IT is more than 40 years since Neil Warnock embarked on his first season as a manager with Gainsborough Trinity, but while the footballing world has been turned upside down in the four decades since, some things remain unaltered.

As he looks ahead to Middlesbrough’s opening game of the Championship season at Watford this evening, Warnock finds himself experiencing the same emotions that were swirling around him when he cut his managerial teeth in the Northern Premier League.

Hopes, fears, nerves, anticipation. Even as he approaches his 1,500th game in Football League management, Warnock still finds himself approaching the start of another season in an excitable manner reminiscent of a child on Christmas Eve.

“Things are obviously different, but when you look ahead to the start of the season, it always really feels the same,” said the 71-year-old Boro boss. “You still get the nerves. I’ll have the butterflies in the build-up to the Watford game. It’s always like that. I want to do the best I can. It’s my reputation that’s on the line, and the club want to do the best they can too.

“This is my 41st season – bloody hell, it’s frightening isn’t it, when you think about it? It’s my 41st season, and I’ve still got that same enjoyment and those same butterflies. No doubt there’ll be the same run-ins with referees somewhere down the line. It’s still the same things driving me on. The enthusiasm is wanting to show these young pups what it’s all about.”

Warnock is driven by a desire to succeed for Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson and the club’s supporters, but even at such an advanced stage of his career, he readily admits he is also motivated by a burning need to continue proving the doubters wrong.

He might have won eight promotions, but he has spent his entire managerial lifetime leading the underdog, a situation that has not changed since his move to Teesside. Having inherited a side that appeared destined for League One in the latter stages of last season, he has been forced to contend with a series of setbacks in the transfer market this summer.

“I look back to how things were in the Gainsborough days or the Scarborough days, and it’s amazing how much has stayed the same really,” said Warnock. “At Scarborough, we were favourites to finish bottom along with Dagenham, with the bookies.

“I loved every minute of that. That was a challenge, and everywhere I’ve been, I don’t think I’ve ever started a season managing one of the favourites. I don’t think the odds of my team have ever been in the top six in the betting. Here, I think the bookies have probably been a bit over the top if they knew what the squad was looking like. But having said that, let’s give it a go. Why not?”

Having only survived on the final day of last season, it is hardly a surprise that Boro are not amongst the bookmakers’ favourites to win promotion this term. Nevertheless, Warnock remains upbeat. He needs another three or four additions before the transfer window closes, but provided they arrive to flesh out the squad, a tilt at the top two or the play-offs remains the ambition for the next nine months.

“I said I was Red Adair when I came in – I’m probably double Red Adair now,” he joked. “I’m always optimistic though. I always think you can push up towards those play-offs, and if you can get up there by Christmas, with a couple of January additions, you’ve got a great chance.

“It’s going to be tough. We need a bit of help, but that’s what good about being my age – you don’t worry about yesterday as much as look forward to tomorrow.”