Cheering ‘Colin Wanker’

Neil Warnock is outspoken, competitive and loves winding up the opposition: he's the perfect manager for Palace.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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‘Colin Wanker’s Red and Blue Army.’ It’s got a nice ring to it don’t you think? Well perhaps not, but at least it scans.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let’s just rewind to last Saturday afternoon at Selhurst Park. Crystal Palace’s home game against Hull City had been designated a ‘family fun’ day. In the run-up to the match, the club had distributed cut-price tickets through local schools and issued an appeal for local entertainers. ‘We are looking for anyone that likes to perform and interact with people, and you may even get out on the pitch at half time!’ said the club statement. ‘So if you are a juggler, musician, singer, face-painter or anything else in-between, then please contact us.’ (I’ve no idea what ‘anything else in-between’ might actually mean, but it sounds a bit kinky.)

Now I’m all for widening the club’s fanbase. I’m not a great fan of cheesy fairground turns like jugglers and face painters, but I guess they’re fairly harmless (though to his credit, the Hull City mascot, Roary the Tiger, did rip the wings off Spitfire, the Kent cricket club mascot). But someone should have really told the Palace players that they were meant to perform as well. Instead, the home side were plodding, predictable, and passionless. A team of jugglers, face painters and furry mascots could have done a better job.

Family fun it most certainly wasn’t. In fact, apart from the goal we inexplicably scored, the most entertaining moment was when the Freddie Mercury tribute act was booed off the pitch. I also had a philosophical discussion with the bloke next to me about whether it was appropriate to chant ‘You’re not singing anymore’ at the opposition fans who hadn’t been singing in the first place. And that was the sum total of the afternoon’s entertainment. In keeping with the pantomime spirit, we also booed off the Palace manager Peter Taylor after the game ended in a dismal 1-1 draw. I don’t expect that many of the first-time visitors to Selhurst will be returning in a hurry.

‘Totally unacceptable’ was Taylor’s frank post-match assessment. ‘You’re fired’ was chairman Simon Jordan’s response. The perma-tanned owner has acquired an unenviable reputation as tyrant, a charge that Jordan denies. ‘I’m not a difficult person to work for. I’m a pussycat’, he protested. ‘I’m only hard to work for if you are not doing your job properly. If you are a manager who believes in himself and is good at your job you should want to work for Simon Jordan.’ As a rule of thumb, it’s probably not a good idea to work for anyone who refers to himself in the third person. Jordan’s many managerial casualties may also take issue with his ‘pussycat’ claims. Taylor was the eighth Palace manager to depart in as many years since Jordan bought the club in 1999.

Jordan insists that he doesn’t enjoy firing people. ‘I don’t think it’s funny or clever to sack people’, he said. Oh really? Try telling that to Alan Sugar, for example, who has turned firing into a form of public entertainment. Moreover, Jordan’s dismissal of the hapless Trevor Francis was, arguably, both clever and funny. ‘Trevor Francis didn’t take it very well. He just sat there quietly and said “But it’s my birthday”. I had no idea. What could I do? I said, “Many happy returns, Trev”, and gave him his P45.’

Taylor’s successor is former Sheffield United manager Neil Warnock – or Colin Wanker as he’s popularly known (it’s an anagram of his name). Now, I’ve long been an admirer of the spiky Yorkshireman so I’m delighted to see him in the Palace dug-out. He has all the attributes you’d want in a manager. He’s outspoken, opinionated, passionate, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, winds up the opposition, and he’s a little bit mental. When asked what he would do if he was offered the Sheffield Wednesday job, he famously quipped, ‘I would buy so many tosspots…and fuck ’em up so badly. Then I’d retire to Cornwall and spend the rest of my life laughing my fucking head off.’ The Premiership is a far duller place now that both he and Mourinho have gone.

But, apart from being a colourful Northern loudmouth, what I really like about Warnock is that his teams are an expression of his bolshie personality. I used to hate it whenever we played the Blades. They were well-drilled, spirited, ferociously competitive, scrapped for every ball and they could play a bit too. I remember one stormy game at Selhurst in 2003 in which Warnock’s team were down to 10 men and had midfielder Phil Jagielka in goal – and they still won 2-1.

However, the prospect of Warnock’s arrival has sharply divided opinions amongst Palace fans. In one poll on the Palace bulletin board, 42 per cent were in favour of Warnock while 39 per cent were against him. In another poll, when asked who they wanted as manager, former Wigan boss Paul Jewell was the clear favourite with 32 per cent of the votes while Warnock trailed in second place with 24 per cent. Some fans want Warnock out before the ink has even dried on his contract. ‘I am now faced with the prospect of supporting a club where I have no respect for either the chairman or the [probable] manager’, bemoaned one distraught supporter. The anti-Warnock camp complains that he is a moaner whose teams play dirty football. ‘I know we’re crap but I don’t want us to be known as crap and dirty. ANYONE BUT HIM!’ one fan declared. ‘God I hate Neil Warnock, if he became manager I’d have to support my other nearest team which is bloody Brighton’, exclaimed another.

Personally, I don’t care what other people think of us. The point of football is to win matches not fairplay awards. Last season, Palace received fewer yellow cards than any other Championship team. To me that’s not right. I’d gladly trade a few more cautions for a bit of fighting spirit. And that’s why I’d love to see a Warnock makeover at Selhurst.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. He is speaking at the session Are we a nation of sporting losers? at the Battle of Ideas festival in London on 27-28 October.

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