IT started, innocuously, with a tickle in the throat, but at that stage, Neil Warnock freely admits he did not even consider how his life was about to turned upside down. ‘Be Covid aware’ screamed the posters at Middlesbrough’s Rockliffe Park training ground, but ensconced in the safety of football’s Covid-secure bubble, and having recorded a negative test result just a week-or-so previously, Warnock was hardly perturbed.

Things began to change when his sense of taste and smell began to disappear. That wasn’t normal for a run-of-the-mill cold. Best to take no precautions and self-isolate while he waited for the result of another test. Never mind that Middlesbrough were playing that night, hosting Barnsley in the Carabao Cup, he needed to lock himself away.

Still, though, Warnock’s abiding emotion was that it wouldn’t happen to him. Not when he was fit and healthy, exercising religiously at least once a day. Not when he had taken all possible precautions and followed all the guidelines laid down by Middlesbrough’s medical staff.

Right? Wrong. Within 24 hours, Warnock was just about incapable of getting out of his bed. In his own words, he was “completely wiped out”. The threat of catching coronavirus was no longer an abstract worry. It was very much real.

“It’s been so, so strange,” said Warnock, now back at work after an enforced two-week spell of isolation in his temporary home on the Rockliffe Hall grounds. “I just started with a little niggly throat, then I lost my sense of smell and taste, but in the first few days, it was the tiredness that was the main thing.

“I was absolutely shattered, wanting to go to sleep every minute of the day. You’ve got no option but to just try to focus on looking after yourself at that stage.

“When you get older, you sometimes want a nap in the afternoon anyway. But with this virus, you’re just constantly shattered all the time. You don’t feel like doing anything. That’s why it’s different, and it can linger. Thankfully, I’ve been able to get over it, but it was a very tiring experience for me.”

Having turned 71 last December, Warnock is in one of the highest-risk categories for suffering severe complications from Covid.

While he experienced severe discomfort for a couple of days, he readily admits he was fortunate to escape any life-threatening consequences of contracting the disease.

His fitness levels possibly helped, and while so much about Covid remains unknown, Warnock’s recent experiences have made him even more of an advocate for staying in good shape as a 70-year-old, both physically and mentally.

“When you get older, it’s so easy to have a little sleep on a morning, then have your dinner, then have a little sleep in the afternoon,” he said. “Mentally, if you’re not careful, you get really tired.

“Some people act a lot older than what they are, and some people act a lot younger that what they are – I think that’s a battle of your mind.

“Even when I was younger, as a player, I used to look at my managers – one manager in particular who, I remember, was really quite overweight – and I thought, ‘If ever I start managing, I don’t want my players to see me like that’.

“I remember that vividly, and it’s driven me on. I like my players to know that I’m training after every session. They have a laugh because I have to have a headband on because I sweat terribly. I show some of the lads and say, ‘You never do this, you lot’. But I like to do that. You have to do that for your heart and everything else – you’ve got to look after yourself as you get older.

“I think it’s because of that little bit of extra fitness that I was able to keep it (Covid) away from my chest and my lungs. That was so, so important.”

So, has contracting Covid changed him? Warnock remains as driven and passionate as ever when he is working at the training ground, and cannot wait to be back in the technical area at the Riverside when Middlesbrough host Barnsley tomorrow afternoon.

He is more careful than ever when it comes to hygiene though, and has become an even stauncher advocate for wearing a mask.

“If I do go into a shop, my mask is on beforehand and I do my hands before I go in and when I come out,” he said. “When I take my fruit home, I wash it with soaps and suds – I do everything. I think people have got to be like that until we get a vaccine to get rid of this. We’ve got some of the best people in the world working at it, so we’ve got to hope that comes out as soon as it can.”

He has also become increasingly intolerant of those who flout the rules, viewing the scenes of university students attending parties in the last few weeks with open disdain.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” he said. “I just think, ‘Why put other people’s lives at risk?’We can deal with it a lot better if people listen to the advice being given. It made me disappointed the other day to see 200 people at the University in Coventry having a party. We all want to have a good time, but you’ve got to be responsible.

“You’ve got to do what the Government are telling us to do. Now, I’m not saying they’ve been right – let’s be fair, there’s been times where you’ve wondered what on earth was going to come out next – but the thing is that it kills, and it kills older people especially. These youngsters have all got families – would they give it to their grandparents or their aunties or uncles? They’ve got to be responsible.”