Reviewed: Harry’s Games: Inside the Mind of Harry Redknapp by John Crace

Win or lose, on the booze.

Harry’s Games: Inside the Mind of Harry Redknapp
John Crace
Constable, 256pp, £18.99

It was the morning after the night before. Tottenham Hotspur had experienced one of their rare and glorious Champions League triumphs, back in 2010, and I was walking to work along Ludgate Hill. The traffic had stopped and I noticed a couple of men waving frantically at a fat jeep waiting at the lights. The driver, it turned out, was Harry Redknapp and the opportunity was too rich to miss. I joined the well-wishers, and when my turn came inevitably panicked and gave the Spurs manager a cheery thumbs up.

A thumbs up! Not that Harry minded. He was waving and grinning and soaking up the good will and backslapping as though there was nowhere he would rather be than stuck in traffic being accosted by over-enthusiastic fans. As John Crace says in his new book about the jowly manager, there is something about Redknapp “that makes you feel as if you know him when you don’t; he has genuine charisma”. Most public figures shirk from encounters with the man (or woman) on the street, whereas “Redknapp gives the impression he enjoys it”.

I can’t call him Redknapp. No one can. He’s Harry (or, to be precise, ’Arry). He’s your friend, one of the boys, a wisecracking avuncular stalwart who you’d have a pint with after the game. Crace says he talks as if he knows you, “as if you’re an old mate with whom he’s sharing a confidence”. You get that feeling just watching him on television, in a post-match interview, when he ribs the journalist and almost winks at the camera. Perhaps my favourite Harry moment was after Spurs beat Man City a couple of years ago to qualify for the Champions League. In the middle of giving an interview to Sky, he starts to cower against the wall, having spotted off-camera a group of players brandishing an ice bucket, which they promptly empty over his head, on camera. Harry takes off his sodden jacket and wipes the rivulets of liquid off his head, smiling all the while. You can’t imagine Alex Ferguson reacting in quite the same way.

Crace shares the love he describes others having for Harry. His book is the work of a football fan: that devoted, tortured breed. I can’t claim to be a true fan – the game doesn’t make me feel pain or joy to that wonderful, ludicrous degree – but I’m married to one (also, like Crace and me, saddled with Spurs). There is something particularly agonised about the Spurs fan, the constant sense of near-greatness, then abject hopelessness; the annual tailing off. Spurs, if you’re not familiar, are grade-one bottlers. All this simply means that Redknapp, as a former Spurs manager, isn’t a straightforward subject for Crace, and Harry’s Game is no hagiography.

Crace’s object is to delve beneath that chirpy East End front, to discover the contradictions in the son of a docker who’d risen to great fortune. He does this not by talking to Redknapp himself but gathering evidence from those around him – the local Portsmouth reporters who followed his every move when he was manager of the club, old team-mates from his playing career, a writer who used to ghost a column for him. No one still close to Redknapp will speak on the record, so much of the book is a collage of sorts, pieced together from old interviews, recollections and quotes from Redknapp’s 1999 biography (in which, wonderfully, there’s chapter called “Win or Lose – on the Booze”, remembering his exuberant playing days at West Ham).

At times the book can feel like the result of someone trying to get dressed in the dark: a cobbled together collection of information from a mass of sources and voices. But it works: Crace succeeds in dismantling the facade of the kind of Olympic-level charmer, who even when in court for tax evasion can seduce a crowd (“this man could put a glass eye to sleep,” said Redknapp of the prosecuting QC). Detail by detail you realise that Harry is more complicated than he seems – he never really wanted to go into management and yet has been one of the most enduring managers in the Premier League; he just wants to be liked and yet has shown remarkable disloyalty to both colleagues and players over the years; he’s brilliant at signing players but bad at keeping them, or, as Crace puts it, “he doesn’t have a nose for stability”. The one consistent message of the book is his devotion to his family and his dogs (the famous Rosie, who lent her name to his suspicious Monaco bank account: “you would be a lucky man to have a wife as lovely as Rosie”).

Now Redknapp’s star has fallen somewhat. QPR, his latest club, has just been relegated and those heady days when he appeared to be a shoe-in for the England manager’s job seem remote. But, as Crace concludes, he’s still going, still managing, still Harry. “Only fans and romantics think that football is all about the glory”, he writes. “It isn’t – it is about survival”.

Rosie future: Redknapp looks on as QPR play Wigan. Photograph: Getty Images.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 13 May 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Eton Mess

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The joy of only winning once: why England should be proud of 1966

We feel the glory of that triumphant moment, 50 years ago, all the more because of all the other occasions when we have failed to win.

There’s a phrase in football that I really hate. It used to be “Thirty years of hurt”. Each time the England team crashes out of a major tournament it gets regurgitated with extra years added. Rather predictably, when England lost to Iceland in Euro 2016, it became “Fifty years of hurt”. We’ve never won the European Championship and in 17 attempts to win the World Cup we have only won once. I’m going to tell you why that’s a record to cherish.

I was seven in 1966. Our telly was broken so I had to watch the World Cup final with a neighbour. I sat squeezed on my friend Colin’s settee as his dad cheered on England with phrases like “Sock it to them Bobby”, as old fashioned now as a football rattle. When England took the lead for the second time I remember thinking, what will it feel like, when we English are actually Champions of the World. Not long after I knew. It felt good.

Wembley Stadium, 30 July 1966, was our only ever World Cup win. But let’s imagine what it would be like if, as with our rivals, we’d won it many times? Brazil have been World Champions on five occasions, Germany four, and Italy four. Most England fans would be “over the moon” if they could boast a similarly glorious record. They’re wrong. I believe it’s wonderful that we’ve only triumphed once. We all share that one single powerful memory. Sometimes in life less is definitely more.

Something extraordinary has happened. Few of us are even old enough to remember, but somehow, we all know everything that happened that day. Even if you care little about the beautiful game, I’m going to bet that you can recall as many as five iconic moments from 50 years ago. You will have clearly in your mind the BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous lines, as Geoff Hurst tore down the pitch to score his hat-trick: “Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over. It is now”. And it was. 4 - 2 to England against West Germany. Thirty minutes earlier the Germans had equalised in the dying moments of the second half to take the game to extra time.

More drama we all share: Geoff Hurst’s second goal. Or the goal that wasn’t, as technology has since, I think, conclusively proved. The shot that crashed off the cross bar and did or didn’t cross the line. Of course, even if you weren’t alive at the time, you will know that the linesman, one Tofiq Bakhramov, from Azerbaijan (often incorrectly referred to as “Russian”) could speak not a word of English, signalled it as a goal.

Then there’s the England Captain, the oh-so-young and handsome Bobby Moore. The very embodiment of the era. You can picture him now wiping his muddy hands on his white shorts before he shakes hands with a youthful Queen Elizabeth. Later you see him lifted aloft by his team mates holding the small golden Jules Rimet trophy.

How incredible, how simply marvellous that as a nation we share such golden memories. How sad for the Brazilians and Germans. Their more numerous triumphs are dissipated through the generations. In those countries each generation will remember each victory but not with the intensity with which we English still celebrate 1966. It’s as if sex was best the first time. The first cut is the deepest.

On Colin’s dad’s TV the pictures were black and white and so were the flags. Recently I looked at the full colour Pathe newsreel of the game. It’s the red, white and blue of the Union Jack that dominates. The red cross of Saint George didn’t really come into prominence until the Nineties. The left don’t like flags much, unless they’re “deepest red”. Certainly not the Union Flag. It smacks of imperialism perhaps. In 1966 we didn’t seem to know if we were English or British. Maybe there was, and still is, something admirable and casual about not knowing who we are or what is our proper flag. 

Twelve years later I’m in Cuba at the “World Festival of Youth” – the only occasion I’ve represented my country. It was my chance to march into a stadium under my nation’s flag. Sadly, it never happened as my fellow delegates argued for hours over what, if any, flag we British should walk behind. The delegation leaders – you will have heard of them now, but they were young and unknown then – Peter Mandelson, Trevor Phillips and Charles Clarke, had to find a way out of this impasse. In the end, each delegation walked into the stadium behind their flag, except the British. Poor Mandelson stood alone for hours holding Union Jack, sweltering in the tropical sun. No other country seemed to have a problem with their flag. I guess theirs speak of revolution; ours of colonialism.

On Saturday 30 July BBC Radio 2 will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup Final, live from Wembley Arena. Such a celebration is only possible because on 16 occasions we failed to win that trophy. Let’s banish this idea of “Fifty years of hurt” once and for all and embrace the joy of only winning once.

Phil Jones edits the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2. On Saturday 30 July the station celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup Final live from Wembley Arena, telling the story of football’s most famous match, minute by minuteTickets are available from: www.wc66.org