It was a very special time and I considered myself very honoured to play for Brian Clough. It was a unique experience, every day was a different day and an enjoyable one. It was a joy to go in every day. I learned about myself during that time and there was a clear culture around the playing field about how we were going to play. It was understood by everyone. It was simple but effective, with a passing style. If things went well for you and you did the right things for Brian Clough then he liked you and you had longevity. If you didn't then it was the complete opposite and he could ruin you with the same kind of style. There were some very difficult times as well.
I was very fortunate to be in the position that I had spent a long time with him so I must have been doing the right thing for me to continue still working with him. But I have seen many players pass through the doors who wouldn't last five minutes, because that was his way.
Special, unique, a one-off. It was not about the coaching style, because in the six years that I worked with him he hardly ever coached on the training ground, in fact I would say probably never. However, it was more about his man-management and his psychology that inspired you as a player. He had the ability to make you feel 10ft tall, make you feel like you were the best player in the world, but you were probably still average.
On the other hand he did break you if you didn't fit into his ways, and I think his leadership was exceptional. That was due to respect for him: the fans respected him; the players did; even the match officials. He had a unique way of dealing with match officials: he wouldn't allow of any of his players to chastise or have a go at a referee because he felt you were having a go at him. So in a way we were probably one of the most respected football teams throughout the country from referees, because they enjoyed refereeing our games.
It is true, yes! I remember going down to see Brian Clough at the City Ground. He sat me down in his office and the first thing he asked me was: 'Are you a good player or a bad player?' Of course, I started laughing and said, 'I'd like to think I am a good player because that's why I'm here.' He went: 'Ah, that's another question. The reason I am asking is that I haven't seen you play.' So I started laughing. But he said: 'No, I haven't seen you play. My assistant has and that is why I am asking you if you are a good player or a bad player, because if you are a good 'un, and you turn out to be a good 'un, then you tell everybody I signed you. But if you are rubbish then my assistant signed you!'
He was quite funny and I actually thought we was joking for a long period, but then I realised he wasn't.
I knew I wanted to go into coaching and management from an early stage in my career. My first real inkling about wanting to do coaching and management was when I was about 26 and I had a cruciate ligament injury at Middlesbrough and I had never heard of anybody who had recovered from these and in fact it was quite a career-threatening injury. I remember lying in my hospital bed and asking my doctor if I would be alright to play, and he couldn't answer. I thought from that point on, it just hit me, what am I going to do? Bruce Rioch was manager at Middesbrough at the time and said, 'Well, if you want to stay in football, and the worst comes to the worst, then while you are out injured this is a good time for you to think about coaching. You can test it, and if you like it then you can pursue it whilst you are injured.' And it was a great bit of advice because that is what I did and I really enjoyed it. I was out of the game for over a year due to my injury but in that time I went out on coaching courses, got a taste of it and started coaching kids. It helped me recover, but it also helped me to be encouraged into the coaching side.
Interestingly, I think Brian Clough accelerated it. I wanted to do my pro coaching badge and that meant I had to do two weeks in the summer on a residential course, and he went berserk. He said: 'You'll learn nothing from the FA. You will learn more from me than you would from the FA. They couldn't even pick me as an England manager - that's how bad they are.' He tried to persuade me not to go down that avenue, but I stayed strong and just said: 'I want to stay in football and this is what I am going to do.' I passed my coaching course and qualifications that summer and when I came back on the very first day of pre-season he absolutely caned me for it, and never let go.
It has been a very interesting situation, because in the Premier League relegation battle it is generally the teams who have come up who are down there, particularly in the second half of the season. However, Swansea and Norwich have done superbly well and that means that someone else is going to have to fight it out and that there are seasoned Premier League teams who are down at the bottom, which is very unusual.
You look at the likes of QPR, who are again one of these teams who have come up, who have got money behind them and are pushing hard to stay up. But you have also got Wigan, who see this every season but have got through it. Bolton are another team that have seasoned ability to get out of the situation and I think the way that they have become united with the off-field situation with Fabrice Muamba has pulled them all together and they have gone on a bit of a run as well. It has brought them together as a club and the supporters are right behind them so I can see Bolton getting away from it all.
The worrying team, for me, is Wolves. There aren't any whipping boys as such. There generally is when teams come up, there is a team that gets absolutely hammered, but there has been nobody this year. It is an exciting one and it will go the wire, I am sure.
When you are in relegation it means that you have been losing games regularly and you can go 10 or 15 games without winning in the Premier League and it would be normal. You have to ensure morale and belief remains present, team spirit, and you have to try and stamp out any cliques or in-fighting because that spills out onto the pitch as we have seen with Wolves just recently. They have lost their leader and they have lost their focus, and they are now fighting between each other. That is a recipe for disaster.
When I took over at Burnley they had been on a really poor run and hadn't won in 10 games. They had lost their last mentor and their heads were down, and you can't change the culture because it is very thick in the club and it is very difficult to change that overnight with games coming thick and fast. It is making sure that you try and keep everybody together, but more importantly keep the fans together because they play a major role in keeping the players' confidence high, because there is no doubt if they are negative off the field it passes onto the pitch and players don't relax and don't play their best football.
You have to try and remain relaxed yourself and try and take the pressure off the players. You have to try and reiterate the togetherness and remind them of the positives, use evidence of how well they have played, show videos of excellent performances, always have time for the players as individuals and keep the line of communication open so they feel free to express themselves and don't feel that they can't say anything. I think it's important to get things off your chest if you are feeling negative. But I think the most important thing of all is to remain positive and set achievable goals together as a group.
The obvious difference is the quality of the players and the overall ability and understanding of the game. It is very evident the higher you go, you can detect it very quickly. The other very obvious one is finances and general resources that you have at your disposal to prepare the players in the best possible way: going to matches, travel, preparation, specialist coaches, masseurs ... whereas sometimes in the lower leagues your decisions are taken out of your hands purely on a financial decision and preparation for matches can suffer.
But whether you are in the Premier League or League Two, you have the same pressures, the same workload - if not more in the lower leagues. On the negative side with the Premier League, you do spend more time off the training field. There are significantly greater media demands that you have. I have enjoyed working across all four divisions and I feel I have an excellent understanding and appreciate what it takes to work at a club of any size, and I feel that is one of my strengths.
It is an intriguing one to watch, because the two Sheffield clubs are going to continue to fight it out right until the end for promotion. It is a really difficult one to call but I think it is going to go right to the wire. Sheffield Wednesday have a great chance. I have seen them quite a few times this season: they have goals in them, they look organised. There has been a lot of work done by Gary Megson and the foundations have been set. Dave Jones has taken it on and continued that good work and I can see them getting stronger each game that goes by. I have got to say, I think Sheffield Wednesday will probably pip Sheffield United just at the final few hurdles, but all of the city of Sheffield would love both teams to go up, but make sure that Sheffield United do it the hard way in the play-offs!
I do believe it is a good thing that everybody sets high expectations for themselves. The difficulty is how those expectations are managed internally and externally. To quieten expectations I think is the best: to keep chipping away at games, understanding and appreciating the inevitability that you will lose games, you will lose some form at some stage of the season but not to panic, remain calm and stay true to your principles.
I remember at Wednesday - a big club, in terms of fan base - during my time we had a very limited budget, in the bottom four of the Championship, so we were actually overachieving. For us, the best way to deal with that was to be transparent with the fans so that they had a greater understanding of the situation and the challenges. And it certainly helps to manage the expectation because then they are not getting too carried away. Sometimes you can set expectations too high for a club and it is unachievable.