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Football Matters with Les Payne

22 September 2014

Here is Les' full column following his debut in Millers Matchday at the weekend...

So, who is the former Millers player managing in the Premier League?

Yeh, Neil Warnock, a flying winger in 1969 and 1970 which means you have to be into your mid-50s to really remember him wearing the red and white.

Even so, was anyone really surprised he's returned to management?

You may have thought you'd seen the last of him as a football boss, in fact, he more or less said as much after departing Leeds some 14 months ago. 

At 65, he was enjoying life pottering about on his tractor down in Cornwall although never really far away what with his radio work, some TV punditry and a newspaper column. It kept him very much in touch and, well, you just never know.

He always media savvy, even as a player.

There was the hilarious incident at Millmoor when there was a goal after an almighty goalmouth scramble and out of the ruck emerged Warnock, running away in celebration but veering towards the touchline to take him right in front of the old Press Box which stood on its own on stilts.

Jabbing himself on the chest he shouted up: "It were mine John, it were mine," aiming his words at the legendary Millers reporter of the time John Piper thus making sure John knew who was the scorer as he phoned over his copy for the (now much-missed) Saturday night sports paper, the Green 'Un. 

He'll be delighted his return at Crystal Palace gives him the opportunity to put right what some might regard as a blemish on an excellent managerial career. 

He has been able to take clubs up, notably Notts County and Sheffield United, to the top flight but then suffered instant relegation. He had hoped to correct that with QPR but didn't get the full season, being sacked halfway through.

Now, he'll desperately hope he can get Palace to emulate their feat of last season and stay up. 

Outside the top flight Warnock has been one of the top managers of the last 25 years. 

Don't take my word for it - seven promotions tells you that. It's a tremendous record.
I still recall ringing him after his first with Scarborough in 1987, the first team to get automatic promotion into the Football League. He chuckled over a story in one paper where the reporter had misinterpreted what he'd said and had Neil suggesting he could walk on water starting with the North Sea!

He's upset more than a few along the way, particularly earlier in his career, and he'll admit many didn't like him and his methods in those early years. But he kept on getting the results and getting success.  

He was never what you might term a coaching guru but neither have been a number of successful managers; they did it other ways and one of the best examples was the man at the other side of the Trent to him when he was in Nottingham, Brian Clough.

I recall seeing a programme article by a former Forest player who said this: "Brian Clough couldn't coach a racehorse to canter, but when he turned up on a Tuesday morning, the 5-a-sides were played like cup matches.

Warnock has had that knack of getting his teams to perform. 

He'll definitely enjoy being back in the limelight and, even if things haven't gone quite right, has usually been adept at spinning things his way. 

But there is no better spin than winning although one of the game's managerial characters won't be too bothered about a trophy this time and there'll be no promotion. 

Staying up will be success for the man who can't pack it in.

When Febian Brandy was waiting on the touchline ready to make his Millers debut in the last home game, one wonders if his mind wandered back to a rather more auspicious occasion as a substitute - only for him to agonisingly miss out.

It was when he was a young starlet at Manchester United. He was in the squad for a European Champions League tie away to Roma.

Close to the end of the game, he was told to get ready, he was going on. Great. It would be only a fleeting appearance but it would go down on his CV as having played in the Champions League.

He waited and waited, eager and excited, but the damn ball never went out, nor was there a stoppage and the final whistle went much to his dismay thus denying him an appearance in Europe's top club competition. He never got as close again.

Today's visit of Charlton reminds me of one they made to these parts when they and the Millers were going for promotion from what's now League One back in 1981.

Just a few weeks before, Rotherham boss Ian Porterfield had watched Charlton lose 3-2 at Bramall Lane on a very muddy surface which didn't suit one or two of Charlton's players.

For the clash at Millmoor, a vital one near the end of that season with both in the top three, Porterfield decided to make the pitch a bit heavier and so rang the local Fire Brigade on the Friday afternoon. They came down and turned their hoses on the pitch!
That was fine except someone must not have checked the weather forecast.

It rained heavily overnight and when the groundsman arrived next morning, a lot of the pitch was under water.

There was a real danger the plan would misfire and the game would be off and it really was a case of all hands to the pump with boss Porterfield dashing down that morning to be among those helping out with pitch forking and what have you.

Luckily, they managed to rescue matters. The pitch was wetter and heavier than expected but it turned out ok in the end, the Millers winning 3-0 and going on to finish as champions. Charlton didn't suffer too much, they went up as well along with Barnsley.

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