When football restarts, two of Neil Warnock’s former clubs are set to face each other as Queens Park Rangers, who he took to the Premier League as manager, host Barnsley where he had his best time as a player. 

Warnock, 71, is now a veteran manager who has eight promotions in a longer career but, from 1976 to 1978, he was the Reds’ right winger in Division Four under Jim Iley. That was during a playing career mainly spent in Divisions Three and Four alongside other jobs such as running a fruit and veg stall in Sheffield market and selling insurance in Wombwell. 

Warnock told the Chronicle: “Barnsley is a great club and I absolutely loved my time there. I always want them to do well, except when I manage against them. Hopefully they can stay in the Championship. “I like what they are trying to do with developing kids and finding good young players.  I have never been bitter with Barnsley but I have always tried to beat them as a manager because they were my former club. I don’t think I have lost many times to them.”

Warnock has faced the Reds 16 times as manager of Sheffield United, Crystal Palace, QPR, Leeds United and Cardiff City. He has won eight, including the double with Cardiff in 2017/18, and lost three – including a 4-3 defeat in Wales in 2016 and a 2-0 loss with Leeds in 2013 at Oakwell thanks to a Chris Dagnall brace. As a player, he joined from Aldershot in 1976 at the age of 27. He was not a regular in his first season, playing just 24 games, and Iley planned to move him on. 

“I remember being told by the girl in the office that I was going to get released, before anyone had told me officially. So I went into see Iley and told him I would like to go part-time for the next season, train a couple of days and take a drop in wages.  He had obviously made up his mind to get rid of me but he thought about it and gave me a part-time contract. I managed to talk myself into another year because of the girl in the office. 

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"I worked for Combined Insurance Company of America, who used to insure most of the players.  I used to go around Barnsley, especially Wombwell, selling insurance. I got recognised sometimes. You can’t imagine that happening with a player now.  While I was doing that job, I played my best ever football which is quite funny.”

Warnock’s second season saw him score nine goals in 39 appearances.  “I scored a lot of goals in the second season and it was probably the best one of my career. He said: “We had a strong team and I especially enjoyed playing on the right with Barry Murphy who was a fantastic captain and helped me a lot. I wish I had been involved in the Allan Clarke era which was just after I left but, overall, I loved it there. It was the best time of my player career.”

Warnock left Oakwell in 1978 for York City then finished his playing career at Crewe Alexandra.  Has he ever been close to returning as manager? He said: “I thought about it a couple of years ago, just before I went to Cardiff when Barnsley wanted a manager. I got a call from an agent about the position, asking if I would be interested, and I thought ‘blinking heck, it’s a good club’ but it never went further than that.”

Warnock said of his Barnsley manager Iley: “He was a bit strange. He had been a good player and, even though he was in his 40s, he still had the best ability at the club. He could put the ball on a six pence and he was the best in all our training drills even though he was the manager not a player.  He ruled a bit by fear with the youngsters which I didn’t like. I had a few rollickings off him, like most of the players did. But you just had to learn from it. I learned from that that, when I became a manager, if I gave a player a rollicking, I would make sure to have a joke with him half an hour later and make sure it didn’t fester.”