What's the betting that Everton end Birmingham City's great run and knock them out of the FA Cup today? That was my immediate thought when I read Alex McLeish took Birmingham to Malta for four days. It brought back a few memories of some of the trips I've had, especially when you are on a good run. They are good for team-building, and you find out a bit more about your players, but you just know the chairman and the board are looking at the next result to justify the cost. If you don't win you go in the boardroom after the game and you get the remarks: "Must have had a good four days in the sun", "It looked like you had plenty of late nights", and so on.
Most of my trips, apart from a couple to La Manga before Stan Collymore set off his fire extinguisher which made a lot of chairmen question the venue, have been in England as I've been at clubs that can't afford to go abroad. I used to take them to Scarborough. Not exactly a sunshine break, not in December. I remember at Notts County booking into a guest house. One room only had a bunk. The two youngsters were landed with it, Tommy Johnson and Mark Draper, both of whom went on to play for their country. That sort of thing does keep people's feet on the ground.
I spoke to Tommy this week. He, Mark, and two other former players Derek Kevan and Michael Johnson, are helping out at County. Good luck to them today against Wigan.
Another memory is taking Sheffield United up there in December. We went for a jog on the beach. I told them all to get a couple of pebbles and we had a skimming contest. Then we made up this game involving a line in the sand, which we stood behind, and a circle about 15 yards away. Everybody threw a stone and the nearest the centre of the circle wins that round and drops out. The last one left had to strip down and go in the sea. It was blowing a gale and freezing, there was no one else on the beach. You did not want to be the last one.
It came down to Paul Gerrard and Michael Tonge. Michael went first and it was the most embarrassing throw you've ever seen. It only went two yards. The lads couldn't believe it. Gerrard obviously won, but while all the lads are ribbing Michael, as he stripped down, we saw Gerrard do the same. Then he went sprinting off to the sea and dived in. That's goalkeepers for you.
2. I hope to make Wolves suffer for our long haul
Our tie at Wolves today is almost a local derby. I know, it took us nearly six hours to get here, but given our last game was at Plymouth, and our next one is at Newcastle, it felt like a short hop. Our fans really have drawn the short straw this week, not that it's ever easy for them. When I was at Plymouth we used to joke that it was two hours to Bristol, then we started the journey. At Palace it's two hours to the motorway, then we start. The difference is we've only done five miles.
It will be interesting to see what team Mick McCarthy puts out. Staying up in the Premier League is his priority and he has a real chance of doing that. And he knows on Tuesday they are at home to Liverpool, who have this weekend off. Liverpool may not be at their best but they showed at Stoke that they will run their socks off, and will have been given a boost by beating Spurs in midweek.
On that match, when I was told Spurs have not won in their last 66 away league matches against the "big four", I did think they have to ask themselves: "Why?" I'm sure Harry was pulling his hair out this week because if you get the chance to play Liverpool without Torres, Gerrard and, to a lesser extent, Benayoun, you should take it, but in all fairness to the fringe players at Liverpool, they dominated most of the game which is why Harry will have been so disappointed
Back to today, I don't have a problem with whatever team Mick puts out. I'm one of those who backed him when he changed his team at Old Trafford, but whoever he picks it won't make it easy for us as he has two teams that could more than hold their own in the Championship. I remember there was huge disappointment when they lost to Birmingham and showed what looked to be a lack of passion. People thought then Wolves had no chance, but they have reacted the way Mick would have wanted since and been superb. I'm pleased as they have a grand old tradition and their fans have been starved of success for long enough. I don't mind them suffering today though, even if my chairman might prefer a draw.
3. Gallas's tackle takes shine off top Gunners
I'm really pleased Arsenal are top. When Chelsea thrashed them a few weeks ago no one (except for Arsène Wenger) gave them an iota of being near to United and Chelsea at this stage. But I did feel so uncomfortable with William Gallas's tackle, and so disappointed that Alan Wiley, having reviewed it, says he wouldn't have shown a red card.
If a top ref like Alan can't see, even with video, that it was one of the worst, most devious over-the-top tackles, then we have to have ex-pros refereeing. If not that, the referees should get in ex-pros to teach them to recognise these tackles. When players get booked for bouncing the ball and taking their shirt off, but Gallas does a tackle like that and gets off with nothing, the game stinks.
I'm glad Arsène apologised later. I agree with him his players probably didn't know how bad it was when they played on, even if the goal they scored would have been a real knife in the heart for Bolton and Owen Coyle in the circumstances. But I'm glad he didn't say, "I didn't see it", or "There was nothing wrong with it".
It reminded me of the tackle Abou Diaby suffered at Sunderland a few years ago which Arsène said was "unacceptable". Tackles like that have got to be stamped out.
4. Big Sam's selective memory makes me smile
There were some great matches this week beginning with the cracking Championship game between Newcastle and West Bromwich on Monday. What an advert for our league, though I expect it will be a Premier League match next year.
I heard Wednesday's Carling Cup second leg on the radio as I was driving. You forget how good it is listening to matches. I do enjoy listening to Graham Taylor who was summarising. Along with David Pleat he is probably my favourite summariser. He was with Alan Green ("the Neil Warnock of commentary, you love him, or you hate him") and it was so exciting picturing all those goals going in as I was driving.
It reminded me of one of my most vivid football memories as a kid, sat round the posh table in the dining room, with the old valve radio on, listening with my dad to Norwich City v Sheffield United in a sixth-round FA Cup replay at Carrow Road 51 years ago. For the first match we'd seen all the buses come past the top of our road with fans in green and yellow. They were in the third division but the support was unbelievable. The replay was a thriller, but we lost 3-2 with Terry Bly scoring twice for Norwich – anyone remember him?
I had a wry smile when I heard Sam Allardyce argue a refereeing decision had cost him the final. I remember watching the first leg and thinking, "How can Martin O'Neill not slaughter the referee?" Villa should have had at least one, maybe two more penalties, and only came away with a 1-0 win when the tie should have been over and done. Sam forgot all that, it's how managers are.
5. Sullivan wages war to lift Hammers out of mire
At last, a saga as long as Coronation Street is over, West Ham have new owners. I'm sure the stability will help them, but I did laugh when I saw David Sullivan realise he was being filmed while on his phone. You could hear him say loudly, "What wages does he want?" He was probably talking to his cleaner. I'm only joking, but it did remind me of a former chairman who I rang one day, about nothing in particular. He said he was golfing. I said I'd ring later. Then he said, loudly enough for his mates to hear, "A hundred thousand! I'm not paying that for him."
6. Neville has attitude that breeds success
Another great game was the Manchester derby. That tie's not over by a long way. United could thrash City, but at the same time City are capable of winning at Old Trafford.
People are getting very upset about the spat between Carlos Tevez (my old mate) and Gary Neville. I'm sure enough journalists say Neville should be reprimanded for his gesture, but not in this column. The reason United have been such a top team for so long is they have had more Gary Nevilles than other clubs.
I wonder what he'll do when he packs it in. Maybe he'll buy United. He must have £716m by now, and if not he can ask Becks to be his partner. Except they have too many brains to get into football.
7. Bravo to Victor for a much deserved award
Congratulation to Victor Moses for winning the inaugural Championship young player of the month. There's a lot of competition but Vic's in terrific form, six goals in eight games, and he's not even 100 per cent fit.
8. Sorry William, I was in Secret Seven heaven
What with all the football I've been watching I've hardly seen the family. I did catch up with William at bedtime on Thursday. I asked him to practise his reading on me. He started off on The Secret Seven. Ten minutes later I'm being woken with a nudge and William saying, "Dad, you're snoring". I explained I'd had a long week (mainly watching TV).Reuse content