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Watford v Bury, 20/3/99
Warnock: a bit rubbish
By Matt Rowson

I don't own a Sony Playstation. Nor do I own a Nintendo 64. And I'm not into computer games generally... especially not football management simulations. Just not my type of thing.

Or rather... not my type of thing because I know full well that should I ever succumb and wander down to HMV with my credit card trembling in my wallet, that my life, such as it is, would be over. The novelty buzz that would greet the first six hours solid of playing a game would develop into obsession. I would give up my other hobbies, and my friends, and spend all my spare time in front of the screen. Gradually, I would rearrange my flat so that the essentials (in reverse order : bed, lavatory, fridge, PC) were as close together as possible. Eventually, I would give up even ringing up sick for work, and arrange for Mr.Bharat down the road to pop over once a week with groceries. Deprived of even the most basic exercise, and gorging on Stella and packets of Cheese and Onion Crisps I would degenerate into a mountain of lard. Just when all appeared lost, I would apply for a punditry job on Anglia TV.

Well, it worked for Alan Brazil.

Seriously, the problem I always had with management simulations was a singular inability to learn from experience or vary my tactics. Consequently, every run of every game resulted in me gravitating to the same natural equilibrium of the six places covering the bottom of the second division and top of the third. And there I would stay, optimistically hoping that THIS season would be the successful one, despite not having changed my approach one iota.

Neil Warnock, of course, has been playing this game for real with any number of clubs for years. Whichever club he takes over becomes a clone of the previous in an utterly unlovely mould, and hovers around a similarly nondescript position of 21st in Division 1.

The current Bury side certainly fulfil all Warnock's criteria, and he's adding to the sculpture all the time. The recent signing of psychotic Swindon midfielder Darren Bullock could almost have been scripted, and means that in Bullock and centre-back Chris Swailes the Shakers now boast two of the worst individual disciplinary records in the division. The pair had amassed an awe-inspiring nineteen yellow and two red cards between them this season before Tuesday night.

Current keeper is Irish international Dean Kiely, a recent target for Blackburn Rovers who will be looking to reacquaint himself with Allan Smart following a less than friendly encounter at Gigg Lane in October.

Full backs are Dean West, who missed most of last season with injury, and England U21 star Carl Serrant, a former charge of Warnock's at Oldham currently on loan from Newcastle. Captain at centre-half alongside Swailes is captain Chris Lucketti, also a target of attention from clubs including Bradford, Blackburn and Huddersfield. Other options are Steve Redmond, veteran of almost five hundred League games for his other two Lancashire clubs, and former Man.City reserve John Foster.

In midfield, Saturday will see the return from suspension of both Bullock and the equally indelicate Mark Patterson. Other options are the attacking Nick Daws, currently interesting his desperate former manager Stan Ternent at Burnley, Warnock favourite Chris Billy, and Jamaican international Paul Hall, on loan from Coventry and providing what limited attacking spark the Shakers have had in recent games.

Striking options include Laurent D'Jaffo, whose unusual career path has taken him from playing alongside Eric Cantona at Montpellier to Gigg Lane via Ayr United. Adrian Littlejohn, a nippy but pointless striker who scored against the Hornets for Warnock's Oldham last season, one-time Watford loanee Nigel Jemson (still only 28, still not terribly bothered), and the blunt Andy Preece are other possibilities. Former Unibond League striker Lutel James is also returning from suspension, and this week Bury have also added Paul Barnes to their squad. A 50,000 signing from Huddersfield who has a good goalscoring record, it speaks volumes that the key attraction mentioned by Bury's website is that the 32-year old only has two bookings to his name this season...

Having started the season surprisingly well, Bury's season has capsized disastrously since November... the Shakers are in the dropzone and their manager under pressure. They haven't won an away game all season, and haven't won at all in fifteen games including Tuesday's draw with Wolves. They've only scored ten goals on their travels so far, and haven't scored at all in over five hundred minutes of football (five and a half games) at Gigg Lane.

Two possibilities for Saturday present themselves. With Paul Robinson suspended, it seems likely that Ben Iroha, the least patient footballer of all time, will make a return to the Hornets' starting eleven. Within the first ten minutes he will pick up the ball and go on a kamikaze run tearing through the bemused Bury rearguard and leaving chasms of space behind him. Here comes the decision point.

Version 1 is that Iroha cracks the ball past Kiely, and freed from the shackles of our recent lean spell and the pressures exerted by an impatient home crowd we go on to score six and book Warnock's P45.

Version 2 is that Iroha's shot flies over the bar, through the portway and into the corridor at the back of the Rookery stand. In the latter case, make sure you have some alternative entertainment with you, we could be in for a lo-o-o-ng 90 minutes. For myself, I'll be bring a dozen eggs along and will amuse myself by chucking them at anyone who berates Bazeley, Smart, Hyde, etc., reserving real venom for the inevitable "get yer chequebook aht Taylor" contribution.

Just don't bring any computer games.