The Joe Royle column

IT was great to see both Nationwide clubs do as well as they did against Premiership opposition in the FA Cup semi-finals last Sunday but I do just have to say to Neil Warnock - you scored a bit of an own goal mate.

IT was great to see both Nationwide clubs do as well as they did against Premiership opposition in the FA Cup semi-finals last Sunday but I do just have to say to Neil Warnock - you scored a bit of an own goal mate.

He goes on about people not liking him, although I would not put myself in that category even though we have had the odd run-in before now, but instead of people talking about how well Sheffield United did against one of the top teams in the country they are talking about refereeing decisions.

I have nothing but admiration for what he has achieved, five promotions with four different teams. Sheffield United have done very well this season, two cup semi-finals and one win from getting into the play-offs but I wish for his, and his club's sake, he bit his lip occasionally.

I can understand Neil's frustration and anger but I can also see the referee's point of view as I didn't think it was a foul either and the collision was totally accidental.

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I know I'm throwing stones from inside a glasshouse here because I have been mad at referee's decisions but on this occasion if that had to be said he should have let other people say it, the media, or the commentator if they thought it was a genuine case.

Sheffield have had a brilliant season and are candidates for Nationwide team of the year due to what they have done so far and Neil should have let his team do the talking for him.

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I appreciate he has been quite clever with his 'no one likes us mentality' and there is no harm in that but his team were a credit to the Nationwide League on Sunday and we should have been talking about that this week and not the referee.

And congratulations to Ray Lewington and Terry Burton at Watford. They did great to get to the other semi after flirting with the play-offs and then hit a bad run following their quarter-final win. They are a club that has had financial problems but they like to play football the right way and Ray and Terry can be very proud of their game against Southampton.

One of the other talking points from the semis were the amount of empty seats but it is no surprise with the amount of football on the telly these days.

It is a great time to be an Arsenal supporter but also a very expensive time. They are in Europe every year, they are in cup finals every year and it is not cheap. They might have thought, wrongly, the game was a formality and they would save for the final in Cardiff.

Of course they missed what many describe as David Seaman's greatest save, and even though I think he is past his best, I was impressed not just by him getting there but for having the strength to scoop it out. It was a terrific save and one from the memory bank but while it was a great stop, it spared the blushes of Paul Peschisolido, who really should have done better with his header. But instead of everyone talking about his miss they are talking about Seaman's save. So he will be sighing with relief.

EVERY Easter is the same, the eggs get handed out and even though you have 46 games to sort out the league it is always at Easter where big decisions are made as to who will be where next season.

We know it is a massive weekend for us and I'm hoping that when we are sat in the dressing room at Rotherham on Monday 5pm, we will still be talking about the last couple of games with Wimbledon and Derby.

We would have settled for being where we are now when I got the job last October and sat with Willie and the chairman talking about how we would be in with a chance of getting into the play-offs - remember we were fourth bottom at the time. Now we have got this close we don't want to lose out.

I watched Pompey clinch promotion at Fratton Park on Tuesday night and it will be interesting to see what they do with the squad now they are in the Premiership.

They came from being a struggling side last season to runaway leaders for a long time. It has been done on veteran quality players, based around Paul Merson, so a lot of their progress will depend on what they do in the summer and how Merse will do next year.

Harry Redknapp tried to sign Hermann Hreidarsson and I know he will have already drawn up a shortlist of players he wants at Fratton Park next season. If they stick with the squad now they will struggle.

I'm sure Leicester City will soon follow them but the more cynical will look at that squad and say it is the same, minus a couple of their best players, as was relegated last season, so it will be hard for them.

No doubt Micky Adams will point out that there is a different confidence and motivational level.

I'M grateful to you all for the suggestions of a name for my new book. Karl Fuller from Clacton came up with quite a few, all based on the four teams I have managed playing in Blue. There was also Blues and Royles and Only Blue. Unfortunately I will have little say as it will be decided by the publishers, but I will pass these on to them.

Talking of true Blues, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for an Everton win in the Merseyside derby this weekend. It is a slightly different scenario than usual as Everton go into the game higher in the league than Liverpool, which is a little strange.

Liverpool are getting all the flak about being functional rather than inspirational and not being in the Champions' League run-in so Gerard Houllier will be determined to make up for that.

Equally David Moyes will have the boys up for it as they chase a possible Champions' League place. It is a massive game and I have to say for neutrals who have never been they should try to go to at least one.

It is a special derby as the fans are in the same city, same house and the grounds are a mile apart. There is a more humourous edge to it than some derby games.

I remember going to derby games with 68,000 standing in totally intergrated crowds and it was fabulous.

I hear some of the goading and attitude of games these days and think back to the days when crowds did mix and how funny it could be; it is shame we have lost that. I can remember when crowds used to clap both teams or pieces of skill no matter what coloured shirt the play has on. Perhaps I'm just old fashioned.

MY thanks to Mark Corton from Walton on the Naze for sending me this week's question.

He asks who my best ever signing was. Allow me to give two.

The first has to be Denis Irwin who I got on a free from Leeds United in 1986 and only little Billy Bremner (God rest his soul) will know why he let him go, particularly on a free after 70 odd games for Leeds. I had seen enough to know he would significantly improve Oldham and he did. Then when Alex Ferguson says he is the best signing he ever made at £650,000 then you have to listen.

Equally, on an impact basis, was signing Andrei Kanchelskis, for Everton at £5.5m.

For one season only he gave us impact and elevation by scoring 16 goals in 32 games, no penalties. Even now when Evertonians are asked for their all time team he gets mentioned, on the basis of that one season.

Then we sold him to Fiorentina for £8m so we even made a profit from him.

n AS I'm considerably younger than Joe I don't remember players as well as he does but that is no excuse for spelling Dave Hickson's name wrong last week and to George Edwards from Lavenham, I can assure you it was down to me and not Joe, who met with him recently and tells me he is still looking as fit and sharp as ever and reminds me that Hickson is one of the few who has played in the red and the blue in a Merseyside derby (DD).

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