Neil Warnock: What I've Learnt This Season

From the uncertainty of being out of the game in August to the elation of Palace's play-off run in May, Neil Warnock has had quite a 2007-08
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The Independent Football

Today is a massive game for us, but whatever the result of our play-off games with Bristol City both clubs can hold their heads up. City were only promoted last year. While they were disappointed to miss out on automatic promotion it's been a fantastic year for them. It's been a terrific season for Crystal Palace too, and for me and the family. Here's a few reflections on the good, the bad, and the parking wardens.

Best thing about being unemployed at the start of the season

Being able to finish my autobiography, and do the book signings without having to rush back to work. It enabled me to meet people all over the country.

Worst thing

Not reporting for pre-season for the first time since I started playing in 1968.

How I felt on the season's opening day

Lost. Completely lost. I was on the M1 driving home from doing Football Focus. I listened to the radio for an hour, but couldn't bear it and turned it off.

How I felt on the season's final day

Absolutely elated. The comparison with the last game last season (when Warnock's Sheffield United team were relegated from the Premiership) was chalk and cheese. We had a fantastic atmosphere with a full house. It was wonderful watching this group of lads, who had overcome so many obstacles to get in the play-offs, who had come from being second from bottom, walk round and take the applause of the fans.

The numbers of jobs I turned down

Two, plus a very good club I couldn't agree terms with. No, I'm not telling you who it was.

Why I took the Palace job

Goodness knows at the time, other than my friendship with the chairman (Simon Jordan). Sharon always felt it was the right one, call it women's intuition. She likes Simon and thought I would enjoy working with him. She also thought it was an opportunity for the kids to see London.

Best thing about living in the Smoke

The opportunities. You can have a great time whether you have money or not. We have a wonderful park near us and everything is free. I could go there eight hours a day and not get fed up with all the wildlife. At the other extreme you can do anything you want in London, at a price.

Worst thing about London

Having a standing order with the local council to pay my parking tickets, bus lanes and everything. When I park the car I feel like they are round the corner waiting to pounce and interrogate me. You don't get that up north.

Best thing about being back in work

The dressing-room banter; and being able to give the kids butter instead of margarine.

Worst thing

Not feeling free to criticise. When you are out of work you can say what you want. Now every time I'm asked a question I have to remember the invisible man in the compliance unit is watching and listening to get his bonus. I'm sure they are paid on percentage.

How often Simon and I talk

Daily. To people's surprise we've had no bust-ups yet. There's been differences of opinion, but Simon always reminds me there is only one winner. Seriously, we discuss things and come to a mutual agreement.

Moment I realised I was in back in the Championship, not the Premier League

When I was glad to come away from Scunthorpe with a point. They were going well and we were second from bottom. I remember thinking that night, "Bloody hell".

Best match of the season

The most enjoyable was last weekend. Very early we were two-up and Burnley were down to 10 men. It's very rare in football you can really enjoy a game. I can count them on one hand in my 28 years as a manager. Possibly the most satisfying was at Stoke last month. They threw everything at us but we got a good victory.

Worst match

Charlton Athletic away. How we got away with losing only 2-0 I'll never know, it could have been double figures. Still, it was a unique experience for me. The chairman got more stick than me, which is such an unusual occurrence.

Turning point of the season

Our last-minute equaliser against QPR. It was Clinton Morrison's 100th goal for the club, and he had been stuck on 99 for weeks. They would have been four or five up if it were not for our keeper, Julian Speroni. I bet QPR can't believe where we are after that game.

Best moment

The reception I got going back to Sheffield United. Going out on to the pitch and seeing all four sides of the ground, including the Palace end, stood as one giving me a cheer. It was my most emotional time in football. The most satisfying were the two late goals we got against Sheffield Wednesday, a winner at home and an equaliser at Hillsborough. I'd been slaughtered all afternoon both times. Sean Scannell got a fabulous goal with the last kick at home, Matty Lawrence got his first goal for eight years up there.

Worst moment

The late equaliser Bristol City got at Ashton Gate, deep into added time. It was so cruel. It knocked us back three weeks, we just couldn't perform for the next couple of games. And it cost me two grand as the Football Association objected to my views on the added time.

Best goal scored

Scott Sinclair's dribble last week for our fourth goal was special. Jamie Scowcroft's at Molineux was a rocket from 35 yards. Time just stood still.

Best goal against Palace

None of them are good, but if I have to pick one it would be Kevin Phillips' finish in our draw at West Brom. Before the ball reached him in the box I thought, "Anybody but him". The cool finish was top drawer.

How will West Brom and Stoke do in the Premier League?

It depends on the quality they bring in. I think they will have as much chance as Sunderland and Birmingham have had this year. One survived and one has a chance. I don't think they will be "a Derby".

How did Leicester get relegated?

It has been the closest league for years, right to the last few weeks: there was so little difference between relegation and a play-off spot, just 18 points. They have some decent players and I don't think the pitch helped them at all. It was the worst in the league.

Best prediction

I thought Blackpool would survive, even though the bookies thought they would go down. And I've always said Chelsea would stay in the title race.

Worst prediction

Expecting the relegated clubs, Sheffield United and Charlton, to get automatic promotion back to the Premier League. They came ninth and 11th.

Best referee

You won't expect me to say this, but there's been a lot this year. Alan Wiley and Howard Webb have been superb and Mark Clattenburg's back to his best. I've even seen Steve Bennett, who I've often criticised, give one of the best performances of the season in the Sheffield derby.

Worst refereeing decision

The fourth official getting me sent off at QPR when there was nothing in it. I was trying to get the ball back, he thought I was wasting time. The FA must have agreed with me as they took no further action.

Do you still have wine after a match in the Championship, or is it beer now? Where have you had the best wine this season?

It's still wine, but it's not so common. It's difficult when you are the visiting manager because of all the time with the press and so on. At least I don't have to go into the boardroom now as I'm not looking for a job. The best was in Alan Pardew's office, even though we were embarrassing. He and his family are really nice people.

Best ground

Bramall Lane, for all sorts of reasons.

Worst dressing rooms

Colchester, but no longer, they have a new ground from next season and I think it will be good for them. Clubs did not like going there last season, it was a bit of a shock for some, but this year clubs knew what to expect and their home record has not been so good.

Funniest incidents

Clint Hill knocked the ball completely the wrong way to where he was aiming. I shouted out to him, "Have you got your boots on the right feet". He just laughed. In another game Tom Soares went through and shot from the edge of box. The ball never reached the goalkeeper. When he came past I shouted, "Have a shot next time".

Best player

The best finisher was Kevin Phillips; the best player was probably Stoke's Ricardo Fuller. Charlton battered us away while Blackpool gave us problems at our best.

Best Palace player

The reason we are where we are is that there have not been any outstanding individuals, everyone has played their part, young and old.

Best and worst trips back from an away game

The Monday slog back from the match at Bristol after that last-minute disappointment. We thought we were out of the play-offs and what made it worse was the drug-busters were there so we didn't leave until half-eleven. The best was coming back from Stoke a few Mondays later. We were full of belief then.

Best half-time team talk

There's had to be a few, unfortunately. My worst was at Hull. I told the front three how well they had played. They never had a kick in the second-half.

Best substitution

Paul Ifill at Watford. He scored straight away to put us ahead.

And what is the most important thing you've learnt?

That anything is possible if you can believe as a team.

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