It's been three weeks since I started life in the Championship again and it's very different to last year, of course. But the encounter that's really made this week for me would never have happened in the Premier League.
We'd organised to go on an overnight to Cardiff, leaving on Monday afternoon for the match on Tuesday, and we'd tried everywhere to get hold of somewhere to train. It was hopeless. It turned out that Cardiff City used the facilities at the hotel where we were staying, so it was either go on an all-weather pitch or on a village ground which somebody knew about. I'm all for training in the fresh air, on grass, so 20 minutes later we turn up in the village of Pencoed. It was quite a throwback! The grass was long and the clubhouse was nearby but you wouldn't believe the welcome they gave us. The chairman was there to meet us and as soon as we started talking you knew you were deep in south Wales. "This is the biggest thing that's happened to this village for 20 years," he said in that great lilting accent they've got down there.
We started training and all of a sudden, halfway through, we heard a bit of racket coming from nearby. The village school was in that direction and half the children gradually arrived at the edge of our pitch – I'd say there were about 100 of them, boys and girls, all in their school uniforms. It turned out the head had let them out early to see us train and get some autographs. We did another 15 minutes' training then went across, by which time the ladies from the village hall crèche had come out for autographs.
It might not have been Wembley Stadium on that pitch but we were just glad to use it and the welcome we got put a bit of perspective on things. Moments like that make you realise how lucky you are to be in football. I've trained on pitches the size of postage stamps in my time and I think we were playing Palace or Millwall once when we just found a bit of grass verge. But our day out in Pencoed will take some beating, I can tell you.
We got a 1-1 draw at Ninian Park and our 15-year-old, John Bostock, got the headlines again by becoming the youngest player to start a game for Palace. I've said here before here that I don't want to make too much of a thing out of John. Making your debut's one thing but making it in the game is quite another and it's won't help him to make a big song and dance. But people ask me: what do you say to a young lad like when you're sending him out to play? It can only be "enjoy yourself". As a manager, you can't rely on young lads every week because they have no fear and they're never going to be as disciplined as the senior pros. You can't get too worried about what they might do. It's hard not to feel a bit of excitement about the current youth set up here, though. Palace have always been renowned for their young lads but I don't think there's been a group quite like this since the Vince Hilaire era in the 1980s.
2. London life offers so much
It was hard leaving life in Sheffield behind but we're already discovering the plusses of living in London. One of them came on Thursday, when Amy's school went to a show in London – it was the matinee of Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre. The school had already sorted the tickets but we managed to get some so she could go along and she met our eldest, Natalie (who's down for the QPR match today) at the theatre. Amy had a great time. We've got to make more use of what's around us in London.
William and I had our first big night out in London this week, too. William changed into his smooth gear and we were off – for pizza and champagne. Well, it was lemonade and blackcurrant actually but I thought I'd get away with it. William took his first sip, looked up at me and said "this isn't champagne dad." And I thought I'd get away with that one. I picked him up from school one day this week and when we got back home we started doing a few of his spellings. How much are you supposed to know when you're six? I couldn't even tell you what half the words meant, let alone spell them. "Chameleon." How many of you could have given me the meaning of that one? Answers on a postcard by Thursday!
3. I'm no tooth fairy
Another of those moments every parent needs to be ready for. And I wasn't! I was putting Amy to bed this week when she told me her tooth was loose. " Well the tooth fairy might be about then," I informed her. "Dad," she said, looking up at me. "I know you're the tooth fairy." I put her straight on that one, of course.
4. Sheffield memories
There were some good memories of Sheffield days when I saw that Pele was at Bramall Lane this week to help Sheffield FC celebrate their 150th anniversary. I used to play for them. They were known as "the Sheffield Club" and were always regarded as the posh club. I transferred there from Swallownest Miners' Welfare to play for their under-18s' team, so you can imagine what kind of a switch that was. It was a lovely set up but they were always moving grounds. I hope the whole anniversary thing can strengthen them for the future.
5. The impact of cash
Another side of the game came home to me in some comments I saw from Glenn Roeder this week who was talking about how he had made inquiries about getting some Premier League players on loan at Norwich but found that players would rather be stuck in the reserves than move away from home and put up with hotels. I've had the same experience at Palace. A few Premier League clubs have said I could approach players but their agents rang back and said, "Sorry, he's doesn't fancy it." That's what money does and it amazes me. In my time playing you'd rip a manager's hand off if it meant the chance to play each week.
6. It's hard for No 2s
I was sorry to see Chris Hutchings has gone from Wigan and with Sammy Lee leaving Bolton too you have to say it's not been an encouraging few months for Number 2s. If you look around the game, you'll find a lot of Number 2s who think they can make the step up. But that step up is not as straightforward as you might think. People don' t realise what managers do. No-one can, until they are in the job. The League Managers' Association do a lot of coaching and certificate schemes but there's no certificate for man management.
7. We need goals
QPR at home this weekend and a derby might be just what we need. My own heavy mob will be there – Sharon, William, Amy and Natalie – and it's first time they've all been to Palace, what with the house move and all. Another incentive to get more of the goals we've been missing.Reuse content