Huddersfield Town’s new manager Neil Warnock had plenty to say in his first press conference including praising former Huddersfield Examiner sports editor Mel Booth insisting he could “tell Mel anything.” 

Town announced Warnock’s return to the club for a second spell as manager last week and he addressed the media at Canalside on Thursday afternoon. Warnock admits he’s got his work cut out – but he’s never happier than when the odds are stacked against him.

Warnock last managed Town in 1995, winning promotion at Wembley and taking Town up into the First Division, English football’s second tier.

The media are kept very much at arm’s length by football managers these days but back in the early 1990s the Examiner’s Mel Booth had unprecedented access – and a bond of trust built three decades ago still hasn’t been forgotten by Warnock.

Mel, who was the Examiner’s chief football writer from 1985 and became sports editor in 2006, retired in 2020. During his career Mel interviewed hundreds of players and watched thousands of Town games in two different stadia.

He saw the club relegated to the fourth tier of English football and promoted to the Premier League in 2017. He’s seen the club almost go out of existence in the administration of 2003.

In Mel’s years covering Town, the club had 27 different permanent managers, going all the way back to Mick Buxton. 

By the time Warnock arrived at Town in 1993, Mel had already seen a lot in the crazy and complicated ride that is the Terriers. During Warnock’s last stint at the club, Town reached Wembley twice, first in the Autoglass Trophy Final which they lost to Swansea in 1994 and the second was winning promotion by beating Bristol Rovers in 1995. 

Such was the level of trust between local newspaper journalist and football manager, Mel was even invited to sit on the bench – twice – to see the mercurial Warnock at work.

Neil Warnock and former Town striker and assistant boss Ronnie Jepson and (right) former Examiner journalist Mel Booth

Town are in a very different position now to what they were during Warnock’s first spell with the main objective quite different. Town are second bottom of the Championship, five points adrift of safety with just 15 games to go.

Ironically, the two teams above Town in the table are Cardiff and Rotherham, two of Warnock’s previous clubs. He pulled off a great escape for Rotherham, so why not Town too?

At Thursday’s press conference, Warnock recalled his relationship with Mel and said: “One of the best journalists I have ever come across was Mel Booth. I could tell him anything. It was like the old fashioned days, off the record stuff. He never let me down and I loved that.” 

Mel believes Town have not only got the right man for the job in Warnock he insists he was the ONLY man to get them out of the hole they have dug themselves.

Recalling those days back in the 90s, Mel said: “Working with Neil back then was great. He was very straight and to the point but always respected that we had a job to do and understood the manager and journalist relationship.

“He knew through me and others he could get his message to the fans. Obviously there was no social media back then and so the only way for the manager to be connected to supporters was through local journalists. I really enjoyed working with him and our relationship.”

On the appointment of Warnock, Mel said: “I think it’s a great move by the club in the current circumstances. It has been a disaster of a season so far and I can’t think of anyone better to salvage it.

“Neil has massive experience and on a short term contract it makes perfect sense. He did the same thing at Rotherham in 2015-16 and they looked dead and buried so I have no doubt he can recreate what he did there. 

“He went 11 matches unbeaten at Rotherham and I think he’ll have to do something similar here. Although it’s quite close at the bottom, the fixtures we now have coming up are very hard.

“There will be lots of challenges ahead. You need someone who has been there and done it in this situation and with Neil there is no one better.

“Neil has this burning desire and loves the game. I’m sure he was determined to say enough was enough after he was sacked at Middlesbrough, and he’s been doing his speaking tour around the country and his media work.

“However knowing Neil there was no way he could not come back for a club he knows so well and loves. He is stepping back into somewhere he understands, he knows what is needed and he gets the fan base.”

Neil Warnock on his first day at Town this week and Neil (right) pointing out on Twitter why he’s no dinosaur!

Warnock confirmed as much in his press conference and revealed his wife Sharon said he should help the club out.

Warnock said: “I’ve had a couple of offers that didn’t really interest me. I was never offered one of my old clubs which I probably would have gone back to, but as soon as this came up Sharon said: ‘Why don’t you go and help them? It’s only ’til May.’ I thought: ‘Bloody hell, that’s not like you! We’ve got some decorating to do so I’ll go back and I’m sure it’ll be better in a way!’

“We always loved it up in Holmfirth. It’s a good area and they are good fans. I want to make them smile again if I can.

“There’s no pictures of me here at the training ground. There’s pictures up of everyone else. If I keep them up there’ll be a statue of me, won’t there?”

On one hand it is surprising that Warnock has decided to come back into management particularly because less than a month ago he was odds-on to get the Cardiff City job and said on national radio he wasn’t interested in going back there.

Mel said: “Someone at the club has done some smart talking to convince him to come back. Knowing Neil he will be fully aware of what’s happening behind the scenes and where the club is.

“He’ll also be aware of what the fans are thinking, he’s that sort of guy, he just gets Town supporters. He knows what we like and what we don’t like. What has made him jump for this challenge, rather than the one at Cardiff, only he will know but I have no doubt he’ll be confident of keeping us up.

“He has one focus and that’s to keep us in this division by galvanising the whole club, whether that’s the players or fans.” 

Mel believes if Warnock does help Town to survive it will be a bigger achievement than the one he pulled off at Rotherham seven years ago.

Neil Warnock

He said: “The club has lurched from one problem to the next all season and not found a way out and now we are in real trouble. Obviously things were bad at Rotherham when he went there but I do think if he helped us survive it would be his biggest achievement for sure.”

In his press conference Warnock didn’t promise he’d keep the Terriers up but insists he’ll give it his best shot. 

He said: “It’s ironic, isn’t it? Rotherham, Cardiff…former teams of mine and we want to drop them in it.

“We always say 50 points for safety since three points for a win was introduced and the last few years it’s been 47, 48. I’m never looking at the next few games and trying to set targets. I just want to get as many points as I can as soon as I can.

“They’ve thrown some points away the last few weeks. I watched the Blackpool game and I don’t know how they didn’t win that game but they didn’t.

“It’s a great challenge really. I always thought if I came back in somewhere it’d be the end of February. I only want to work 10 weeks a year if I’m honest, and it was always going to be a club I love like Huddersfield or Cardiff.”

Tongue firmly in cheek, Warnock admits the play-offs might just be out of reach for Town this season – but he’s nothing to lose and hero status and a training ground statue to gain.

“If Town get relegated I won’t be blamed, will I?” grinned Warnock. “It’s a piece of cake really.”