Neil Warnock: What I've Done During Christmas Week

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The Independent Online

1. Home advantage pays off when it comes to mixing tinsel and training

Christmas: Santa Claus, jingle bells and, if you're lucky, like we are today, a home fixture.

For everyone involved in football Christmas is a time of work. I haven't had a Christmas off since 1968. It is a time to be dedicated; whatever standard you are, four games in nine days mean if you are not looking after yourself there is not a cat in hell's chance of performing.

I remember as a player going to bed at half-ten one New Year's Eve, preparing for the game tucked up in bed. When I woke up it was glorious sunshine; by the time I drove to Scunthorpe there was six inches of snow and the game was called off. All that dedication out of the window.

The weather problem this year, so far, has been the fog. On Friday we planned to train in Sheffield, then fly to Portsmouth. Instead we had to go by coach, setting off at 9.45 in the morning. I was expecting a six-to-seven hour journey but it was the best run we've had to Portsmouth, just over four hours. And we fixed up a training session at Eastleigh FC. We did some false set pieces, in case anyone was watching.

Not that this did us much good as we lost 3-1 after a very good first half. You may have heard I shouted a bit, for the first time this season, but in the circumstances I think I was entitled to. I was very disappointed at one or two decisions.

I'm pleased we're at home today and Saturday. It means you can train in your own environment. The only downside is that we play Arsenal at 5.15 on Saturday, then have to get ourselves up to Middlesbrough for a 3pm kick-off on New Year's Day. I don't usually rotate but at this level I'll have to, like everyone else.

I didn't bring the players in to train yesterday, I haven't done for a few seasons now. The first year I made them all wear heart monitors to check they trained at home but now I trust them. I did tell them if they let me down it wouldn't happen again. But some of them travel an hour or two to train. Any benefit they will get from an hour's training would be outweighed by spending four hours driving. In the ultra-modern fitness world we live in now I'm probably doing it all wrong, but I think, as long as they look after themselves, being with the family will do them more good.

2. Xmas past presented unique challenges

We're lucky really. Older readers will remember it used to be the case that there were matches on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Teams sometimes played each other home and away in 24 hours. Imagine what would happen now if you have a group of players fighting one day, then they play each other again the next.

They used to get some odd results with teams being thrashed on Christmas Day, then turning the tables the next. The pitches might have had something to do with it - they played on anything in those days, it just had to be relatively flat.

I can remember going to see Christmas matches at Bramall Lane. At the risk of sounding like that Hovis advert, or one of Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen, sometimes there were no bus services so we'd walk three miles to get down to ground, then three miles back.

3. Volunteers can make a difference

For the last seven years I've been going to St Winifred's, a local day centre for people who've fallen on hard times, and joined them for Christmas dinner.

It's one of those events which makes you grateful for your lot, Christmas fixtures and all. The staff there are fantastic, a lot of them are volunteers and they really make a difference to people's lives. There are people there who were living on the streets, now some have got jobs and got their pride back. I met one guy who had never had a job in his life; now he's with a partner, in accommodation, and got a job as well. You take these things for granted.

I always take three players along; this year I took Claude Davies, Keith Gillespie and Rob Hulse. What I don't tell them is they have to do some sort of cabaret. This year the centre had their own choir so the lads had to stand up with them and sing three songs. I thought their version of "Let It Be" almost brought the house down, and to finish it off they did "You'll Never Walk Alone".

But when I presented the sporting awards of the year - the sports being dominos, darts, etc - one or two Wednesdayites found it very difficult to shake my hand. I took it in good heart.

4. Centre-halves have it harder than YTS lads

I feel I ought to write a few words in defence of Chris Morgan, my captain. Twice in a week he's been whacked by opponents and people might think he's the sort to make enemies. Well, he's a smashing lad and a great captain, on and off the field, which is why I kept him as captain even when he wasn't in the team.

However, he is an old-fashioned centre-half, so he'll get in a few scrapes. He reminds me of a centre-half I used to play with when I was about 16 or 17, and playing for the Swallownest Miners Welfare. I used to thank goodness he wasn't playing against me, he looked like he'd been at war for 100 years. He'd also put liniment on before the game and stink the dressing room out. It was good experience playing for them and something of a family affair - my dad was trainer and my brother played one game.

It's all a bit different to the way kids come into the game now, with the academies and YTS schemes. They are pampered. They even have their mums cleaning their boots. Sharon cleans William's, I can't get used to that. It's like the YTS lads at the club: PFA rules and regulations mean they can't wash the dressing room floor or clean boots. It's to do with European law or something, but you can't tell me that scrubbing baths and cleaning the gaffer's car and the senior pros' boots did any harm.

Looking back on Morg's muggings, I couldn't understand why the FA didn't do anything about Juan Pablo Angel elbowing him as I got a message from referee Mark Halsey that he didn't see it. That left me even more baffled. Angel never apologised either, whereas Lee McCulloch did so straight away.

5. Peace and goodwill among the willows

I'm really looking forward to today's game because it will give me the chance to get a bit of peace and quiet. William got a guitar and some electrical drums for Christmas so the house is bedlam. He also got a portable table football, which Santa spent three hours putting together. But Christmas is great with young kids. In the morning we were saying, "Has he been?" Then William ran downstairs and came back screaming, "Dad! Quick! You'll never believe it."

I'm very happy with my presents, there were no socks or pants. I'm delighted I got a DVD of The Wind in the Willows, which I've been after for ages. I also received some fashionable shirts and a head massager. It works, but when I put it on my head I look like Hannibal Lecter.

6. Radio gaga is go-go

I'll be doing my Christmas radio programme tomorrow night. I didn't think I'd have time this year but Amy wants to play the piano on it, so I fixed it up again with Radio Sheffield. I will get Brian Laws, my oppo at Wednesday, on and give people the chance to tell me how to pick the team. Maybe I'll cut them off this year, like other phone-ins do. But I've also got lots of good music to play. All the boys will tune in because, like me, they love Barbra Streisand and Lionel Richie.

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