NEIL WARNOCK was sipping his aptly named favourite cocktail — an Old Fashioned — in Downtown Manhattan this week.
If there was a stiff drink befitting one of football’s great characters it would be that one.
Dating back to a bygone age, it is one of the most basic concoctions — bourbon, bitters, sugar and water on the rocks garnished with an orange slice or zest with a cocktail cherry in a proper heavy short glass.
With Warnock, who dates back to 1948, you get a fiery little number that is a fusion of straight-talking, no-nonsense passion garnished with a hilarious sense of fun that keeps captivating players, fans and media alike.
Warnock, aged 74 and 79 days today, will become the second-oldest manager in professional English football history behind Roy Hodgson when he takes charge of struggling Huddersfield against Birmingham — after flying back from a short romantic Valentine’s break to answer the club’s SOS call.
And he told SunSport: "Sharon and I were drinking cocktails in some great little jazz clubs in New York but four nights in such a hectic city is enough when you get to our age.
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"While I was drinking an Old Fashioned listening to great pianists, singers and saxophonists, I was feeling, well, a little old-fashioned!
"But, mind you, the next ten weeks are going to be far more hectic than being in New York!"
The Yorkshireman, who claimed he had retired in April, has won an English record of eight promotions in a 43-year career that has spanned 16 different clubs.
But now he must navigate 15 fixtures — eight against top-ten clubs — to save the second-bottom Terriers from crashing into League One just a year after they were a play-off final away from making a return to the Premier League.
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Managers Danny Schofield, 42, and 39-year-old Mark Fotherington have been and gone this season and Huddersfield have not won for eight matches.
Warnock added: “I’m not a miracle worker and don’t walk on water but am not a bad manager and will give it my best shot.
“They’ve had two young guys in charge and wanted someone with experience to organise the team until the end of the season, making them harder to beat, because they’ve been a bit of a mess.
“After Birmingham, it’s Burnley away and we’ve got all the top teams to face — but that’s what I love because we can ruffle a few feathers, can’t we?
“The top teams will be under as much pressure as we are. Rather than having that trepidation you get when you’re younger and worrying too much, I’m not going to panic.
“I told the players, ‘You’re lucky I’ve come out of retirement. I’m going to enjoy these 15 games and want you to as well.’ We’re going to give it a real go.”
Warnock has taken the job “on a Yorkshireman’s handshake” with owner Dean Hoyle until the end of the season.
He is already a hero in this market town in the foothills of the Pennines after getting the team promoted to what is now known as the Championship in 1995 via the play-offs.
The Terriers boss said: “The fans will be pleased. I got a great reception when I came up here before Christmas. I want to put smiles on their faces.”
While Warnock jokes he is a dinosaur, he has embraced the world of social media, setting up his own Twitter account with some of his posts going viral.
When Lionel Messi was captured sleeping with his arm around the World Cup, Warnock tweeted the image alongside one of him snoozing with the Championship trophy he won with QPR in 2011. With the caption “Deja Duvet”, the post had FOUR MILLION hits.
And earlier this week, he posted a photo of himself next to a model of a T-Rex skeleton with the caption: “From one dinosaur to another, not extinct yet.”
He admitted: “I’d never thought about Twitter before I retired because I can’t even turn a computer on.
“Someone puts the posts up for me but I’m always thinking of ideas what to put on there. One of the first things I posted was on my bicycle in Scotland. There was a heatwave so I simply told people to drink plenty of water and not get dehydrated. It got 2.5m hits in less than ten hours. I was thinking, ‘How sad is this?’
“I looked a right idiot. But, like the dinosaur tweet the other day, I like to make people smile and laugh. You must laugh at yourself sometimes.”
Not so laughable is the amount of recent controversy over refereeing decisions and Warnock probably holds the record for paying out the most fines for his bust-ups with officials.
And while he admits he is unlikely to change his ways, he believes now that fellow Yorkshireman Howard Webb is in charge of refereeing in English football, the quality will improve.
He said: “I’ve looked at some of the mistakes over the past few weeks in VAR and it’s the same old names that cropped up when I was managing before.
“They’ve gone in the right direction with Howard, he’s a proper referees’ man. He uses the law of the game that no one bothers with — the common-sense one. We can’t carry on like we have.
“I wanted VAR because I got relegated at Cardiff because of a goal that was two yards offside. But I never envisaged the problems it’s causing. They’re still getting decisions wrong and the way it’s done is taking the joy out of goal celebrations. It’s taking too long.
“We need to put a time limit on it. I’d say 30 seconds — if they can’t make their mind up in that time you must go with the referee’s decision. Sometimes it takes three or four minutes — that’s ridiculous.
“I wasn’t a fan of the last guy in charge, Mike Riley, because when he refereed he was a robot.
“And that’s how all his referees have turned out to be.”
But if Warnock keeps Huddersfield up, he will celebrate by downing a few more of his Old Fashioned cocktails.
And he insisted: “I’m then going to retire again.”
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He laughed: “At my age, working ten weeks a year is just perfect.”
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