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Warnock leaves a hero

March 2 2010

Neil Warnock

Neil Warnock

Neil Warnock’s reign has been cut short due to the financial situation at Crystal Palace, but he has become a hero during his stay, writes Simon Pophale.

It started and ended with a draw. On October 11th 2007, Neil Warnock, one of the game's most outspoken and divisive figures in the game, became our manager.

Despite there being some voices of concern and dissent over the appointment, he had masterminded promotions at Scarborough, Notts County, Plymouth, Huddersfield and Sheffield United.

After that 1-1 draw with Blackpool on October 17th 2007, it was another draw, this time in his home county of Yorkshire on February 27th 2010 which would see the end of nearly two-and-a-half years of the most colourful and interesting times on the Palace rollercoaster.

Warnock said that Palace would be his last in football. There cannot be a supporter alive that would begrudge him going. It is not as if he is breaking a promise to us, I’ll wager that many more promises made to him by Simon Jordan, were broken.

Even at the end, he said: "I won’t walk away, it will be up to QPR and the administrator to agree on the compensation." At an alleged million pounds, Warnock appears to be our most saleable asset.

In what feels like deja-vu from the early 1980s, financial turmoil, a manager [Terry Venables] jumping ship to Loftus Road. Yet Warnock has done the job with one and more recently, both hands tied behind his back.

The reliance on the youth team at the start of his reign, would become a staple over his tenure and despite some signings like Nick Carle and Alan Lee (around £1.6m combined), the cupboard was almost always bare.

Arrivals on frees of people like Johannes Ertl, Calvin Andrew and Claude Davis saw Warnock look to get the best out of a shoe-string, but in reality there was little choice.

Warnock never shied away from the problems nor did he become a shrinking violet. For most of his first season, his "in my pocket I have a piece of paper from when Carlos Queiroz from the match against (insert team name here) when he said, the referee was a disgrace. I can’t say that, because I will get in trouble."

It was classic Warnock and there was plenty more to come, with referees such as Rob Shoebridge for Freddie Sears "goal" that wasn’t and right up to the FA Cup 5th round match against Aston Villa, where he called for Trevor Massey to be banned – Warnock and his post match comments are priceless.

There have been highs, such as the FA Cup run this year, the 15-match unbeaten run that first season and the emergence of probably one of the most gifted players to play in our colours, Victor Moses.

Administration kicked us all in the teeth. Warnock had taken us up to 7th, knocking on the play-off door when we went up to Newcastle on January 27th. By the time we touched down in Geordie-land, not only had we lost 10 points but the hopes of us getting a good price for Moses, had gone with it.

By the start of February, not only had Moses gone for a pittance, but our hopes of the play-offs turned into a battle against the drop. It will be a battle, we will have to continue without our inspirational leader.

Everyone has an opinion on Warnock, the journeyman footballer, qualified Chiropodist and referee and outspoken manager. Patrick Collins in the Mail on Sunday (21/02/10) called Warnock a "clown", but you cannot argue with the results.

He might come out with the odd blinkered outburst, but he tells it like it is. He is a manager, with the fans perspective. He might not be anything like as successful as the great Brian Clough, but he is the closest we have in the game at the moment.

Yet, for us Palace fans, he will be remembered fondly – more so than other such appointments by Simon Jordan. Alan Smith, Trevor Francis, Steve Bruce, Peter Taylor and Iain Dowie all left under a cloud but Warnock will go with his head held high. In extremely difficult circumstances, he galvanised a team of free transfers, youth team players and the odd star, to play and fight for the shirt.

As managers go, Neil Warnock is right up there for me as one of the "heroes" we will remember. The lows are all well documented, but no-one fought harder in more recent times for this club, than a man from Sheffield, who will be remembered for doing a brilliant job in trying circumstances.

Our very own "Man of Steel". Neil – you go with our blessings, but you will be sorely missed.

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