Neil Warnock: What I've Learnt This Week

1. Going to the dogs is good for team morale ­ especially when you get to sting a bookie
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The Independent Online

Last weekend I was disappointed when a very good, and much deserved equaliser in injury time at Upton Park was wiped out for a "foul" on the goalkeeper. Although certain people thought I was whinging again it was obvious to anyone who plays and understands the game that there was nothing wrong with the challenge on Robert Green. But we soon got over it.

I had planned to stay down after the game as we had a tough match at Watford on Tuesday. So when we left West Ham I had the lads change on the bus into jeans and took them to Walthamstow dogs. What a fabulous night out and just what we needed after such a disappointing result.

Our star tipster was Chris Short, our masseur. He had five winners. Several of the lads asked him how he picked them. He said he just picked the biggest dog as they walked past. There's got to be a moral in that.

Among the early races was a tight finish in which Stephen Quinn, one of our youngsters, thought he'd backed the winner. So he went down the terrace about 30 yards from where we were standing and the bookie, who obviously thought the same, paid out about £60. A couple of minutes later the bookie came up and said "your dog was second, I want me money back".

I responded as if he was a referee saying "you can't do that, you've paid out now, it's not his fault you made a mistake."

The bookie insisted and I said "what if he'd gone to the other side of the stadium, or left?" But the bloke kept on. Having got the money back he gave Stephen a fiver, as Stephen had put a tenner on. I told him to give the fiver back as well because the bookie "must be that desperate".

Later on, as I was walking round about the track, I bumped into someone who recognised me. He asked me how I was going. I said my dogs tips were as good as my afternoon had been. To which he said he had a dog racing later, and it had a good chance. I told him if it won I'd invite him as my guest to Watford.

I told the lads I had a good tip for the next-but-last race. They were all waiting eagerly when three minutes before the race I said to Mick Jones, my coach, "I'm putting £100 on that tip with that bookie, and I hope it wins, so I can pick my money up". I told the lads "no one put any on until I get my bet on".

As I put my £100 on he didn't give me a ticket, just said "£100 for Mr Warnock" and gave me that little look. Four or five other lads did the same thing.

Round the first bend the dog was third; across the far side it came in to second and then in the final 100 metres it pulled away. If I tell you here were 25 Premiership players and staff jumping up and down and kissing each other. You wouldn't have thought we had a care in the world.

The best bit was watching the bookie pay out. I waited till everybody had gone. I said to Mick, "let's wait till he looks up". He knew we were there. Then his eyes looked up and I had total satisfaction. It's amazing how little things can make you feel so happy.

2. Spurn advice

We've got some keen punters in our team but it was only when I stopped taking advice from the likes of Keith Gillespie that I started shooting up the table in a tipsters challenge for managers run by The Racing Post on behalf of the NSPCC. We had the presentation on Monday at the beautiful old Drummonds Bank building off Trafalgar Square.

I went along with Mick Jones and we were very impressed with the work the NSPCC staff put in, and the fact we raised £75,000. Glenn Roeder topped the managers' charts, I came third. Three of the 10 managers failed to make a profit. They shall remain nameless, but I can tell you Harry Redknapp was not one of them. He'd have got some stick if he had been.

3. Hotels are heartbreakers

On Sunday we watched the gripping game between Manchester United and Chelsea. It may not have been quality football but it was riveting. I've got to say I think Howard Webb is the best referee in the country and he had a super game. He actually man-managed the teams. It's just my luck he comes from near Sheffield, so we'll never have him.

We had our evening meal in the second half of the match so by 6pm we were back on our coach to watch none other than James Bond. We then did some light training Monday and Tuesday at St Albans. It's a lovely, tidy little ground and we're grateful they let us use it.

Then we played Watford, and won. So it was all worth it, although from a manager's point of view staying away in hotels is the worst part of the job. I hate being away from the family. I could have missed Amy's big step up this week, from the red book to the blue book in her piano lessons. I didn't see the kids from Friday morning until Wednesday morning, and having got back at 3am it was just a smackeroo on the cheeks and off they went to school.

4. Don't be hung out to dry by towel abuse

It was a great win at Watford because a few things were against us, not least the fixtures. We had to play Saturday and Tuesday, while Watford had the weekend off. Today we play Charlton who had midweek off while we played, travelled, and suffered injuries. For the first time in my career I will not be picking the team before lunchtime today because I want to give a few players time to see if they have recovered from what was a bruising battle at Watford.

Everyone commented after our win that we were lucky to have scored an "offside" goal for the winner, and it evened up Saturday's decision. How interesting it was to see, from a different camera angle, that it was Danny Shittu, Watford's defender, who headed the ball before it rebounded for Danny Webber to score. So he wasn't offside, and hopefully we've still got some luck to come to even things out.

There was a bit of controversy at Watford. I was quite pleased when we left the Championship as it meant we would no longer meet the multi-ball system in which clubs use a lot of balls during matches. The idea is to speed up the play but it can be abused. At Reading, in particular, ball-boys would place the ball on the spot for corner-kick for the home side, but roll it on the floor for the away side. It became a bit of an issue.

What I didn't expect in the Premiership was to find ball-boys with towels wiping the ball for the home side, but not the away team, as happened at Watford. I brought my own black towel out at half-time and although Aidy [Boothroyd] had a laugh, asking me if I'd spilt the half-time tea over myself, I didn't quite see the funny side.

It shows what people do to get an edge and tip the scales though there is no one around now like John Beck. I like John as a person but when he was at Cambridge he used to leave the grass long in the corners, because he wanted his team to play long into those areas and it would stop the ball going out of play, and you always knew the dressing-room floor would be wet when you arrived to change.

5. The camera does lie

Last, but definitely not least, let me just tell everybody who reads this column regularly that last week's picture had my head superimposed on Cliff Richard's body. Taking the kids to school I've been amazed, and somewhat worried, at how many people believe I really go around dressed like that. You'd have thought everyone would have realised that a columnist for such an esteemed newspaper would not be seen wearing those shorts. It was a bit of trickery, but I don't think it will be happening again.

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