Neil Warnock would be as happy managing in a Sunday league as the Premier League
The Yorkshireman began his managerial career at Gainsborough Trinity nearly 40 years ago.
Neil Warnock, football’s Mr Marmite, turns 70 on Saturday admitting he would be as happy managing in a Sunday league as he is in the Premier League.
At a time when his contemporaries have either reached for the pipe and slippers, or are on reality television eating bugs in the Australian jungle, Warnock is still on the touchline trying to win a game of football.
Or, as his daughter Amy found to her cost recently, starring in motivational videos with expletive-filled footage taken from fly-on-the-wall documentaries Warnock has featured in over the years.
Early birthday cake for Cardiff manager Neil Warnock (who celebrates his 70th birthday on Saturday) from the media. Quite fitting for a huge cricket fan. pic.twitter.com/w8V8qlccL6— Phil Blanche (@philblanche) November 28, 2018
“Amy’s at university in Bristol,” said Cardiff manager Warnock, a proud father of four.
“She said to me a few weeks ago ‘Dad, you’ve been on our screen as motivation for us’.
“I asked what she did and she said ‘Cringe!”
Yet after over 50 years in football, and nearly 40 as a manager, it is perhaps no surprise that Warnock is able to even cause moments of discomfort to his own family.
After all, this is a man who chuckles at the self-expressed notion that fans of Bristol City – a club he has had countless scrapes with – should hold a minute’s booing to mark his passing instead of a minute’s applause.
Love him or loathe him, though, it has always been impossible to ignore Warnock.
A journeyman winger who played over 300 league games at eight different clubs, Sheffield-born Warnock prepared for management when plying his trade as a 24-year-old under Len Ashurst.
“It was Hartlepool, 1972,” Warnock said. “We got beat at Boston in the FA Cup and Len Ashurst called us all in the next day and started on every player and what he thought of them.
“He got to me and I’ll never forget what he said – what we should have done and why we let him down and the club down.
“I knew I could never get to the top. I wasn’t good enough. I was a quick, brainless winger.
“I realised the only way I could get to the top was as a manager. I loved talking when I was playing and telling people what to do.”
Warnock’s long journey in management began in 1980 at a time when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and Blondie were riding high in the pop charts.
From a Yorkshire Sunday league at Todwick to Gainsborough Trinity – “I organised darts and dominoes nights after training to get the local supporters involved” – and onto Burton and Scarborough, who he took into the Football League in 1987.
Jobs have come thick and fast over the last three decades. And so have promotions.
The eighth promotion won at Cardiff last term – and probably the most surprising of his career as he had taken over the previous campaign with the Bluebirds 23rd in the Championship – set a new record for a manager.
Warnock is the second-oldest manager in English professional football after Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson.
“I’ve looked back more this week than ever with my 70th birthday coming up,” said Warnock, who won successive promotions at Notts County in the early 1990s, as well as those at Scarborough, Huddersfield, Plymouth, Sheffield United, QPR and Cardiff.
“It’s nice to think about the dressing rooms I’ve built up to get the successes we’ve had, but it would not have been possible without my family.”
The Warnocks are a close-knit unit, whether at their Welsh base near the seaside or at their homes in Cornwall – “Alan Brazil says it is a farm because I’ve got some fields and a 1955 Massey Ferguson tractor, but it’s not” – and Scotland.
Curiously, Warnock says one of his few regrets “is not managing in Scotland”, but he admits he would be finished with football and relaxing at home had his wife Sharon not fallen ill in 2016.
“I would be retired now if Sharon had not got breast cancer,” said Warnock, who will celebrate his milestone birthday with a family meal the night after Cardiff’s home game against Wolves.
“She was wired up having chemo and telling the nurse that I never wash a pot or frump a cushion.
“Tony Stewart (Rotherham chairman) had rung me about three hours before. I said ‘Tony, not Rotherham, that’s five hours away. Look where you are in the league and the fixtures coming up.’ I didn’t need that.
“But she goes off like that and I said ‘Listen, Tony’s rang this morning from Rotherham, do you want me to go up there?’
“She said ‘Aye, bugger off’ and that’s how I got back into it at Rotherham, and now Cardiff.'”
Warnock will hear far worse from visiting fans than the words Sharon directed at him as he moves into his eighth decade.
But while he smiles at his long-standing role of pantomime villain – “I’ve built that up over the years and played up to it” – his ability to bridge the generation gap by working with wealthy twenty-somethings and love for football remains undimmed.
“I could go and manage Gainsborough Trinity next week, or even back in a Sunday league again, and it wouldn’t worry me,” he said.
“A lot of managers feel like they couldn’t drop down, but it isn’t beneath me.
“Managers like me might be going out of fashion, but I just enjoy management and making people better.”