With a managerial career that has spanned over five decades, and has racked up over 1,500 games, the name Neil Warnock has become synonymous with English football. He now plies his trade at Middlesbrough in the EFL Championship, who became his 16th different employer following his appointment in June 2020. Though longevity and success have been cornerstones of his career, Warnock is more often distinguished as one of the game’s most entertaining and colourful characters.
Just this season, his adaptation of Forrest Gump’s famous line was typical of Warnock’s personality. “My team is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get,” he said, doing his best impression of Tom Hanks’ character, whilst he smiled at his laptop screen during a virtual press conference. Social media users were quick to jump on the clip, but platforms, mainly Twitter and Instagram, had become Warnock gold mines long before this. Footage of the documentary, fittingly titled, “Warnock” has done the rounds for years and it’s not hard to see why.
Released in 2005, viewers are taken on a journey through the 2004/05 season as Warnock’s Sheffield United team look to chase down promotion to the Premiership. The fly on the wall film aimed to provide raw behind the scenes footage of just what went on inside a professional club. With the chief subject being the documentary’s namesake, this meant incessant swearing, passionate team talks and a lot of abuse towards officials. Alongside this, interviews with his wife, members of staff, players and Warnock himself offers a deeper insight into him as a manager and, away from the pitch, as a person.
Soon after we arrive at the first league game of the season and this is where the documentary has gained its popularity. Footage of his team talk to help his prepare his players are followed by his approach to management during the game. His prowling of the touchline goes hand in hand with his berating of match officials to personify his role as the old school English manager. This is a recurring theme we see throughout the documentary and his explicit antics in the technical area have become characteristic of Warnock, as a result.
The documentary starts at a pre-season friendly against Matlock Town, a non-league side. Neil Warnock is introduced whilst being shown interacting with supporters and we learn of his love for the Blades. His calm and relaxed demeanour at this game is a stark contrast to the manager we come to know later on in the film. However, it goes a long way in humanising Warnock – a theme that is revisited throughout.
Following a win over Leeds, Warnock is left livid with his captain, Chris Morgan, who he blames for conceding a late equaliser against Wolves. The subsequent dressing room row delivers the emotional reaction of both manager and player, which is usually kept concealed from the public eye. This is just one of a number of instances where the documentary appears to be successful in authenticity, as viewers watch the natural and heated disagreement ensue. It feels that within these examples we are getting the full picture of just how managers and players would act in situations. Another highlight in the documentary comes during a game against Millwall. Following a half-time brawl opposition player Kevin Muscatt and United keeper Paddy Kenny, who looks to be the victim, are sent off. Despite having to play Phil Jagielka in goal, Warnock’s side win. Does he offer words of condolence to the rest of the opposition players? No. Instead he says they deserve it, on behalf of Muscatt’s actions.
Interwoven with the football aspect, the documentary gives details of Warnock’s life away from football and how it affects his day-to-day life. Clips of him with his family and driving his tractor show a much more mellow personality from Neil Warnock the football manager. This level of accessibility also allows people to connect and identify with him on a more personal level. Even his wife, Sharon, describes him as a completely different man when he is managing. Utilising this access into the life of Warnock is helpful in representing him as a more likable character. It almost feels like it is being used by the film creators to excuse his actions and vulgar language on the side of the pitch due to what he is really like as a person.
Although this appears to be an attempt to help Warnock’s cause, it doesn’t take away from the authenticity and genuineness of the spectacle. More recent documentaries such as Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur’s “All or Nothing” series’ with Amazon Prime have been criticised for seemingly controlling how much they give away and trying to keep viewers on side. Though this documentary has aspects of that, the 47-minute documentary is a good representation of a turbulent season for Sheffield United and gives us more of an idea about the fascinating way that Neil Warnock works.