Rotherham United v Norwich City: Paul Warne out to ruffle feathers of beloved Canaries

Rotherham United caretaker Paul Warne
Rotherham United caretaker Paul Warne
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AMONG the sizeable contingent from Norfolk who will brave the cold snap to head to Rotherham this afternoon, a select number bedecked in yellow-and-green will have decidedly split loyalties.

An animated Norwich man, in the shape of the irrepressible Paul Warne, will be cajoling his charges from his workplace in the Millers’ technical area against his home-town club – to the manifest pride of several in the away end.

Norwich City manager Alex Neil

Norwich City manager Alex Neil

Norwich City have their travails and so do Rotherham United.

But if the worst happens this afternoon for the former and the Canaries lose, then the pain might just be eased slightly for those in attendance who are close to Warne.

Warne said: “I still go back home and all my family live there and I still have a relationship with the place, so it would be nice for me and my family, if they are honest, if I trounced them.

“I was a Norwich fan when I was younger and all my family are season-ticket holders. My dad, who is unfortunately ill in hospital, is a Norwich fan and my brother is a season-ticket holder.

“However, he comes to more Rotherham games than Norwich, so I don’t know why he has got a season ticket.

“My wife is a Norwich girl and her family are Norwich fans, too. Loads are coming up, including my best mate and his family and my brother.

“He loves it and came up for the QPR game and thought it was amazing, and I am close to him.

“They are probably the only away team I have enjoyed watching as I have roots in Norwich and I know all the players really well and the manager and head of recruitment – who is like one of my best mates.

“So I am well up on Norwich, although I don’t know if that is a good thing as I am trying to sleep.”

‘Never mind the danger’ is a line in Norwich’s club anthem of On the Ball, City, but both the Millers and Canaries have certainly had a hazardous time of it so far in 2016-17, for differing reasons.

Both sides’ experiences have showcased the fragility of football management, with the hosts already onto their third manager of this season in Warne, while his opposite number in Alex Neil is under all manner of pressure – and is entitled to be mindful that a defeat this afternoon could yield pretty dire consequences.

Despite only being in management since the end of November, Warne has quickly appreciated its transitory nature.

Yesterday his role as interim manager was upgraded to full manager, but only – initially at least – to the end of the current season.

In no way is he taking any fixity of tenure for granted, despite the current support of chairman Tony Stewart, who has alluded several times to Warne’s qualities since the latter took charge.

Warne said: “It does give me confidence.

“But I am well aware in football that all managers get full confidence and backing off their chairman until, one day, they don’t.

“We all see it when chairmen come out and say, ‘he’s the man for us’ and then, two days later, he gets sacked.

“I would expect the chairman’s backing as he wants us to improve the team, though nothing has changed on my whole situation.

“I am aware of how fragile football is. I think the team have been performing reasonably well, but if they perform like they did in the first half against Oxford every week, I don’t think I would have the chairman’s support or deserve it.”

He added: “I think every manager is under pressure. You are constantly being asked this and that and the one advantage I have possibly have got, which is not so much of a problem for Alex Neil, is that I have 18 or 19 fit players.

“He has probably got thirty-odd, who have all got egos, are on massive contracts and want to play.

“I can imagine the pressure he is under must be ridiculous.”

Warne is one of the true good guys in a footballing landscape in which examples of classlessness and fickleness are increasingly easy to find.

Few would begrudge him the honour of taking charge of a club he loves in the Millers against his boyhood side this afternoon.

Sentiment today is bound to come to the fore for a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, but someone who is street-wise to the ways of football, too.

Ultimately, his considerable professionalism will dictate that his only concern is taking care of business from a Rotherham perspective this afternoon against a club he also knows well and one who rejected him as a 16-year-old, his first taste of the hard-headed world of football.

Warne said: “I went on trial on Friday and thought I had done all right and then they said they would phone me up after the weekend – but there was no phone call on the Monday.

“That turned me against professional football. I thought, ‘Why can’t you be a decent human being and phone and say, ‘unfortunately, you didn’t make the grade, all the best’.

“I sat there looking at the phone, as there were no mobiles then.

“Every time my dad picked up the phone, I was like, ‘whoa, leave the phone down, I am getting a phone call from Norwich’.”

“It never came back, unfortunately, but I have no regrets as I had a great playing life.”