgets in the league.
There is such a fine line between success and failure. We played Barnsley a few months ago and they could have been three up in first 10 minutes, had five or six opportunities before half-time, but lost 1-0. Then leading scorer Craig Davies was injured and results dipped. I hope Barnsley pick up because it is a fabulous club, I had some of my most enjoyable times as a footballer when playing for them.
4. SWP scored before
When Shaun Wright-Phillips scored QPR's winning goal at Chelsea we were told it was his first for 50-odd games. I would dispute that. He scored a cracking goal against West Brom when I was QPR manager to put us 2-0 up. Except a linesman, wrongly, flagged for offside. We drew 1-1 and a few weeks later I was out of a job.
I had a good chat with Harry Redknapp the night before QPR played and we both said we thought it was possible to get out of bottom three. I'm sure neither of us thought they could beat Chelsea but, with none of the teams above them pulling away, a couple of wins puts them right back in the pot. I wasn't surprised Harry went back to the spine of my Championship-winning team – Hill, Derry, Mackie and Taarabt – there are times when you need that effort and commitment. I know Adel's not always associated with those qualities but he worked hard on Wednesday and he can do things no one else can – like that exquisite pass for Shaun's goal. It was the ball of the season for me.
5. Hobbits in the house
The kids went to watch The Hobbit at the cinema this week. They have all turned into Gollum/Smeagol. I can't get into a conversation without them impersonating the character.
6. A bug is going round
I'm doing this column from my sickbed as I've picked up the virus that's been going around the club. At least it didn't take long to be diagnosed. I said to the doctor, "All those symptoms Jerome Thomas told you he had before you ruled him out of the Bolton game, well I've got the same list." I've even more sympathy for Jerome now. He looked terrible, now I know he felt even worse.
The doctor has told me to keep away from the players for the last few days as we've already had problems with the bug spreading. Luke Varney went down with it and during last week's match Paddy Kenny and a couple of the other lads were running on empty. Infections are a problem for clubs. It is why I get really annoyed if I see players using other players' water bottles. Containment is difficult enough. We are all in close proximity in the dressing room, on buses and at mealtimes. I noticed last week, when Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers couldn't make the QPR game his coach, Colin Pascoe, was allowed on the bench but the doctor banned him from entering the dressing room at half-time as it looked as if he was going down with it.
In these circumstances it was a great win last week against a Bolton side with a lot of very good players, so I was a little bit annoyed in the press conference when someone mentioned we didn't play as well as we could. As well as the bug, we'd been totally outplayed in our previous match against Hull and that can really affect confidence. What matters in those situations is how you react and the lads gave me everything. To come away with three points was fantastic.
7. I'm backing Boateng
It will be interesting to see the response to Kevin-Prince Boateng and Milan walking off in Italy. While I support and applaud their action I wonder if it will have to happen in a competitive game to really have an impact. Then Uefa, or whoever's competition it happens in, will have to become involved whether they like it or not.
Racism is a very serious issue but I was surprised that people took offence at the 10-year-old boy who dressed up as El-Hadji Diouf before our game last week. Dioufy is his hero and the boy was honouring him when he made himself up to look like Dioufy – right down to the Mohican. I was one of the people who posed for a photo with him and, like the rest of the lads, I took it in the spirit it was meant. Dioufy himself loved it and if he was not offended why should anyone else be?
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