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Team spirit the secret to Neil Warnock’s success as a manager

Reading v Middlesbrough – Sky Bet Championship – Madejski Stadium
(Image credit: Andrew Matthews)

Thirty-three years have passed since Neil Warnock fashioned his improbable first promotion, starting a reputation for success which would endure decades later, less than fifty miles up the north-east coast.

Scarborough’s Athletic Ground is now a branch of Lidl, everyday essentials now available on the spot where the then part-time chiropodist forged his own bunch of bargain buys into the first team to be automatically promoted to the Football League in 1987.

All these years on, the remnants of Warnock’s first title-winning team – the manager, when possible, included – endeavour to gather in the town each year to reminisce about a season in which a team that started out as relegation favourites so spectacularly beat the odds.

Neil Warnock, left, is a serial promotion winner

Neil Warnock, left, is a serial promotion winner (Owen Humphreys)

For Mitch Cook, a home-town star who came of age under Warnock and would go on to play for a handful of other Football League clubs, it is precisely within the strength of that enduring camaraderie that the secret of Warnock’s achievement lies.

Cook told the PA news agency: “Neil arrived and brought in 13 or 14 new players but he instantly managed to create this kind of team spirit and togetherness, and that shows in the fact that most of the lads still meet up as regularly as possible even now.

“He won’t mind me saying he might not be the best coach. But when I speak to others who have played under him, they all talk about the same thing – that spirit he creates that just makes you want to play for him and succeed.”

  • Gainsborough Trinity
  • Burton
  • Scarborough
  • Notts County
  • Torquay
  • Huddersfield
  • Plymouth
  • Oldham
  • Bury
  • Sheffield United
  • Crystal Palace
  • QPR
  • Leeds
  • Rotherham
  • Cardiff
  • Middlesbrough

Cook, who was born and raised in Scarborough and still lives in the town, effectively sealed Warnock’s first promotion by scoring the winning goal at Sutton United in the side’s penultimate game of the season.

It capped a campaign built on Fergie-style tough love.

“I’ve been on the end of some terrible b********** from Neil, and the next minute he’d have his arm flung around you and be buying you a pint of beer,” recalled Cook.

“He was ruthless – he’d bring in good players and if they didn’t fit he’d get rid of them. He always seemed to be able to do the right thing at the right time – he got hold of us bunch of ragamuffins, and we delivered.”

Following the end of his playing career, Cook returned to Scarborough for spells as manager and coach before the club’s demise in 2007. A new club, Scarborough Athletic, now play in the Northern Premier League at a new stadium in the town.

The Athletic Ground may be no more, but Warnock’s legacy lives on both through the regular reunions, and within the dozen-plus clubs which have reaped the benefit of a blueprint created against the odds in North Yorkshire.

“We were top of the league when Neil left for Notts County in 1988 and he started doing exactly the same thing for them,” continued Cook.

“He knew what he wanted and he did it – and fair play to him, he’s 71 years old and he’s still going strong.”