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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Goodbye, Sam Allardyce: a grim portrait of national service

In being brought down by a newspaper sting, the former England manager joins a hall of infamy. 

It took the best part of 17 years for Glenn Hoddle’s reputation to recover from losing the England job.

Between leaving his job as manager in February 1999 and re-surfacing as a television pundit on ITV during the 2014 World Cup, Hoddle was English football’s great pariah. Thanks to his belief in faith healer Eileen Drewery and a string of unconventional and unacceptable views on reincarnation, he found himself in exile following in a newspaper interview during qualification for England’s Euro 2000 campaign.

But just as Hoddle is now cautiously being welcomed back to the bosom of English football, current incumbent Sam Allardyce has felt the axe fall. After less than two months in charge of the national side and with only a single game under his belt, the former Bolton Wanderers manager was caught up in a sting operation by the Daily Telegraph — allegedly offering guidance on how to circumvent his employer’s rules on third-party player ownership.

The rewards for guiding an English team to major international success promise to be spectacular. As a result, the price for any failure — either moral or performance-related — is extreme.

Hoddle’s successor – the endearing Kevin Keegan – resigned tearfully in a toilet at Wembley after a tumultuous 18-month spell in charge. His replacement, the laconic Sven-Göran Eriksson, provided moments of on-field excitement paired with incredible incidents of personal indiscretion. His tangle with "fake sheikh" Mazher Mahmood in the run up to the 2006 World Cup – an incident with haunting parallels to Allardyce’s current predicament – led to a mutual separation that summer.

Steve McClaren was hapless, if also incredibly unfortunate, and was dispatched from the top job in little over a year. Fabio Capello – who inspired so much optimism throughout his first two years in charge – proved himself incapable of lifting the hex on English major tournament fortunes.

The Italian’s star was falling from the moment he put his name to the oddly timed Capello Index in 2010, although his sustained backing of then captain John Terry over a string of personal misdemeanours would prove to be the misjudgement that ultimately forced his exit. As Allardyce has found out, the FA has become increasingly hard on lapses in moral judgement.

English football is suffused with a strange mix of entitlement and crushing self-doubt. After a decade that has given us a Wimbledon champion, several Ashes triumphs, two Tour de France winners and eye-watering Olympic success, a breakthrough in this area has never felt further away.

In replacing Capello, Roy Hodgson — the man mocked by Allardyce during his hours supping pints with Telegraph reporters — had hoped to put a rubber stamp on a highly respectable coaching career with a spell managing his own country. But this summer’s farcical defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016 put his previous career in a much harsher light.    

Allardyce was a mix of the best and worst of each of his predecessors. He was as gaffe-prone as Steve McClaren, yet as committed to football science and innovation as Hodgson or Capello. He also carried the affability of Keegan and the bulldog spirit of Terry Venables — the last man to make great strides for England at a major tournament.  

And as a result, his fall is the most heartbreaking of the lot. The unfairly decried charlatan of modern football is the same man who built a deeply underrated dynasty at Bolton before keeping Blackburn, West Ham and Sunderland afloat in the most competitive league in Europe.

And it was this hard apprenticeship that convinced the FA to defy the trendy naysayers and appoint him.

“I think we make mistakes when we are down here and our spirit has to come back and learn,” Hoddle mused at the beginning of his ill-fated 1999 interview. As the FA and Allardyce consider their exit strategy from this latest sorry mess, it’s difficult to be sure what either party will have learned.

The FA, desperately short of options could theoretically turn again to a reborn Hoddle. Allardyce, on the other hand, faces his own long exile. 

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