Blades academy boss who travelled world to promote beautiful game
Why John Warnock's MBE caps a life of complete dedication to the beautiful game.
He signed a 12-year-old Billy Sharp for Sheffield United and helped the young careers of future England stars like Phil Jagielka and Kyle Walker.
But his work as an academy director and head of youth development for the Blades is just a small part of the amazing career in football of unassuming John Warnock, who has just been awarded an MBE.
John, of Chapeltown, now aged 74, has travelled the world promoting equality and opportunity through sport.
A keen player in his younger years, he went on to work as deputy director for sport and recreation at Sheffield Polytechnic – now Sheffield Hallam University – and became head coach of their football team.
In the 1980s, while also the coach and manager at Kiveton Park, he was approached by then-Blades boss Dave Bassett to help out at Sheffield United.
“He phoned me up and said could I take over the Centre of Excellence. I had never thought about going into the professional game but we went out and had a chat.
“He is a really nice guy and I ended up joining on a part-time basis.”
In 1999, he became director of the Sheffield United academy and head of youth development after being asked to take the job by Derek Dooley.
John helped play a part in the development of future Blades stars such as Billy Sharp, Phil Jagielka, Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire.
He said while much of their success was down to their own drive and abilities, as well as the hard work of the coaching team, it was a privilege to see the likes of Walker and Jagielka go on to have successful Premier League careers and represent England.
“I signed Billy Sharp when he was 12 years old at the Centre of Excellence,” he said.
“Now he is back as club captain, which is brilliant.
“We signed Kyle when he was 10, at the same time as Kyle Naughton. They were dedicated to the game.
“The fact they were at a professional club didn’t affect them, they focused entirely on their football.”
John said it had been brilliant to contribute to a club close to his heart.
“When I was at school at Eckington Grammar, I was playing for the school in the morning and Sheffield United Under-18s in the afternoons, so I have always had an affinity with Sheffield United.”
He said he still has a great love for the beautiful game.
“The game always needs examining and there are always twists and turns. There are so many components with 11 players in a team and getting the best out of each individual.”
John said his own coaching style has always been based on encouraging people to do their best.
“I have never accused anybody of being a failure. I think that is an important thing. I always think, never mind you missed the target, at least you had the shot.”
But his work for the Blades was only a small part of his incredibly busy career, with his MBE awarded for services to higher education sport.
After taking over the Sheffield Polytechnic side in 1970, he was appointed as the GB team manager for the British Polytechnics Sports Association in 1973 and acted in the same role for the British Student Association.
From 1987 to 2011, he was the director of football and futsal for the International Federation for University Sport (FISU) and spent years successfully campaigning for women’s football and futsal to be included in the world championships. He also played a key role in encouraging the Football Association to develop futsal – which is an indoor small-sided version of football played with a smaller ball and with a focus on technical ability.
John said: “It is a brilliant game, very skilful.
“The top countries for it are Spain and Brazil, which shows there is crossover with success in football.
“We have now got a national side, a national league and universities playing the game.”
In 2011, John was appointed on the FISU technical committee for the World University Games, which are held every two years. After holding the role for four years, he continues to hold an advisory role for the committee.
He said there have been many memorable moments in his career, including accepting an invitation to play matches against Irish college students when in charge of the British polytechnics team during a time of great political tension in the 1970s.
“I remember sitting the lads down, asking if they wanted to go and only two declined,” he said.
“We accepted to go and play in Dublin. We had a great reception and it ended up being a tradition every year – we went to them and they came to us.”
He said another brilliant moment had come in 2008 during a women’s futsal tournament in Brazil, when Iran were allowed to play.
“The Iranians were not allowed to play under some Fifa regulations,” he said.
“But I sat down with them and when I read the rules and regulations, they didn’t contravene them.
“They were so popular in Brazil, the Brazilians asked for us to introduce a special award and then awarded it to the Iranian team.”
His career has taken him to tournaments in countries across the world, including Japan, China, Hungary, Russia and South Korea.
John said: “They are places you wouldn’t normally get the chance to visit.
“But when you go, you are always with a family of people who have an affinity through sport.”
John said his career would not have been possible without his wife Norma.
“My wife has been very supportive. I’m lucky because she likes football!”
“I didn’t achieve this on my own, I had a lot of people working with me throughout, including my wife.”