He’s manager at Sheffield Wednesday now and, while a lot of people know that he had a hell of a year in 2018, I don’t think people fully realised just how tough it was for him.
At the time, he was managing Aston Villa, who had huge expectations, and he was trying to get promoted to the Premier League with them. So there was a lot of pressure in the job anyway. Then, out of the blue, he lost both parents within the space of a few weeks.
My grandad, Joe, was 84. He was quite old but fine, because my granny, Sheenagh, was great and always looked after him. She was mobile, she was marvellous for an 81-year-old. She was the fit one, she looked after him and cared for him. She’d been out in town doing the shopping, as she always did, but then a couple of days later we were stunned when we got the call to say she’d had a stroke.
It was a bad one.
Dad’s life was turned upside down. He was back and forwards between Birmingham and Newcastle, taking training, getting back on the road up north, sleeping at her bedside in hospital, and it soon became clear that that she wasn’t going to come out of hospital.
We told my grandad a few days later that she wouldn’t be coming home. We told him we’d need nurses to come in and look after him, which he didn’t want.
He passed away in his sleep that night.
It was such a tough time, so sad, and really, really hard for my dad. Looking back now, I think he would have wanted a few extra years with his mum because she’d looked after my grandad. He could have taken her on holiday. She was physically able to do all those things, whereas Grandad couldn’t. It would have been nice to have a couple of years where we could have looked after her, taken her on holiday.
Instead, she died a few weeks later.
Then, not long after, Sir Alex had his illness as well. They still have a great relationship and they speak as often as they can, so when he fell poorly, Dad was like:
F****** hell, is anyone else going to get ill as well?
To have so much happen so close together was really tough, while trying to manage a club like Aston Villa in the midst of all that.
On top of it all, he had a couple of health issues himself towards the end of his time at Villa. Things which men of his age get and need sorting out, just a couple of lesions on his skin which were dangerous and needed cutting out. One under his eye which was quite nasty.
So when he took the Sheffield Wednesday job earlier this year, he’d just had these procedures and didn’t want to be going into the training ground at his new club looking like he did. He was in no fit state physically or emotionally, and he needed a few extra weeks of holiday to get himself right and ready for work again.
Not many people knew the full story, and not everybody understood why he didn’t join up with Wednesday straight away after taking the job. It got under my skin when he was criticised on Match of the Day for being on holiday while Wednesday were facing Chelsea in the FA Cup. I went straight on social media and set the record straight as to why Dad needed a break. In fairness to him, Danny Murphy came out and apologised, which was big of him.
Dad’s quite a private person and probably wouldn’t have told people the real reasons, but when he was getting so much stick for not going straight into another job, I thought it was important for people to know the real reasons. Once they were out there, people took a step back and eased off a bit, which I was pleased about. It was uplifting to see the reaction and the goodwill for him.