There’s something about Harry

As Redknapp is cleared of tax evasion, he still captures hearts.

In no way will this view be popular: I adore Harry Redknapp. I adore Harry Redknapp to a degree that is unreasonable for a semi-enthusiastic football fan whose object of adoration is a chinless football manager who has not only been in court (and cleared) for "cheating the public revenue" but has also starred in ads for the Nintendo Wii. ("What happened there?" wonders a bemused Harry as young Jamie, his perennially injured son, thrashes him at Super Mario).

Let's deal with the trial first. I don't know if you saw the court artist's impression of Harry in the dock but it's worth a look. On the left is his co-defendant, the former Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric, whose head is oddly tilted as though he's about to keel over in shame. And then there, in the foreground, is Harry, standing stiff-backed like a soldier, sombre and ruddy-faced, a pair of half-moon specs perched on his nose. No offence to the artist, but this looks absolutely nothing like Harry. At least, not the one I know and love. Where's the Harry of the touchline, gabby and cross? Or the cheeky pundit version? They didn't even call him Harry in court, but Henry, his "real" name, unrecognisable to his fans.

Still, the real Harry creeps out in beautiful detail: such as the revelation by the prosecution that he had allegedly set up a bank account in Monaco under the name of his dog and the year of his birth, Rosie 47. (As someone tweeted mournfully: "Nothing grounds your sense of personal achievement like knowing you'll never have more in your bank account than Harry Redknapp's dog."). Then there's the recording of a conversation with a journalist: "What's a bung? It's a f****** sick word." Once the swearing starts, you know you've got the true Harry. This is a man who when cut to early for a Sky News interview managed to pack in a cascade of F-words before the reporter could gather his wits to start the interview, and when accused of being a "wheeler and dealer" by another reporter, retorted: "I'm not a wheeler and dealer. Don't say that. I'm a f****** football manager."

If you're not already a Harry fan, my affection for this potty-mouthed huckster might seem odd. I'll admit: it's not obvious. But this is a man of passion, who as a kid played 20-a-side in the streets of Poplar until long after dark, who would have been a docker like his dad if he hadn't been spotted by football scouts, who in 2008 was given the "freedom of Portsmouth" after the club won the FA Cup, who has pushed a doggedly mediocre team like Tottenham to the near-top of the league. This is a man who has turned swearing into an art form.

Offside with Rosie

I'm not alone in my admiration. Apart from a legion of Spurs fans, there's a growing fascination with Harry. There's even a biography in the works, by John Crace: "Who is Harry Redknapp?" he asks. "Football genius or football chancer? Master tactician or practical joker? How can one man have two such diametrically opposed and incompatible career trajectories?" Well, quite.

This is why I like Harry: at the end of his first day in the dock, he left Court Six to chat to the gathered football reporters. One brought up Rosie, the dog. Harry's response? "Poor old Rosie. She's dead now."

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 30 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, President Newt

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I dined behind the Houses of Parliament in my sexually connected foursome

My wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple. We did not always check the significance of the date. 

I am self-employed and find that working from home, setting your own schedule, the days generally blur into each other, with weekends holding no significance, and public holidays, when those who are employed in factories, offices or shops get time off, meaning nothing. I am often surprised to go out and find the streets empty of traffic because it is some national day of observance, such as Christmas, that I wasn’t aware of. I find myself puzzled as to why the shops are suddenly full of Easter eggs or pancake batter.

Growing up in a Communist household, we had a distinct dislike for this kind of manufactured marketing opportunity anyway. I remember the time my mother tried to make me feel guilty because I’d done nothing for her on Mother’s Day and I pointed out that it was she who had told me that Mother’s Day was a cynical creation of the greetings card monopolies and the floral industrial complex.

Valentine’s Day is one of those I never see coming. It’s the one day of the year when even the worst restaurants are completely booked out by couples attempting to enjoy a romantic evening. Even those old-fashioned cafés you’ll find still lurking behind railway stations and serving spaghetti with bread and butter will tell you there’s a waiting list if you leave it late to reserve a table.

In the late 1980s my wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple, he a writer and she a TV producer. One particular place we liked was a restaurant attached to a 1930s block of flats, near the Houses of Parliament, where the endless corridors were lined with blank doors, behind which you sensed awful things happened. The steel dining room dotted with potted palm trees overlooked a swimming pool, and this seemed terribly sophisticated to us even if it meant all your overpriced food had a vague taste of chlorine.

The four of us booked to eat there on 14 February, not realising the significance of the date. We found at every other table there was a single couple, either staring adoringly into each other’s eyes or squabbling.

As we sat down I noticed we were getting strange looks from our fellow diners. Some were sort of knowing, prompting smiles and winks; others seemed more outraged. The staff, too, were either simpering or frosty. After a while we realised what was going on: it was Valentine’s Day! All the other customers had assumed that we were a sexually connected foursome who had decided to celebrate our innovative relationship by having dinner together on this special date.

For the four of us, the smirking attention set up a strange dynamic: after that night it always felt like we were saying something seedy to each other. “Do you want to get together on Sunday?” I’d say to one of them on the phone, and then find myself blushing. “I’ll see if we can fit it in,” they’d reply, and we would both giggle nervously.

Things became increasingly awkward between us, until in the end we stopped seeing them completely. 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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