by Neil Warnock
Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99
Reviewed by Pete Green
From WSC 248 October 2007
Neil Warnock should be more popular. Sure, you wouldn’t want to watch his players lamping the ball up to the big man every week, but his moaning about referees is far from unique and, in an age when distinctiveness is at a premium among managers, Warnock stands out as one of very few with a personality rather than a checklist of banalities. When most football autobiographies seem as achingly dull as their authors’ TV interviews, then, Made in Sheffield ought to shine out as Warnock lays into his long list of adversaries.
This it does – but perhaps not enough. We could have surmised that he “wouldn’t piss on [Gary Megson] if he was on fire”, but the origins of these resentments are often left frustratingly unclear. Stan Ternent? “I had taken an instant dislike to him when he was the manager of Hull City.” There are lesser crimes, I suppose, but the sense is of skipped details and perhaps a bridge or two still not torched. And for one so proud of his independent thinking, Warnock is disappointingly cliche-prone here, his childhood in particular reading like something from a Daily Mail letters page. Clips round the ear from the local bobby never did him any harm; the litter now strewn around a pond little Neil used to fish indicates “the way society is going”; and you had to make your own entertainment, apparently (which unkind readers may link with the paucity of enjoyment to be had from watching one of Warnock’s teams).
At times, Warnock begs too much indulgence. He is brazenly proud at having deceived a referee, while managing Burton Albion, to get a late-arriving player on to the team sheet, yet is outraged by Megson’s accusations of trying “to get the game off” after the Battle of Bramall Lane. Following that episode Warnock tells Patrick Suffo and George Santos they’re finished – shortly after a training-ground fight had left him swelling with delight. And few will buy the line that his run-in with Liverpool’s management during their 2003 League Cup semi-final was really a calculated ruse to inspire his team.
Tighter editing would have helped. Laurent D’Jaffo and Andy Booth are both described, not far apart, as “the best header of the ball that ever played for me”, while several clubs, including Sheffield FC, would dispute that Notts County are “the oldest football club in the world”. A comic clanger survives in a comment on a church near where Warnock grew up: “I’ve got no idea what religion it was.”
Made in Sheffield is not a bad book, however. The travails of being a lower-division journeyman as a player are evoked well, with strong period detail (playing for Aldershot after the IRA hit Guildford, he is evacuated from a cinema in a bomb scare). The bluster about referees is inevitable, but his critique of the system that produces them is surprisingly coherent. And there are hints of a hinterland in his love of stamp collecting and pottering about on his tractor (it’s a shame there’s no mention of the love poetry written to his wife). If Warnock’s book resembles his teams in its lack of refinement then it does so too in its effectiveness, as the story is a good one. It is another story, of course, how many people like the author enough to want to read it.