Neil Warnock: What I've Learnt This Week

1. Burton Cup tie stirs painful memories of an injured goalie, a ruptured spleen, and Gazza

My first Cup run as a manager was with Burton in 1985. We beat Staines at home then went to Aldershot, who were then in the League. They have a railway line at the back of the old stand. I remember we were stood outside the dressing-room and the two trains the Burton fans were coming down on came past. They all saw us. There were grandmas and granddads and young kids with yellow-and-black scarves and rosettes, all sticking their heads out of the window - it was amazing.

We beat them 2-0. Stuart Mell, a fireman, had to work on the Friday night, and Nigel Simms, a coalminer, came straight from his shift. They both scored.

The draw was straight after the match. Everyone was in the dressing-room. We were watching the names coming out shouting "no", "yes", depending who it was. There were only two balls left when we came out. So we cheered because we were at home, but we didn't have a clue who was left. It was Leicester. They were then a top-level club with Gary Lineker and Alan Smith. We hugged and kissed each other. It was fantastic.

We had to move it on safety grounds to the Baseball Ground at Derby. We were right in the game when Paul Evans, who was our goalkeeper and is now one of my closest friends, got hit by a chunk of wood from the terraces. We then got beat 6-1 with Lineker getting a hat-trick, but Paul had been struggling so much he was violently sick on the pitch. We told the ref but he didn't do anything about it. He seemed to laugh it off. I was so annoyed. It was like "what is a little club like Burton Albion complaining at?"

We protested and got a re-run behind closed doors at Coventry. That was my first experience of undersoil heating. Obviously it was like the one Blackburn Rovers have. It was soft on one side and frozen on the other. We tossed for ends in the dressing-rooms and picked studs depending on position. Half the team were in moulds, and half in long studs.

They scored in the first few minutes and everyone thought they would get double figures but in the last 15 minutes they were hanging on.

2. The Cup doesn't always cheer

I scored a few goals in the Cup but as a player I never got beyond the fourth round. That was at Scunthorpe in 1974. We silenced all the Geordies by leading at St James' Park until 10 minutes from the end when Terry McDermott equalised. The second leg was a damp squib because we had to kick off at 3pm midweek because it was during the power crisis and the three-day week. There was no atmosphere. Malcolm Macdonald scored a couple as we lost.

3. I'll never forget the hurt of missing out on Leeds

Playing that tie was some compensation for three years earlier when I was at Rotherham. We were drawn to play the great Leeds team of Jack Charlton, John Giles and Billy Bremner. I was picked to play and we were at the ground all changed when the ref called it off because of fog. By the time we played it 10 days later I'd been dropped by the manager, Jimmy McAnearney. It was one of the worst moments I can remember as a player. I was so down. I'll never forget how much it hurt me. We drew, but I didn't get picked for the replay either.

4. Video trial might have changed Gazza's life

My first big giant-killing was at Notts County in 1991. We beat Manchester City after the players helped clear the snow off the pitch. I had a go too, with a rake. I could see Peter Reid and Sam Ellis, their management team, didn't want to play. Gary Lund scored late on to win it.

We were then absolutely robbed against Tottenham in the sixth round. Don O'Riordan scored a 35-yard screamer to put us in front then Paul Gascoigne elbowed Paul Harding in clear view of the ref who didn't take any action - but said to my captain within seconds: "I should have sent him off". Sod's law applied as Gazza made the equaliser then scored the winner.

Harding had a horrendous black eye. In the modern game Gazza would have been done by video. The irony is if he'd have been sent off, and Spurs lost, he wouldn't have done his knee with that tackle on Gary Charles in the final. His whole career might have been different.

4. I still remember the bouncer's tackles

I've been lucky as a manager never to be knocked out by a non-League team, though I came pretty close in one of my first games at Bramall Lane when we squeezed past Rushden, who were then non-League, 6-5 on penalties after a replay. But it did happen to me as a player. It was when I was playing for Hartlepool. We got beat by Boston who were then in the Northern Premier League and managed by Jim Smith.

Len Ashurst, our manager, called us in the next day. We all thought he was going to resign. We were heading for re-election and probably going to be kicked out of the League. When we got in the dressing-room the following day he came in and wrote every player's name on the board and went though us one by one, what he thought about us. He went on about the embarrassment of losing at Boston, why we were at the bottom, how none of us would get jobs if we weren't re-elected. He slaughtered us.

It worked. We'd been odds-on to be kicked out, but by the spring we were flying. Crowds trebled - to 6,000! - as we won nine matches in 12, culminating at our local rivals, Darlington. It was the penultimate match of the season and we knew a win would make us safe.

I was up against a defender called John Peverell who always gave me stick. He played like a bouncer. In the first few minutes he whacked his knee into the side of my back, then he got my ankle. At half-time I was going to tell Len I wanted to some off but before I could say a word he started laying into me . The more he went on the more I kept thinking "I can't tell him now I want to come off". Then he took someone else off. There was only one sub then so I was up the creek.

I played the second half and made a goal as we won 2-1. The dressing-room scenes were out of this world, but I was in a corner in agony. I'll never forget it. I put my hand on my side and it was just like a balloon. I told the trainer, an old-time sponge-man, to have a look. He said: "Gaffer, come and look at this, I've got to get him to hospital". They rang an ambulance and took me to Darlington Memorial.

They found I had a ruptured spleen. They put me in a ward, which must have been a geriatric one because there was so much moaning and groaning I couldn't sleep. But I was moaning myself because my ankle was killing me, the bedsheets were so tight. I kept saying "something's wrong". Eventually they X-rayed me and found I had a hairline fracture.

When it came out in the local press I got all the sympathy votes and won the player of the year award.

5. Persistence pays

That was in 1972. They gave me the trophy and told me to bring it back in a year, for the next winner, and they'd give me a replica. The following year they didn't have one. I rang them, first every year, then every two years. Finally, in 1992, 20 years later, the chairman rang me and told me they had one. They must have wondered why I'd been so persistent but it was the only thing I ever won as a player.

6. Lassie eases the strain

I was in the back row on Thursday with the missus and two kids watching Lassie. I can recommend it to all stressed-out managers. If anyone saw the tear in my eye they'll know what so-called hard-men managers do to ease the tension.

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