Yorkshire Evening Post 4/9/12
By Leon Wobschall
The Championship is the fourth-best attended league in Europe – and you suspect that if Neil Warnock was a paying punter and not a manager, this is where he would get his weekly footballing fix.
The Leeds United boss’s passion for the game, whether it be manifested on the touchline, in the press room or through his column every Saturday in The Independent is endearing, with the Yorkshireman having a forthright view on anything and everything – with his utterances must-hear and his copy eminently readable.
And while the marketing men may paint a picture of the all-singing and dancing Premier League being the only place to be, a few minutes in the company of the 63-year-old might persuade you otherwise.
There is life other than the Premiership, not that Warnock wouldn’t mind a final tilt in the top-flight to crown his illustrious managerial career with Leeds, it has to be said.
Football’s second tier was summed up in a nutshell at Elland Road on Saturday. Six goals, end-to-end action, touches of controversy and a captivated crowd who most definitely got their money’s worth.
It’s par for the course in the Championship with the early weeks of the 2012-13 campaign suggesting it will be as competitive and engaging as ever.
Just Blackburn – whose unbeaten record almost bit the dust in a frenzied finale at Elland Road which saw the hosts pile on the pressure – and Nottingham Forest have yet to taste defeat after four matches of Championship action.
Conversely, just Peterborough United remain without a league victory so far this term with the margins between the lion’s share of second-tier combatants – 18 of whom have plied their trade previously in the top-flight – being paper-thin.
A genuinely competitive division, unlike its rarified Premiership rival which possesses quite possibly ‘leagues within a league’ – the title-chasers, Champions League and Europa Cup candidates and those whose sole aim is to stay out of the relegation quicksand.
While it is stretching things to suggest there aren’t haves and have-nots in the Championship – just ask the likes of Barnsley boss Keith Hill if you need further clarification – there is also a certain charm and vitality to a division that regularly sees teams containing several well-heeled millionaires arrive at the likes of Oakwell, the New Den and Ashton Gate and get turned over.
Warnock, a man who cut his managerial teeth amid the muck-and-nettles of non-league football, just loves it.
Even down to the cramped, stuffy dressing rooms where you are often competing for a peg to hang up your garments, as happened the previous weekend at Peterborough.
Not that he was complaining – quite the opposite in fact.
The Whites boss, chasing his fourth promotion from the second tier after previously taking QPR, Sheffield United and Notts County up, said: “The Championship is a league I really enjoy. I should have been here (managing) all my life really and not worrying about anything else!
“You get what you see in the Championship. It doesn’t matter how much money you get or wherever you go, if you have a genuine bunch, you can win games. It’s a great league.
“That was shown on Saturday. I think that’s why I’m in the game for days like that.
“When I watch my team like that, I get so proud of them. At 2-0 down, anybody might have said: ‘they might get six here,’ playing against a team who have spent whatever they have and looking at their bench.
“At 2-0 down, to keep going like we did and get that one back just before half-time was superb and then we decided to have a go in the second half.
“We decided not to worry too much about them, but worry about ourselves and, after the break, we were spot on really.”
The Whites nation may have endured a disconcerting and bewildering summer with the club they love in a state of flux, but come match-day so far in 2012-13, the support has been loud, proud and defiant with everything Warnock knew about the club’s truly fanatical fans having been confirmed and more besides since he breezed through the doors in February.
While the backing has been consistent, some moments have genuinely taken the 63-year-old’s breath away, such as at the start of the second half on Saturday.
The wall of noise was ‘incredible’ according to the long-serving boss who has pretty much seen everything there is to see in the game – and he is also savvy enough to appreciate that the home crowd played a big part in United’s weekend renaissance after staring down the barrel at 2-0 down after 27 minutes.
Another such moment arrived late on during the notorious and club record 7-3 home slaughter inflicted by Nottingham Forest upon United on March 20, with the roar of defiance from the Kop that torrid evening something that Warnock recounted and drew inspiration from when mulling over his own managerial future at the club amid some dark days in early summer and deciding on his path forward.
Warnock, who has never failed to voice his appreciation for the backing of his Tyke compatriots since he came to the club – something he remains truely grateful for – said: “The crowd were fantastic as was the noise and everyone just gave everything on Saturday. It was a real good advert for the Championship in every way.
“It was great to be on the bench when fans start getting behind you like they did. At 2-1, I thought they were almost sucking the ball into the net.
“Since I’ve been here, the fans have given me absolutely everything – 100 per cent.
“It’s been as hard a job as I’ve ever had, bringing almost a new team in. But they (supporters) know what I’m doing and it’s as if I’m one of them.
“It’s a fabulous feeling on the touchline. I’m giving everything and they know that and they are giving everything. I doesn’t half help.
“At 2-0 down on Saturday, they could have got on the players’ backs for a start, but they didn’t. Instead, they turned it around.
“The noise at the start of the second half when it was 2-1 was incredible.
“I’ve never known anything like the numbers. Four thousand fans at Peterborough; I couldn’t believe it if I was honest... you just can’t put it into words.”