Neil Warnock's 'The Gaffer' exclusive extract: Anton Ferdinand has not been the same since the John Terry storm
In excerpts from his new autobiography The Gaffer, Neil Warnock lifts the lid on the explosive episodes of his QPR career and their effects
I was looking forward to playing Chelsea. I’d been told at the start of the season if we beat them QPR director Amit Bhatia’s father-in-law, Lakshmi Mittal, the steel billionaire, would give me a million pounds. That was quite an incentive.
Our build-up was difficult. Training had not been very good. The players had heard Adel Taarabt was out the night before the games against Fulham and Blackburn and they had a meeting among themselves that had come to my attention. Adel said he wasn’t out. He doesn’t drink anyhow so even if he was it wasn’t the issue it would be with some. You have to give him the benefit of the doubt, but all week it had been festering.
Then there was selection and tactics. We were a bit at sixes and sevens. Joey Barton and Dezza [Shaun Derry] wanted to play three in central midfield and one player wide. I felt we needed Adel or someone putting his foot on the ball or doing something to stretch Chelsea. Curly [coach Keith Curle] wanted wide players to stop their full-backs pushing on but I thought we’d then just end up in our own half and get beat anyhow.
I decided to pick Adel and have a go at Chelsea. I’m the one responsible for results after all, but I had to convince the players it would work. I started with the full-backs. They like to stay out, but Chelsea’s wingers like to come in and Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge would cause problems if we allowed them to do so untracked. So the full-backs had to come with them and the spare centre-half would cover the space.
Then I brought in Joey (below) and the midfielders and we had a really good morning running through how we were going to play. I decided to bring Clint Hill back from Forest as I wasn’t convinced either Danny Gabbidon or Armand Traoré would be fit. Armand had an adductor strain and he’s the type that if he sneezed he felt he had flu or pneumonia.
We started well, the plan with the full-backs worked, we won some great tackles and headers and Chelsea began to show signs of panic. That was underlined when David Luiz made a stupid challenge on Heidar Helguson. The ref gave a penalty and Heidar tucked it in. Then Adel put a great ball through for Shaun Wright-Phillips and José Bosingwa pulled him down and got sent off. They were just rejigging their line-up when Didier Drogba made an horrific lunge on Adel and got a straight red. They were down to nine and a goal behind. It seemed unreal. Watching it from the bench it seemed like Drogba’s dismissal was in slow motion.
Then a minute before the break they pulled off Juan Mata and put on Nicolas Anelka, which I couldn’t understand. Not only was Mata the player I thought could rip us apart, doing it then meant we knew how they would play in the second half. I thought they would have given themselves a bit more time and decide what to do during half-time.
At half-time I said to my lads: “We can’t sit back because of the quality of their passing, be positive.” But it was difficult. We let them have the ball and their players are so good technically they kept it, even with nine men. We were chasing shadows.
I substituted Adel with Tommy Smith with about 25 minutes to go to give us fresh legs. Once again he stormed off down the tunnel. He never shook any hands, not mine anyway as I didn’t even look at him – I could see what he was going to do. There was a tense finish and I saw John Terry having a set-to with Paddy Kenny, and another with Anton Ferdinand, but it didn’t seem like there was anything out of the ordinary given it was a competitive derby match. We held on to gain a fabulous result.
I went out on the pitch to savour the atmosphere, which was deafening, and immediately had Adel coming up to me for a moan. “Gaffer, why you substitute me, blah, blah, blah.”
“Look around you,” I said, “this is not about Adel Taarabt, this is about Queen’s Park Rangers. Queen’s Park Rangers are more important than you. A lot of people would not even have picked you. You should be thanking me for picking you instead of having a go at me.” I think he’s a lovely lad, and he is unique, but he hasn’t got any idea sometimes as he only worries about himself. Most players do.
Joey and Anton lingered on the pitch with me. I said to them: “Just take in the atmosphere, I’ve never heard anything like it.” I drank it in. A lot of our fans had never seen a victory against Chelsea – it had been 16 years – and they were revelling in it.
When the three of us got to the tunnel all hell had broken loose. The tunnel was compacted with bodies; there was shouting and screaming. Chelsea weren’t very good losers to say the least and, as our players had to go past their dressing room to reach ours, there was plenty of opportunity for confrontation. I screamed at our lot: “Get in the dressing room.” They did.
Mick Jones, my assistant manager, who had come down earlier, said the referee must have sensed what was going to happen, as he got off quickly, into his room, and shut the door behind him, leaving the players to sort it out themselves like in the old days. I thought it was a good move. The police were there too and one of the officers said to Mick: “Keep your lads in check and this won’t go any further.” These things normally last a minute or two and are then forgotten, and with neither the ref nor the police looking to pursue the matter, that is where it would have ended. But, of course, there was another aspect this time with the Terry–Ferdinand incident. That would take almost a year to play out.
We weren’t aware of anything out of the ordinary when we left the ground and I drove home still feeling elated. I’d just got in the front door when I received a text telling me there were these scenes on YouTube of John Terry shouting “you black c...” or whatever, towards Anton. There was a link and even viewing it on my phone I thought it looked pretty obvious.
Anton hadn’t seen it at the ground because I don’t let them have phones in the dressing room. So when John had pulled him after the game and asked, “There’s no problem?”, Anton agreed because he hadn’t seen it. But when he did see it he was furious. I spoke to him and told him not to say anything to the press. Then I spoke to [QPR owner] Tony [Fernandes], who said he would ring Anton and give him the club’s total backing. The previous week the Luis Suarez–Patrice Evra affair had erupted and I realised this had the potential to become a big issue – but I had no idea how big the ramifications would be long term.
That night John Terry made a statement saying he was just repeating what Anton allegedly had said, and that was why he said it. That confirmed he had used the words. He should have just kept his mouth shut, as Anton never heard anything.
The police were probably the first to appreciate how things might escalate, as the following day they called Mick Jones (why they chose him neither he nor anyone else knew) and told him Anton’s home had to be secured, and would he go along with them to the house to help them do that. Then they rang him and said they wanted Mick to be responsible for Anton’s safety getting into the ground at the next home match – they needed to know where to take him to minimise the risk of anyone attacking him. Mick’s my assistant manager, not a security expert, so he replied: “You must be joking, that’s your job.”
We were off Monday, but matters continued to develop. Anton was still very angry, so the club made an official complaint to the FA. The Met Police also got involved more formally after someone made a complaint to them.
On Tuesday the FA announced, in response to our complaint, they would investigate. We trained as normal, but FA people came to the ground in the afternoon to talk to Anton and myself, plus Shaun Derry and Clint Hill, who the cameras showed were nearby when the incident happened. But what could we say? None of us had heard anything.
I wanted to carry on as normally as possible, so at lunchtime we had a couple of presentations. I gave extra Championship winners’ medals I’d had struck to reward some of the unsung staff, and we had birthday cake for Shaun Wright-Phillips, but we didn’t really enjoy that buzz you get at the training ground after a great result because it was overshadowed by the controversy.
The FA came back on Friday and interviewed Anton again, for two hours. It wasn’t the best preparation to face Tottenham and it showed. Anton was poor and continued to be so. I don’t think he ever played well for me again. His mind was affected – understandably given he even had a type of bullet sent to him in the post – and I don’t think he has ever been the same player. His concentration levels were poor and he had that many meetings with solicitors, the police (who by Tuesday after the Spurs game said they were launching a formal investigation), the FA and PFA that he missed a lot of training and his sharpness dropped. It didn’t help the team’s preparation either because you need your centre-half, especially if working on defending set pieces.
Shortly before Christmas the Crown Prosecution Service said they were charging Terry with racially abusing Anton. By the time Terry appeared in court to plead not guilty I had left QPR, but I followed events from afar. When, in September, the FA found him guilty of racially abusing Anton and banned him for four matches it finally seemed to indicate a line could be drawn under the events of 23 October, 2011.
Actually, there is still one outstanding issue. I’m still waiting for that £1m bonus from Amit’s father-in-law for beating Chelsea. I’m sure it’s in the post.
QPR couldn’t sign campbell – they didn’t have any money
On trying to make signings as QPR prepared for their return to the Premier League, I was finally allowed to bring in a player who actually cost money, verbally agreeing a £1.25m fee with Blackpool for DJ Campbell. He’d not only scored goals for them in the top flight, he was a QPR fan as well. Crucially co-owner Flavio Briatore rated him and wanted to sign him too. I had DJ round the house, he agreed terms, he passed a medical, he even trained with us. It was a done deal, or so it seemed. Then, before a press conference, the media guy told me not to talk about DJ and when I asked what he meant, he said: “We can’t put it through yet, we haven’t got enough money.” We hadn’t sent the letter to Blackpool making a formal bid because we couldn’t pay if they accepted. It turned out there was no money in the pot until we got the first payment from the Premier League.
‘I’ll ram that bottle down your throat’
It is QPR’s promotion run-in. The players are due back in Saturday ahead of a televised Monday-night match against Derby County, but Adel Taarabt fails to turn up.
I found out he’d been with his Moroccan friend from Arsenal, Chamakh. Then he rang up and claimed I’d said “come in Sunday”. He’d put weight on as he was not training and it was not good enough. I had a one-to-one with him on the Sunday and told him what I expected of him.
When the game arrived, Adel’s lack of sharpness showed. Robbie Savage, who’s more than a decade older, man-marked him and Adel didn’t work hard enough to lose him. I had to pull him off after about 65–70 minutes. When he came off Coxy [Nigel Cox], like a stupid physio, gave him a bottle of water that he deliberately threw down in disgust. All the while the TV cameras were on him.
I didn’t say anything at the time but later in the week, during a staff meeting, I said to Nigel: “If you ever give another bottle of water to Adel when he’s been substituted I will ram it down your throat.” I think he understood. We laughed about it later.
Arsène has the final word
At the Emirates the technical areas are a long way apart. When I went there with Sheffield United for my 1,000th game as a manager, I stood with Arsène Wenger (above) in the centre circle and turned towards them. I said: “Look at the dugouts, Arsène, they are miles apart, you’ll never hear me.”
He pondered, looked down at me from his great height, smiled wryly and said: “You will find a way.”
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