It has been a hard week this week. There I was on Wednesday, pondering this column while sitting on a secluded beach in gorgeous sunshine, having just spoken to the wife in Sheffield who told me it was freezing, miserable, and been snowing. You will gather I was not calling her from Filey or Scarborough, lovely spots though they are. I was in Portugal, at Lagos on the Algarve, where we had a few good days' training. Aye, it's a hard life.
We didn't go away in February, when the last international break was on, as I felt that it would be better to do it now, before we start the last eight games. We do not get another break until the end of the season. Beginning with Bolton next Saturday it is just game after game, non-stop.
I knew I'd made the right decision even as we set off from Leeds/Bradford Airport. It was bright sunshine, yet 40 minutes away in Sheffield Sharon was telling me they were experiencing the biggest hailstones she had ever seen.
We could see the dark clouds on the horizon as we left, so to be wearing short-sleeved shirts only a few hours later was pretty amazing.
And it was ideal timing, the training ground back home was frozen for a couple of days while in Portugal we had decent facilities. We were able to work pretty hard, though as we had a few away on international duty we were not able to do anything tactically.
It was not all work. We were in a big golf area, everything was golf-oriented. I didn't play myself. I like it but my handicap is my clubs. I play on a little course in Scotland when I'm up there. The longest hole is 350 yards and there are fantastic views over Holy Loch from every hole. It's perfect, there's never anyone in front to wait for, and no one behind putting pressure on me.
That was not the case in Portugal. The lads went to play and gave up after nine holes because they had to wait so long to play. They were probably not too impressed with the town either. I gave them a night off and the players and staff went their separate ways. I was pleased to find Lagos like a ghost town. It was just like a John Wayne Western when he walks into the bar and it all goes quiet. There was no one around. I thought: "The perfect place to take a football team".
I don't know what they found to do, but I am pleased to say that the following morning there were no pedalos spotted anywhere near the hotel grounds.
2. Scarborough faring badly
Last night I was at Scarborough, where it was a bit chillier, to watch them play an important Conference North match against Worksop Town.
They have had a bad time of it recently and are struggling to stay up. I was there as part of a 20th anniversary reunion of my tremendous promotion-winning team of 1986-87. It was the first team to win automatic promotion to the Football League and - until last season's promotion with Sheffield United - my most satisfying achievement in football.
Mitch Cook, who was my left-sided midfield player in that team, and is now their community officer, had got everyone who played in the campaign, plus all the staff, together. The idea was to give the current side a bit of a lift. I still look for their results and it's been sad and disappointing to see where they are at the moment.
I imagine there will be a few bleary-eyed people this morning, and plenty fed up with my going round asking questions of them. I've been trying to check a few stories for a book I'm working on and this was the ideal opportunity.
3. Stewards need to be vigilant
Obviously you've heard how disappointed I was with Middlesbrough's team selection last Saturday against Manchester City. With City having a bad time of it, to pick up a team sheet and see no Mark Viduka, Jonathan Woodgate or Julio Arca, who were being rested for Boro's FA Cup replay on Monday, would have been a massive lift for them. We played Middlesbrough in January and I honestly believe if those three had not played against us we would also have beaten them. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, when another club in your situation does not have to work so hard for a win as they should have had to.
We watched both Monday's FA Cup replays in Portugal. The lads watched Man United against Boro, I watched Spurs v Chelsea. I thought it was a very good game. Chelsea just grind you down. It must be so disappointing for Tottenham, against almost any other side they would have won the tie.
In a way the incident at the end, when a fan tried to attack Frank Lampard, was a good thing because it brought the issue to the fore. It should make the authorities act a bit stronger and ensure managers and players alike have security.
I was involved in a worrying incident a few years ago at Gillingham. A lad walked down the touchline, past the home dug-out, along the cinder track, and just stood in front of me and started verbally assaulting me. No one seemed to realise that he shouldn't be there. It took a minute or two before people realised he was a nutter. Someone from the home bench came to help me out and the stewards ushered him away. The issue has got to be sorted out before someone gets seriously injured, like Monica Seles was. That does not mean the return of fences, just extra vigilance from stewards.
4. I'll be nervous watching England
Today's the day when the England players really have to stand up and be counted. I don't see any fixture with England being easy at the moment, but it will be nice for once to sit back and watch Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard dominate the midfield as they do for their clubs; for Andrew Johnson to cause mayhem with Wayne Rooney behind him in a freer role; and for the lads at the back to be confident and not give much away. With a couple of early goals they can go in and have a cup of tea at half-time knowing it is all going well.
But now I will have to pinch myself and wake up because that doesn't happen with England. I really hope I'm wrong about that but I have to admit I don't enjoy watching England, I just get too nervous. That sounds daft when you see what job I'm in, but I know what is at stake. I really want Steve McClaren to do well. I think he's a great bloke. But I don't envy him at all. I know it is a fantastic position and job, but I wouldn't swap it.
5. 'Lion King' rules
After Saturday's game I stayed in London with the family. After being beat, anyone involved in football would know I did not really want to go out but I had a great night being entertained at Drummonds Bank in Trafalgar Square at a dinner connected to some fund-raising the League Managers' Association did that brought in £75,000 for the NSPCC.
On Sunday we went to see The Lion King. It was very good, the more so as we were able to get behind the scenes. At the interval Amy and William had a chat back stage with children playing the main parts. After the show we were fortunate to go backstage and have a look at all the props. It took my mind off a few things.
It was a long slog back. Due to engineering work the train took three hours, 40 minutes, instead of two and a half hours. I had to carry William off the train at five to 11. With all the bags the stairs looked a bit daunting so we got in the lift, pressed the button, and waited. Then we realised we were already on the ground floor, we just had to exit the lift on the other side. It was like something from Candid Camera.
6. Hulse is on the mend
On Monday, before going away, I nipped up to see Rob Hulse in hospital. We are fortunate in Sheffield to have a number of top-notch surgeons and Paul Sutton, who did the operation on Sunday, was delighted with the way it had gone. He has put a titanium pin in Rob's leg. He was very optimistic. People were talking about Rob being out for six months; now he could be back for pre-season. It was a massive lift for all of us and cheered Rob up no end.
Rob is going to spend a few weeks with his mum and dad rather than his apartment which has loads of steps. I bet his mum won't mind having her boy back.Reuse content