Sporting Bygones: Likes of Lineker, Hansen and co will struggle to match Warnock
During this World Cup we will have on our screens Alan Hansen, perhaps the best of all the former players-turned-analysts although one rather given to disdain and the impression he would far rather be playing golf; Alan Shearer, who talks without saying anything; the smooth but similarly vacuous Gary Lineker; Jim Beglin, shrewd and understated but no worse for that; David Pleat, whose knowledge of the game outstrips his talent for delivery; Mark Lawrenson, a sour man if ever there was one; the unfortunately named Mark Bright; and the boys for the future, Gareth Southgate, Lee Dixon and Andy Townsend.
In our national news-sheets there will be ghosted articles by the score from former players and managers, almost all of them as bland as margarine but with the odd exception – probably from Sir Bobby Charlton – making a point as fresh as it was obvious to the expert eye, which is why most of us will have missed it.
Then there will be Neil Warnock, a man with 326 League games as a winger in football's backwaters on his CV and a reputation as a manager which seems to indicate he makes enemies more often than he changes clubs – which is remarkable given that he has had 12 jobs. Warnock has made an impact on the media side of things not just for comments about his peers but, with increasing confidence, as a weekly columnist for a national newspaper where his wit and acidity (sometimes it is hard to tell the two apart) have brightened many a Saturday morning.
Like him or not, you either admire Warnock for his achievements with Sheffield United and Huddersfield or you berate his failure to make any impression at the highest level. Either way, he offers much more than most of his contemporaries, including those listed earlier.
As when he is on the training field, addressing those fortunate journalists granted access to his post-match inquest, even in the dug-out or technical area, he tells it as he sees it, nothing held back.
But what he also has, which had not been evident previously in a career underscored by the apparent ease with which he loses his temper and his ability to hold a grudge long after whatever incident stirred his wrath – in the cases of Gary Megson and Stan Ternent so long ago as to be almost prehistoric – is a gentler side.
It possibly goes against the grain – Warnock has long promoted the image of the man with chips on both shoulders, a ball and chain round his ankles and a Sisyphean rock to push up the hill every day he rises from his bed – but he is much more than a grump with a deep knowledge of English football and the people involved in it.
He is never happier, for example, than when he and the family are in their second home in Cornwall, away from the hassle of running a football club and living in London. On the other hand he loves concerts, the theatre and good restaurants and the accessibility of them in the capital.
Contrary to what might be thought of a man who sometimes gives the impression of being tired of football, he has high hopes that his young son William – whose doings are a regular feature of his writings – will make a future for himself in the game. This is the volcano who has fallen out with chairmen, film stars (Sean Bean, like Warnock a lifelong Sheffield United fan), fellow-managers, referees, journalists, players too numerous to mention and supporters all over the country. Which other manager, for example, could inspire the crowd at a fixture between Bury and Bradford City to bellow in unison "We want Warnock out"?
Warnock was manager at Gigg Lane at the time. Bury were obviously going nowhere while the Bradford fans despised Warnock for his promotion-winning achievement with bitter rivals Huddersfield Town.
That was one of his shorter and less successful stop-overs but even his successes always seemed to end in bunches of sour grapes.
The public Neil Warnock is the selling point of his column – and gave rise to a bizarre pre-World Cup competition for readers. The prize for correctly answering a series of questions was the opportunity to watch England face the United States in their opening fixture with the great man and enjoy the sight of Warnock "screaming at the referee". There was no mention of why he might do that, just the guarantee that he would, given that he apparently does it at every game he sees, whether from the touchline, the stands or, in this case, the sofa. That is Neil Warnock, the face and sound of today's football.
It is all a long way removed from the days of dear old Kenneth Wolstenholme, the voice of football when the game and the players were more important than the commentators and a man for whom pressure was not the outcome of 90 minutes entertainment but flying a bomber over a German city, trapped in the glare of deadly searchlight.
Different times, different standards…
Warnock's career on and off the field
Warnock the winger
24 games/ 2 goals
1969-71 Rotherham Utd 52 games/ 5 goals
1971-3 Hartlepool Utd 60 games/ 5 goals
1973-5 Scunthorpe Utd 72 games/ 7 goals
1975-6 Aldershot 37 games/ 6 goals
1976-8 Barnsley 57 games/ 10 goals
1978 York City 4 games/ 0 goals
21games/ 1 goal
Warnock the manager
1986-9 Scarborough Won 30, Lost 25, Drew 23.
1989-93 Notts County Won 90, Lost 49, Drew 70.
1993 Torquay United
Won 5, Lost 5, Drew 5.
1993-5 Huddersfield Town Won 30, Lost 44, Drew 34.
1995-7 Plymouth Argyle Won 35, Lost 24, Drew 29. n 1997-8 Oldham Athletic Won 27, Lost 22, Drew 20. n 1998-9 Bury
Won 29, Lost 19, Drew 29.
1999-2007 Sheffield Utd Won 165, Lost 100, Drew 123.
2007-10 Crystal Palace Won 47, Lost 39, Drew 43.
Won 5, Lost 5, Drawn 4.