by Rob Langham
Without wishing to lurch into “my mate who works in the club shop saw Mickey Thomas heading for the Chairman’s office” type claims, the one person from whom I have received a personal opinion of Neil Warnock — that is, not one filtered through the closed ranks of media driven diplomacy — pronounced him to be a truly odious human being.
What next? Paul Merson enjoying the odd lager top or two? Rory Delap possessing strong biceps?
Perhaps the most infamous Warnock moment was that Sheffield United v West Bromwich Albion match in 2002. Riven by dismissals and reduced to in numbers, the Blades were soon going down like volunteers at a nuclear holocaust simulation. It was difficult to prove but accusations were levelled at the manager for his keen awareness of the minimum number of participants allowed on the pitch for a game to continue.
Then there’s the constant one-eyed baiting of referees, the defensiveness, the snarling at opposing managers from the technical area and the brutalist, one dimensional tactics – even when blessed with funds to spare as he currently is at Queen’s Park Rangers. Friends who support Premier League clubs are prone to throw out the “breath of fresh air” argument but that’s because they have rarely locked horns with this professional Yorkshireman – if one is unused to Warnock, the feeling that emerges when he first accuses your favourite striker of diving or claiming that his bunch of hackers deserved to win the game can be vexing indeed.
So Warnock is appalling – period. But is he?
Well yes – mainly. But I first got on side with Warnock over the Carlos Tevez affair. Haughty journalists told him to stop whingeing – but would you shut up if you had been cheated to the tune of millions of pounds and denied a fair shot at a second successive Premier League season? Even Sheffield United fans complained that it was all about him, but it’s pretty clear by now that this is a ruddy good manager.
Back in the day, he took Notts County into the top echelon a year before the strains of Alive and Kicking rang out; at Bramall Lane, he built a lusty, vigorous unit and enabled them to ascend; at Palace, he turned round the career of Darren Ambrose and discovered Victor Moses; and at QPR, he has again taken care of business – and quite cheaply too, give or take the odd £3.5 million to … well … who knows where?
But if being excellent at what you do can cover a multitude of misdemeanours, I also find him to be an engaging, open handed pundit with a wealth of knowledge of the game. I groan when I see him on the settee opposite Kamara but always find myself smiling involuntarily — even nodding from time to time. I’m sure Stan Ternent and Wally Downes are implacable on this and I still hate him too – but I retain a sneaking regard. And I haven’t even mentioned his nickname.
Rob writes over at The Two Unfortunates, a cracking website devoted to Football League coverage and related matters; his alter ego, Lanterne Rouge, can sometimes be found lurking in the comments sections of this very website. Follow him on Twitter @twounfortunates.
Editor’s note — seriously, what the fuck is going on with that picture?