‘The Derbyshire Times broke my heart’ - Warnock on Spireites, Ernie and his future

Morgan with the man who brought him to United, Neil Warnock
Morgan with the man who brought him to United, Neil Warnock
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The Derbyshire Times broke Neil Warnock’s heart almost fifty years ago.

A fresh faced 20-year-old learned of his release by Chesterfield Football Club through a newspaper article and not first hand.

That disappointment and the manner in which it was delivered helped to spur him on to build a solid playing career and a managerial career that has brought seven promotions to date.

Just days after he rejected the chance to remain at Rotherham United having inspired them to a remarkable escape from relegation he was back in management, taking charge of a Chesterfield Legends side in honour of Spireites hero Ernie Moss.

Sitting in the Proact, a world and a couple of generations away from his beginnings in the sport Warnock relived his 1969 heartache.

“The Derbyshire Times is the paper that broke my heart,” he said.

“When I was at Chesterfield, (Jimmy) McGuigan didn’t tell us who was going, who he was releasing and I was at home one Friday morning and about eight o’clock the phone went.

“Someone on the phone said I’m sorry to hear you’ve been released and I didn’t know.

“I said ‘oh it’s alright I expected it,’ but I didn’t, I didn’t even know about it.

“They said it’s in the back of the Derbyshire Times and when I put the phone down I just burst into tears, cried my eyes out.

“That started me off, I thought I’ll show them, I’ll prove them wrong and I’ve done that all my career, playing and managing.

“It wasn’t the paper’s fault, but I made up my mind then, make sure you tell people soon enough that they don’t hear about it from a third party because it broke my heart.

“I loved Chesterfield and it just killed me.”

He joined the club in 1967 and has retained fond memories of two years as a Spireite.

“I loved it here,” he said.

“We used to train at Pitt Street, Eckington. I would get the bus from Sheffield and then a train and an old lad called Reg Wright used to train us. It was a good group.

“I remember Tony Moore used to come into where I worked in his football blazer and shirt and tie, he looked so smart and I thought I want some of that.

“It was great.

“I was 18, just got into the Northern Intermediate side and never really looked back. I really enjoyed it.

“Saltergate was a really good atmosphere as well.”

In a storied 26-year managerial career Warnock has never been shy about speaking his mind on players, both his own and the opposition’s.

He has nothing but good things to say about former team-mate and Chesterfield legend Ernie Moss however.

Warnock’s admiration for the Spireites’ record goalscorer, who suffers from a rare form of dementia, brought him back to the club for Sunday’s charity game.

“Ernie was just a genuine, lovely guy. I used to call him the Gentle Giant.

“He was so awkward to play against, the defenders, you could tell, would think ‘oh no, not today,’ because he was all arms and legs everywhere.

“When I went to Scarborough, one of my first jobs, I said to the chairman I want to sign Ernie Moss. I forget how old he was but I said he’ll only play six months because his legs have gone. But in those six months he will get us as many points as we can and will keep us up.

“He did just that, played every game and got us some important points. I left just after Christmas and he didn’t play much after that, but they’d got enough points.”

It was no surprise to Warnock to see former Chesterfield players flooding back and fans packing the West Stand at the Proact to celebrate Moss.

“I knew him so well. He is so well thought of. I’m in Cornwall, it would have been easier to put the tele on and watch the Test match but I felt it important.

“You look at everyone around the stadium, so many well wishers. To get what Ernie’s got, he didn’t ask for it, it’s a horrible condition and very, very difficult.

“It makes you realise how important your health is, I’ve got an issue at the moment, my wife has breast cancer and anything like that makes you realise how lucky you are and makes you not take anything for granted.

“It’s great to see the legends here, spending the time they are is a great accolade for Ernie.”

The success of Sunday’s match, which benefitted a number of charities, showed football’s softer side – a side Warnock wishes warranted more media coverage.

“Everybody reads about the other side but I think this side of the coin, you don’t get enough publicity for it,” he said.

“Unfortunately the tabloids only want shock news, whereas your local papers cover it more in facts.

“That’s why I’ve always got a lot of time for local newspapers.”

Warnock still takes an interest in former clubs like Chesterfield and may have played a small part in helping them to recruit assistant manager Chris Morgan.

He said: “I spoke to Chris Morgan who was obviously one of my lads at Sheffield United.

“He asked for my advice when he had the opportunity to come and said snap their hand off, I said you’ll love it at Chesterfield.

“I know they had one or two nerve wracking moments near the end but they’ll have learnt a lot from that, they’ll learn a lot about the team from adversity and hopefully with the right recruitment they can push on and get into that comfortable midtable situation and see what happens.

“Anything can happen when you get on a run, as we showed at Rotherham this year.”

As for his own hopes for next season, Warnock insists he’ll be in a dugout but isn’t sure where that will be.

“I thought I had retired two of three years ago and then I’ve been tempted back by one thing or another,” he said.

“I enjoyed myself at QPR last year for a few weeks and got the buzz.

“And when my wife agreed to me going to Rotherham I just thought I’m going to go and enjoy it, let the lads enjoy it. Everyone wrote us off, they had us as relegation certs and we proved what can happen.

“They were superb.

“Now I’ve got the buzz I want to try and manage again next year somewhere, I don’t know where yet. I’ve had a few enquiries but nothing concrete as such.

“It wasn’t the right move for me to stay at Rotherham.

“Financially it was a fantastic contract offered to me but that’s not the right reason, it needs someone to spend a couple of years building the infrastructure of the club.

“The training ground at Rotherham leaves a lot to be desired in comparison with the fabulous stadium they’ve had built. I don’t think I have time to do that, the new man will and they’ll move onwards and upwards.”