Neil Warnock is a funny one. On one hand he is the personification of English football in the Eighties, Nineties and Noughties, a crumbling edifice built largely on one touchstone phrase: “Get stuck in, lads!” On the other, you could see him as greatly underrated, a serial winner in fact. He’s been a manager since 1980, ffs, and has hardly stopped working. That in itself is astonishing.
As the Premier League moves further and further away from its homeland’s old ideologies, Warnock, now in his seventies but still in demand (he is football’s Winston Wolfe), looks like a man out of time. Of course he does. But, watching this documentary for the first time in perhaps a decade, you realise Warnock is no one’s fool. He is a smart, witty bloke. He understood as well as anyone what made English football tick in that era (he has played a role in eight promotions, a remarkable record): ceaseless swearing, heart, clattering tackles etc. At the centre of this shrine is the photo of Terry Butcher with a blood-soaked bandage on his head. That’s the obvious stuff. He had that covered. But that’s not enough. Warnock, clearly, is an expert at sizing up opponents. The human side of the game is where he excels. You see it throughout this film. He’s the type of boss who would piss you off all the time, but ultimately you would run through a wall for him, even if he built the wall as you watched.
Case in point: Sheffield United’s stirring, crazy win at Millwall (26mins in) in 2003, which ended with Phil Jagielka in goal. You see how Warnock singles out Kevin Muscat for the benefit of his players (“sly”, “a shithouse” – he’s not wrong) , then how sweetly paternal he is when it’s reported in the dressing room that Muscat headbutted keeper Paddy Kenny (both were sent off). Then, at the final whistle, Warnock can’t help but rub it in to one of Millwall’s players: “You deserved that for Muscat.” He often can’t help himself, Neil.
In a post-David Brent world, it’s all too easy to watch this as a mockumentary, especially with James Richardson’s arch commentary reminding you of the cultural divide between “Get stuck in, lads!”, and Richardson himself smugly nursing a double espresso outside a cafe in Rome. But that divide is not so wide. Serie A defenders have been getting stuck in since the dawn of time; La Liga defenders “get rid” too.
Warnock is not so different from any other successful manager. Hell, he’s not so different than Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp. Like them, he is quirky, infuriating, passionate, and set in his ways. But above all, he knows the game and the people who play it.
Enjoy (while it lasts):