Cardiff coach station is awash with buses waiting to transport excited holidaymakers across the country and to the airports that will jet them abroad for their jollies. At its heart sit two white and brown Ford Transits. The brown coming in rusty, bubbly rings by the door.
The engines splutter and groan as each vehicle bounces rhythmically on rickety suspension springs. We’ve all been there: it’s your Year 8 football trips all over again.
One Transit has its window emblazoned by a pink and silver banner: “Neil’s Nuttaz on Tour”, it reads. Grinning below it, paper thin eyebrows pointed deliberately upwards, Neil Warnock clings to a megaphone. When he sees his Cardiff City squad approaching, his grin grows and eyebrows stretch almost beyond his forehead.
With an excited semi-jig, Warnock calls into the speaker: “All aboard the banter bus, lads! Yer coming on holiday with Uncle Neil and, boy, are we gonna have some fun. Coupla Tennents at the back for you, chaps. Grab ‘em liberally and let the nectar flow. Alright, driver.”
Clambering on board, Warnock carries out a quick headcount and gives the old double thumbs up through the van’s grubby windows to Kevin Blackwell, Cardiff’s assistant manager.
Cliff Richards’ ‘Summer Holiday’ jingles from the radio as ‘Spy Kids’ plays on the grainy coach screen. “Thought I’d get you young men something current to watch, get the holiday spirit going.”
Neil Warnock sun-creams his thighs. He pauses, excitedly grabbing his bag, and whips out a pre-made carton of piña colada.
“Chin-chin, chappies!”. The man can’t stop smiling.
“Cornwall, here we come. Lock up the missus, lock up the lads. You ain’t ready for my boys to hit this baby.”
A wave of disappointment washes over the van as the group chat pings off with the news. Neil Warnock is taking his newly promoted side to Cornwall, England. Whilst other Premier League clubs jet-set it around the world for warm weather training in East Asia or the south of France, Neil Warnock’s idea of a holiday is Cornwall.
He’s worse than your Dad’s mate Brian and his dodgy caravan in Camber.
As the Transit convoy rolls down the M5, Warnock’s smile grows. “I can smell t’sea air, lads. Get that in yer lungs and it’ll do you more good than honey and lemon, you goddamn bloody believe me.”
Arriving at the overcast seaside town he’s visited annually for the past 18 years, there’s another headcount. Getting his team to line up against the wall, the Cardiff gaffer checks his itinerary.
“Right, lads, we’re gonna take a stroll down to our home for the week and get settled. Dinner’s at seven and then we’re on the lash, got it?”
Wheeling a suitcase behind him and flaunting a ribboned straw hat, he leads his squad down a winding slope. At the door to the Fox and Hound B&B, Warnock numbers them all from one to nine.
“Them’s your room numbers, fellas. I ain’t hearing no complaining.”
Heading down for dinner an hour or two later, the Cardiff squad see their boss, shirtless and red, arm in arm with the pub’s proprietor, firing sambucas down one another’s throat.
“This is the holiday spirit, lads! Cornwall in all its goddam glory! ‘Ere, get some grub down your throat. Beer. Pudding. Beer. Beer. Little B-52 – very naughty – then we’re out on the razz, eh? Nick a coupla sweethearts.”
Stumbling through the door at 9.30 that night, sweetheartless, Neil Warnock crashes into his room, giggling, accompanied by Stuart O’Keefe and Sol Bamba. “I love you boys, I do. ‘Ere, training at 10 sharp. See you in the morrow.”
At 8am the next morning, Neil Warnock sits chirpily at the bar, Stella in hand, flip-flops on his feet, suncream dribbling down his neck. He is the epitome of a happy man.
“I bloody love Cornwall.”