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

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.