Neil Warnock: This year I can tuck into my Christmas dinner guilt-free at last - News & Comment - Football - The Independent

Neil Warnock: This year I can tuck into my Christmas dinner guilt-free at last

After an early lesson, I’ve monitored my food and drink every Christmas for 48 years - until now

The turkey is ordered and for the first time in nearly half a century I will be able to eat it, plus all the trimmings, without a care in the world.

I joined Chesterfield at 17, I’m 65 now. In the intervening 48 Christmases I have always either been a player, having to watch what I eat and drink, or a manager, worrying about what my players are eating and drinking, plus who is going to cry off tomorrow, who is suspended, who is carrying an injury, and the million-and-one other questions that fill a manager’s every waking moment.

Older readers will remember there used to be matches on Christmas Day. I remember leaving the fireside and the presents to watch matches on the day as a boy but such matches were rare by the time I began playing. However, you still had to be careful not to overindulge.

It was not quite as bad as sitting there, eyeing a mince pie and thinking, “If I eat that I’ll never get past the full-back tomorrow,” but you did have to show restraint. I love the combination of Christmas pudding and gorgeous thick custard and it required an iron will to limit yourself to one spoonful.

Then there was the alcohol. I learnt my lesson early there. At Christmas 1970 I was playing for Rotherham, who were doing well in the old Third Division (now League One). The previous season I’d been at Chesterfield and I remained friendly with several of the lads there, so when they invited me to join their usual pre-Christmas drink courtesy of a local car dealer I accepted.

However, my “friends” were also my opponents on Boxing Day and they spiked my drinks. I only intended to go for an hour, but ended up being carried out, put in a car, and driven home. Christmas Day was a write-off and come Boxing Day I could barely run. I’d been in good form, playing 11 games in succession, but I was terrible. Chesterfield won 2-1 in front of our biggest gate at Millmoor all season, with one of my “friends”, Tony Moore, scoring against us.

I was picked for the next match, at Halifax, but then dropped, which meant I missed out on an FA Cup tie against the great Leeds United side of the time. I never did get my place back and was given a free transfer at the end of the season. I ended up at Hartlepool, who had just finished one from bottom in the Fourth Division.

It was a lesson hard earned. Never again did I allow myself to get in a position like that as player or manager. I didn’t bear a grudge, though. Tony remains a mate as does the other main culprit, Kevin Russell, who has for many years been my chief scout at various clubs.

I cannot imagine many, if any, players doing the same now. Not only is there so much at stake they know there will always be someone waiting to take a picture of them overindulging and tweeting it or whatever. Clubs also keep a closer eye on players with checks like heart monitors and so on.

As a manager I always trusted my players on Christmas Day. I did not see any point in dragging them into the training ground – a three-hour round-trip for some of them on icy roads – when they could relax with their families instead. I felt if I allowed them to do that they wouldn’t let me down the following day. My Boxing Day results usually showed that trust was well placed.

They were still given a workout to do, with heart monitors on, and obviously there were times when we were away from home and had to go to a hotel on Christmas night. That was not actually as bad as it sounds. Sharon was usually pleased to get me out from under her feet so she could get the house back to normal, and I quite liked getting away to a hotel room and some peace and quiet.

The other new experience I will have this holiday is New Year’s Eve. In the past I have normally been tucked up in bed by 10, stone-cold sober and miles from home. This time I am able to join the family at the big firework display in Looe. There are actually two displays, at six in the evening for the kids, and midnight for the big kids. In between the pubs are all open and everyone dresses up in fancy dress. I’ll be joining them, with Amy choosing my costume.

So there is a lot to look forward to  this Christmas, I hope the same goes for my readers. I wish you  all a very Happy Christmas.

Malky is a winner – but he was always going to lose with Tan

I am at Anfield today with BT Sport, whose cameras will initially be focused off the pitch, on the away team dugout. As I write Malky Mackay is still Cardiff City manager, but it is obvious that he will not be much longer. I am a big admirer of Malky, who has done remarkably well in Wales, but it’s been apparent for a while that there were problems with the owner and when that happens there’s only one winner – and it’s not the manager.

It is a shame things have worked out this way but I do not expect Malky will have to wait long for another job. When he gets it, the way he has conducted himself this season, and still managed to grind out some results will stand him in good stead.

I must admit as I watched Malky and West Bromwich Albion’s Steve Clarke getting wet through on the touchline last week, and going through all the pressures that management brings, I did think to myself: “Do I really need this?”

Both of them were getting soaked – thanks to Steve McClaren no manager can put up an umbrella until his team are three up with 10 minutes to go – and for what? Steve was fired that night and Malky’s stay of execution looks to be brief.

Two days later AVB was sacked as well after a superb performance by Luis Suarez at White Hart Lane. Brendan Rodgers must be thrilled to have signed Suarez to a new contract, because at the moment he is almost unplayable.

Today’s match looks straightforward for Liverpool after demolishing Spurs but Brendan will know there’s no such thing against a club fighting for their lives, even without all the distractions.

Whatever happens in the game one thing is guaranteed: an Anfield rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. That never fails to stir me.

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