Norwich City boss Paul Lambert showing the way forward
17:54 18 January 2012
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It’s not often one can muster a feeling of sympathy for Neil Warnock but seeing him thrown on to the Premier League scrapheap by QPR just months after delivering a long-awaited promotion to that club did momentarily make me feel a bit sorry for him.
Then I remembered how he had gone to town on Bradley Johnson after what will go down in history as ‘The Joey Barton Incident’ earlier this month and I realised how appropriate it is that football’s greatest stirrer should find himself out of work in mid-January, just like all the other pantomime villains.
Warnock’s probably not a great fan of Norfolk sport having been regularly beaten by Norwich City over the past 12 months, including in his final league game as QPR boss. The Canaries have also drawn that famous Warnock scowl when they’ve been nowhere near him. One of the forgotten delights of the Championship run-in last season was when QPR fans were celebrating clinching promotion on the pitch at Loftus Road only for news of Simeon Jackson’s late winner against Derby at Carrow Road to filter through and put Rangers’ elevation back in mathematical doubt.
The sight of thousands of people in hooped shirts awkwardly adjusting their collars and trying to put little bits of coloured paper back in the promotion party poppers made fans of most other clubs snigger.
Warnock’s dislike of all things Norfolk will have been heightened when he was sacked by Tony Fernandes, QPR’s new owner, who also brought Formula One back to the county over the past two years by bankrolling Team Lotus.
There is a wonderful irony here. Fernandes’s cars have spent much of the 2010 and 2011 F1 seasons in about 17th place on the grid and at the end of various Grand Prix around the world. This has been hailed as a relatively good achievement for a team so new to the sport. Yet QPR, in their first season of Premier League football since 1996, were 17th when Warnock got his marching orders. It is amazing how different the threat of relegation can make you feel about a sport.
QPR’s season so far should provoke those who are calling for Norwich City to splash the cash this month to think carefully. With all that money in the boardroom players like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Barton were brought in during the last window. How much they cost in terms of a transfer fee is irrelevant when you take into account the wages these two established top flight stars must be on.
How must those players who have worked so hard to get a team promoted feel when they find themselves sharing a dressing room with relative newcomers earning two, three or even four times more than them? Harmony must be hard to come by, especially when a team’s losing more often than winning.
It is the perfect example of why Paul Lambert deserves so much credit for his Premier League policy so far. Saturday’s 2-1 win at West Brom was another impressive team effort full of rolled up sleeves and a ‘we’re all in this together’ attitude. The City boss said after that game that having a bit of extra financial muscle certainly helps a club compete in the Premier League and of course he is right. Look at Manchester City, huge sacks of cash can propel you up this league quicker than you can say “Didn’t they used to be rubbish?” but when your aim is simply to stay in the division it is much more about how you spend your money, not how much you have got.
I am sure we haven’t heard the last of Neil Warnock. He has been spotted ordering some bird seed, a rocket pack and a massive anvil from the ACME catalogue. Football’s Wile E Coyote is determined to catch that Canary. How we’ll laugh again when he next realises the cliff edge has been taken from beneath him by another impatient chairman.
• NORWICH CITY HEROES HANDED ANOTHER TOUGH ASSIGNMENT
I really enjoyed the Junior Canaries New Year party on Sunday. I’ll be 30 this year and Captain Canary won’t actually let me be in his gang anymore so I have to find an alternative way into these kind of events with my membership having become invalid at about the time Robert Rosario left.
In fact even by mentioning Robert Rosario I am underlining how far I am away from being an actual ‘junior’ Canary.
Thankfully they needed a man with a microphone to tell people where to start queuing for players’ autographs, where the toilets were and how much a strip of raffle tickets cost.
The event was set up perfectly by the win at West Brom 24 hours earlier and the vast majority of the first team squad turned up in buoyant mood to meet their youngest fans. Andrew Crofts, Steve Morison, Andrew Surman, Russell Martin and Bradley Johnson stayed at the end to do an official Q&A session with the small supporters and as I handed the microphone over to the active imaginations of a stimulated room full of under 10s, facing Shane Long, Peter Odemwingie and the rest of the West Brom team must have felt like a relative breeze.
“How many goals have you five scored for Norwich between you?” was one bolt from the blue which us adults got ourselves out of by getting the players to say their individual tallies while those who still have maths lessons at school on a weekly basis kept a running total.
Poor old Andrew Crofts will have a much easier afternoon this weekend if he’s told to man mark Frank Lampard. He got a couple of real stinkers.
“When did Norwich City Football Club first start?” is one that a committed fan might know but a player with present day Premier League football on his mind cannot have been expecting.
Crofts also talked about his fine Justin Fashanu-esque effort against Barnsley last season when asked about his best ever goal. This was also his last goal and happened in February so he told the audience he felt like he was due another one soon.
I picked up the microphone and pointed out that he might be a decent bet for first goalscorer on Saturday in that case. Then it dawned on me. Dishing out gambling advice to those yet to see their 10th birthday might have explained why Captain Canary looked a bit cross with me.