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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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war