Manchester United are one of the top clubs in the world. They’ve won 19 league titles, 11 FA Cups, lifted the European Cup three times and are currently running away with this season’s Premier League title. Last season’s turnover was an eye-watering £320million and they consistently sell out their 76,000 ground at Old Trafford. In contrast, newly promoted West Ham United have won three FA Cups, the now defunct Cup Winners Cup once and er, that’s it. Historically agreed to play “attractive football” they are hoping to move into a bigger financial league with an agreement in place to rent the Olympic Stadium in nearby Stratford.
For all their resources the Reds have a long-standing problem attracting good goalkeepers. The gaps between the eight-year reign of the Great Dane Peter Schmeichel and six-season spell of Dutch Master Edwin van der Sar have been filled by a series of very ordinary replacements. Current No1 David De Gea has put in some excellent performances since signing from Atletico Madrid but it’s patently obvious he struggles to impose himself physically at corners.
On Wednesday night West Ham played Man Utd at the Boleyn Ground with canny manager Sam Allardyce keen to use every advantage at his disposal. Crucially every time the home side won a corner they would set up a screen of Kevin Nolan, Winston Reid and Ricard Vaz Te in front of De Gea, crowding the goal area and restricting his already flimsy attempts at clearing the first ball. Striker Andy Carroll and centre-back James Collins then attacked firmly hit corners as a pair.
The tactic worked well with the visitors looking increasingly panicked on each set piece. So much so that on the stroke of half-time and as Carroll launched himself at a left-wing corner Reds defender and captain Nemanja Vidic felt he had to step across the mid-air attacker, bumping with his hip and sending 6ft 3in of Geordie wrecking ball hurtling into his own keeper who had just flapped a weak fist at the ball. Cue an animated Sir Alex Ferguson haranguing the fourth official as he demanded the striker be sent off. Despite almost no protests from his players the stream of vitriol from the manager continued as the officials walked to the tunnel.
As night follows day, so the next “challenge” from Carroll on De Gea led to a caution for the striker as the keeper managed to wrap his arms with the ball around the torso of West Ham’s No8. Fast-tracked referee Lee Probert has a history with Ferguson and has been heavily criticised by the manager in the past leading to the strong impression he had been “got at” by the red-faced fury over the interval.
Worse followed for West Ham as with less than a quarter of an hour on the clock and the Hammers leading 2-1 Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa’s shot deflected off both uprights into the path of an unmarked and offside Robin van Persie, who equalised.
Post-match both managers were in high dudgeon. Ferguson claimed, “They’re very, very aggressive” and with no apparent sense of irony, “You hope there’s a strong referee — I’m not so sure we got that” before commenting on Carroll’s challenge, “It’s an obvious red card, but the referee’s seen it differently.” For his part Allardyce was as angry with the linesman as Fergie was the ref even if the threat of a Premier League fine ensured he chose his words extremely carefully, “Their job is to give the offside decisions when they appear in front of them. This was a blatant one. There is no excuse. It is not a positioning issue. He is straight across the line on the last defender and can see Van Persie is two yards offside. When it hits the post and comes to him, he should put his flag up but doesn’t. He has taken a famous victory from us. To draw this game by default is a bitter pill to swallow.”
I see two outcomes from the game. First, an assistant referee has denied West Ham two points and gifted the Champions-elect one.
Secondly, it is quite likely over the rest of the season the inability of Manchester United’s keeper to deal with corners and the attendant publicity will lead to free-kicks, yellow cards and possibly worse going against West Ham by referees routinely cowed by the bigger clubs.
As for the “offside” goal? No, I don’t expect any consequence…
The images beamed around the world following the explosions in Boston are repugnant. Blood spattered on streets, people missing limbs and onlookers suffering awful emotional trauma. I lack the immediacy of knowing anybody likely to be there giving me at once a detachment from the emotional impact yet heightening my own sense of voyeuristic disgust.
I watched a trickle of feeds became a tidal wave with an increasing sense of foreboding. A background in journalism enabled me to accurately predict newsrooms seeking an exclusive, politicians keen to grab a monopoly on outrage and everybody else determined to “have their say” (I count myself among their number).
Amid a fury of cliché (in a masterpiece of oxymoron today’s Thought For The Day on Radio 4 claimed both “calculated evil” and “impossible madness”) I have yet to read or hear anybody fully engaging with the most obvious question. This is a time for us all to look within and ask why.
I’m not holding my breath.
A year to the day before World Trade Centre bombings on September 11th, 2001 and most of Britain was queuing at petrol stations as fuel duty protests from a few north Wales farmers spread across the nation. Yet I was engaging my own vigil along with 4,000 other Hammers as we trooped over to White Hart Lane for a night game with a view to showing our hated (and I do mean hated) north London rivals what supporting your football team is all about.
Never mind us being outnumbered ten to one or Sol Campbell scoring the only goal of the game with a thumping header from a corner, we had a new terrace chant – and it was very good indeed. To the tune of Spandau Ballet’s Gold we belted out, “Joey Cole, COLE! Always believe in your soul, You got the power to know, You’re indestructible, Always believe in…”
Go back a couple of years and it is my duty to make you aware as a middle-aged man with no children and a vasectomy I am extremely unlikely to have any grandchildren. In light of that probability I feel I must reveal to you, I was at Upton Park the day Joe Cole signed his first professional contract. Although Matchday Announcer Jeremy Nicholas has maintained a fine tradition of cringeworthy exclamations over his many years in the job this particular embarrassment prior to a drab goalless draw with Chelsea barely registers in a top ten.
It was the 7th of November, 1999, the day before Cole’s 18th birthday. I was also there when Cole made his first-team début as a substitute against Swansea in the FA Cup, for his Premier League début at Old Trafford, his first start – against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park, first goal – at St Andrews in the League Cup and first league goal – in a 5-4 thriller against Bradford at The Boleyn.
I mention all this not to establish any über-fan credentials but to emphasise just what an exciting period it was being a West Ham supporter. The club had broken into Europe (albeit through the dubious pathway of the Intertoto Cup) and even if Frank Lampard was a leaden obstacle clogging up midfield he did score goals as Paolo Di Canio thrilled us up front, Trevor Sinclair added pace and skill to the right flank and Rio Ferdinand strolled about at the back.
Cole’s play was a metaphor for that of the club. Gifted with an exceptional touch and quick feet the boy from Camden could and did beat players with ease – before looking up and … nothing. After finishing fifth in season 98-99, the team slumped to 9th and 15th upon Cole’s arrival. The player seldom scored goals, having a Stuart Slater-like ability to scuff the ball and even more rarely made them – a bigger disappointment as manager Harry Redknapp’s 3-5-2 formation was designed to give him just that role. A final ball is often the last thing to develop in a player (Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs were both criticised early career for such a lack) but nonetheless, Cole didn’t seem to have a ruthless streak.
Of course, the lack of personality weakness should be never taken as a criticism (even if there was a half story involving Joe, a Page 3 girl, a black eye and half naked dash around south London during his Chelsea days) and the No26 was loved by those in claret and blue as much for his enthusiasm as skill, even if much of it seemed puppyish rather than proficient. Or to put it another way, Joe was such a lovely bloke it was very difficult to dislike him. A perceived lack of football nous – emphasised by a slack-jawed demeanour while in play – endeared rather than repelled. Joe’s cause was not helped by a manager in Redknapp who could see no role other than playmaker despite meagre returns but was also happy to criticise him for perceived lack of professionalism – a rant following a quarter-final FA Cup loss to Spurs seemed designed to belittle.
Harry departed the club a game or so later to usher in Glenn Roeder, an outsider in the race for the job and an opposite to his predecessor in almost every respect. Upstanding of character and blessed with a strong football brain from his days as a ball playing centre-back, the ex-Newcastle and QPR man was as uncomfortable in front of the press as “Good Old ‘Arry” welcomed the headlines. Out went the luxury player and for the first time Cole was asked to play the more disciplined wide position that would these days be considered his home.
The second season under Roeder was by far Joe’s best. Given the captaincy and a midfield water-carrier role he broke tackles and drove at opponents to great effect. Unfortunately the metaphor continued, a missed tackle on Jay-Jay Okocha proved costly as the Bolton man ran on to score for Sam Allardyce’s side and West Ham’s more pragmatic play resulted in relegation despite the 42 points gained. We all knew the player was off and he went to Chelsea with our best wishes.
Roman Abramovich’s revolution at Stamford Bridge didn’t help Cole, and especially not when Claudio Ranieri lost out to Jose Mourinho, a manager who despite amassing a ferocious pool of talent appears to have a near pathological fear of playing flair players. Avram Grant, Felipe Scolari and Guus Hiddink as well as injury niggles came and went until Roy Hodgson grabbed Cole on a free transfer to Liverpool after seven mostly wasted years at The Blues. Once again the curse struck as the now England coach was replaced by first Kenny Dalglish and then Brendan Rodgers. Cole’s career seems blighted by a series of managers who either indulged or ignored him.
My first reaction when I heard Cole might be returning to Upton Park was weary resignation – another washed-up player with his best years behind him and ruined by managerial incompetence. Maybe I’m not paying enough credit to Allardyce, a boss with a track record of finding something from apparently over-the-hill professionals. If there is a manager in the business capable of nurturing the best from Cole it’s Big Sam. And let’s be honest, no player deserves it more.
A couple of seasons ago an altercation broke out a few rows in front of my seat in the Bobby Moore Lower Stand at West Ham. The cheapest section of the ground, it is largely populated by shaven-headed, overweight, middle-aged men not dissimilar to myself, but on this occasion a mother had forsaken the Family Enclosure at the other end of the ground, turned up with a young son and was railing against the language around her.
Never one to miss the opportunity of making my opinions known I informed the poor lady I had been sitting in the same seat for years and wasn’t to be lectured on football etiquette by somebody attending their first game. Repenting at leisure I felt uneasy over whose rights were being most infringed as my views as both a football supporter and social liberal clashed.
That conflict came to the fore again this weekend following West Ham’s 3-1 defeat at Tottenham with reports of the away fans taunting their rivals with jibes about a Spurs fan stabbed before a recent Europa tie against Lazio as well as anti-Semitic chants at the home side’s Jewish element. I wasn’t at the game and am not about to pass judgement. But just as I’ve spent fruitless hours attempting to persuade keyboard warriors on various websites who inform me “black bastard” is no more offensive than “white bastard” and that context is all, so it may be useful to offer a historical perspective on the Tottenham/West Ham antagonism.
The social history and enmity between the clubs’ supporters goes back to inter-war times and the docks and sweatshops of East London. As a demographic, Hammers fans drew from the Royal Docks – men who were both tough and working class, taking pride in both. Many of their wives, mothers, girlfriends and sisters worked as seamstresses for low pay in the employ of entrepreneurial Jewish families. Having made their money, bit by bit those owners moved away from the area, decamped in North London and started supporting a football team that better matched their aspirations than the grubby proletarian outfit in E13.
My contention is the rivalry between the two clubs isn’t like that of West Ham and Millwall (who also draw upon a dockland history) but based on class. Whereas Spurs fans I know would routinely describe our support as “Chav” or “unwashed”, the middle-class “Glory, glory” fanbase at Tottenham was evident long before the post-Sky gentrification of the game.
Obviously this is a generalised observation and ignores a significant number of West Ham supporters I know who are Jewish. Supporting a club like West Ham is never easy – but for them it is surely a constant trial maintaining a sense of belonging. One of the favourite chants around the ground even when we’re not even in the same division is the “I’ve got a foreskin, haven’t you” adaptation of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain. Mildly amusing on it’s own (this is football don’t forget) the occasionally added “Fucking Jew” suffix is nasty, offensive, designed to offend and about as far from funny as you can get. Since Sunday I have watched an initial despair among Jewish acquaintances morph into first anger, then rage – and frankly I’m not surprised.
The movement from a working class to embourgeoised sport has overtaken West Ham and left much of the fanbase in its wake. A presence of great black players wearing the shirt has led to a massive diminution of that form of abuse – the reaction of all parts of the ground to Orient winger John Chiedozie in the early 80s made me feel physically sick – but Len Goulden, Eyal Berkovic and Yossi Benayoun among others seem not to have struck the same chord. Even if Avram Grant was probably the least liked manager ever, David Gold is a personable co-owner with an obvious love for West Ham who has pumped much of his own money into rescuing the club from its post-Icelander woes. It appears their “Jewishness” isn’t recognised in the same way say, Rio Ferdinand, Trevor Sinclair and Carlton Cole are immediately identified black. Maybe the racist mind isn’t well enough equipped to process anything but the most obvious physical characteristic?
The attitude of Tottenham fans is where I’m most uncomfortable. It’s easy to condemn West Ham fans (and many have) even if it seems likely the hissing noises claimed to represent gas chambers were actually a comment on the lack of volume from home fans. Talking of which, noises have recently been made over Spurs referring to themselves as “Yids”. As much as liberals would want to believe this behaviour to be a reclaiming of offence similar to gays using the word “queer” that is errant nonsense. Far from London Jewry standing loud and proud behind the Yid Army banner (I strongly suspect many doing the chanting have little if any Jewish ancestry) this is little more than a terrace tactic of, “We dare you … How dare you!” Would I “ban” fans from using the Y word? Of course not, any more than I would say, Nigga Army or Poof Army. Yet inviting abuse to grab a moral high ground demeans all parties. West Ham readily and recklessly jumped into the bear trap – but no moral argument is ever won by metaphorically or literally calling in the cops.
The way forward must surely be members within the crowd calling others to account – it’s surprisingly easy to say to somebody, “Mate, that’s not on” even if you’re not as physically imposing as me. In the Championship last season not one West Ham supporter was charged with racism – the only club in the division with a spotless record. The East End fought off the fascists in the depression of the 30s, so now couldn’t be a better time to once again define our club and our community.
The received wisdom is many cocaine users spend their subsequent time (and money) attempting to recreate their first hit. That may or may not be true but I’m convinced nothing will ever match the excitement of my drug of choice – watching West Ham. The smell of stewed onions, cheap aftershave and tobacco, the sound of 40,000 fans clearing their throats, the billiard board green of the Upton Park pitch under floodlights all burn brightly in my consciousness over 40 years later. Football’s appeal is allowing grown men to act, think and dream like the little boys they once were. Just like that cocaine junkie aiming to recreate their first experience with a low-grade mix of amphetamine, powdered milk and vague trace of coca product, each time I visit the Boleyn ground I’m attempting to relive that initial fix. I’m sure I’m not alone.
A longitudinal study carried out for the Premier League by the Sir Norman Chester centre for Football Research at the University of Leicester puts the median age of West Ham season ticket holders at a little over 50-years-old. That means a lot of us grew up enjoying the third-placed team of 1985-86, the club’s highest finish in its 117-year history. In particular we loved watching the lightning play of twin-strikers Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie as they shredded opposition defences scoring 46 goals between them.
Which brings us to Sam Baldock, the striker who has departed West Ham for Bristol City barely a year after joining the club for a fee £500,000 less than the £2million received by Milton Keynes Dons on 26th August last year. I believe the Bedford-born attacker received an often ludicrously disproportionate rating among some West Ham fans not because of his talents but because he reminded us of a golden age of strikers long past. He hasn’t scored in a competitive game since Guy Fawkes Night last year and has only attracted buyers from the lower reaches of the Championship yet was all but revered by many.
Most obviously lacking in Little Sam’s play was the quality admirers would often hail as a strength – movement. With a short stride Baldock looked “busy” around the pitch even if an ability to receive a pass and/or get into a scoring position was poor. A lack of bulk could have been an advantage – just look at the career Pippo Inzaghi made playing off the last defender’s shoulder – but the No7’s runs seemed too often an attempt to get behind defenders rather than the more orthodox lateral run across the back four. I imagine most opponents would enjoy playing Baldock, especially as he favoured his right foot and didn’t have the blinding pace required to stand up good players.
The old-fashioned “fox in the box” of the 70s and 80s is all but obsolete now with managers insisting attackers possess more than one attribute in their locker. As mentioned a frail stature (5ft 7in and 10st 8lb) meant Baldock could be bullied by big centre-backs – add a not particularly good first touch and he couldn’t able to hold the ball up or play with his back to goal. Unlike say, Jermain Defoe who also possessed these characteristics, Baldock posed little threat from distance.
One of the effects of the Bosman ruling and greater freedom of movement means current players largely play at their appropriate level . (Compare and contrast with the West Ham team of the 60s who spent much of the second half of that decade fighting relegation with three World Cup winners in the side). With all due deference to Kevin Nolan, a Premier League quality midfielder who turned out in the claret and blue in the Championship last season, the Hammers haven’t possessed a “star” since Paolo Di Canio left the club nine years ago. Little boys love heroes, or failing that footballers who can excite – and with his dynamic manner Baldock looked as though he might fit the bill.
So why did Sam Allardyce, a manager known for some shrewd dealings in the transfer market, buy Little Sam? Positionally Baldock was a square peg attempting to fit in West Ham’s round holes. It wouldn’t take much of a football genius (or even Christian Dailly) to appreciate the Ed Miliband lookalike was best employed playing off a targetman in a 4-4-2 formation. His two stand out performances (and the basis for much of the adoration) came against Blackpool and Leicester where he played with John Carew in a big man/little man combination. Unfortunately Baldock could only function within that setup. Although given a lone role up front for MK Dons, that was never going to happen at a West Ham “blessed” with Carew, Carlton Cole and Freddie Piquionne.
Allardyce toyed with a role on the right of a front three but it was soon obvious the player is a finisher not creator and couldn’t piece together the further requirements of the position. Take away goals and Baldock offered little. Perhaps a bit of context is appropriate here. Having been relegated under the stewardship of Avram Grant, the playing staff Allardyce inherited were a hotchpotch of a few quality players, some promising youngsters and lets be honest, a fair amount of dross. The squad were particularly thin at both ends of the pitch so it was no surprise the new boss’s first couple of buys were Abdoulaye Faye, a centre-back to replace Matthew Upson along with Kevin Nolan, a goalscoring midfielder and natural captain. Up top veteran striker John Carew was recruited in an attempt to bring the best from Carlton Cole and Freddie Piquionne, all of them targetmen able to hold the ball up but none natural scorers.
The received wisdom is while defenders can win matches, goals win titles – and despite the obvious quality it was hard to see where they would come from. One by one goalscorers including Craig Mackail-Smith, Andy Johnson, Jordan Rhodes and Billy Sharpe were either rejected, turned West Ham down or had prohibitive price tags attached. That left Allardyce scrapping around the bargain basement for goals, and a punt on a relatively untried youngster from MK Dons. Sadly the lad never looked like making it with West Ham and faces new challenges elsewhere. A big part of management is admitting when you have made a mistake – and Big Sam has done just that by flogging Baldock. Eyebrows were raised when Junior Stanislas and Zavon Hines were dumped on Burnley but they needn’t have been. Neither player has thrived and Hines has moved further down the football ladder to League Two Bradford.
For all their enthusiasm and fun young lads are notoriously poor judges of ability – sometimes wiser counsel is required – and five goals in a season of football really isn’t the stuff of legends.
All my Olympics misgivings were reinforced by the torch relays across the country. Invented for the 1936 Olympics by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazis PR man, the present incarnation did its best to live up to its unpleasant cultural roots. A nasty emphasis on security by the Metropolitan Police’s grey-clad compliance-bots resulted in a young lad being dragged off his BMX bike just down the road from me in Haverhill in a ridiculously disproportionate security operation. This lack of sensitivity was repeated during the actual games when Mark Worsfold, a former soldier suffering from Parkinson’s was arrested for “not smiling” during a cycle race.
My direct experience was little better even if it was lovely seeing families enjoying parties in their front gardens as I walked to some friends to watch it together. A rather bemused-looking middle-aged woman waited torch aloft for the oncoming circus. And circus it was, the Coca-Cola bus threw small bottles of their product at us and the Samsung bus dispensed clappers while screaming exhortations through a loudspeaker (they might have been shouting, Consume! Consume! but I couldn’t be sure). The Lloyds Bank bus as is popular with their trade, did nothing but demand our attention. On my return home the families were thankfully still there and in true British style supping beer and sipping tea.
If the narrative of the torch was a grubby disconnect from real people with individual enjoyment and the avaricious desires of corporation at odds with one another, then the pre-Games behaviour of the Olympic organising committee LOCOG was even worse. Their role seemed to be as henchmen for corporations scouring the country for the smallest signs of deviation from semiotic monopoly. Infamous and ridiculous in equal measure a butcher in Weymouth with the temerity to display sausages in the shape of the five rings was subject to their attention as was a café offering a “Flaming Torch Baguette”.
With private company G4S making such a massive Horlicks of security provision the British Army needed to cover the shortfall with 4,500 troops the run-up to the events themselves suggested a re-run of the 1996 Atlanta Games blighted by corporate prominence and logistical incompetence. Then everything changed. Somehow a chippy yet chipper Lancastrian of working-class Irish Catholic stock had been allowed to direct the Opening Ceremony just as he had his grimy classics Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire. I believe Danny Boyle began the process of a fortnight of reinventing what it is to be British and reclaiming the Union Flag from the far right.
In the space of 24 hours my Olympics opinion was turned 180 degrees from cynicism to strong attachment. I’ve never been a fan of Games ceremonies consisting as they do of either expressions of totalitarian regiment or state ideas of what represents “entertainment” and would not have watched the opening extravaganza had I not been at work. Boyle gloriously redefined the genre by eschewing the traditional model and focusing instead on a social history of modernism in Britain through the industrial revolution until the present.
People were represented doing what they do; working, playing, sharing relationships and caring for each other. It was a cultural performance only this country of world nations could have managed to pull off either in concept or execution. Most significantly he didn’t forget a Great British tradition – taking the piss out of ourselves. Inserting internationally known icons James Bond and Mr Bean into the show was genius, as was getting the reigning monarch to participate in the joke – even if that appeared the limit of her engagement.
In contrast my engagement was growing by the hour. The next morning I had tickets for the Olympic Park along with a trip up the Orbit, the red steel tower designed by artist Anish Kapoor. Along with partner Jane and a couple of friends we spent four happy hours marvelling at the facilities and enjoying the atmosphere. Particularly impressive were the swathes of landscaping covered not on manicured grass but meadows of wild flowers in bloom. Access was easy, soldiers friendly, volunteers helpful and other visitors chatty – an underestimated virtue in London. Even if the catering facilities were poorly stocked, of doubtful quality yet expensively priced the four of us exited the park enthused.
That excitement grew over the next week as the British team collected medal after medal culminating in Day Eight, nicknamed Super Saturday, which included a haul of six golds including a celebratory evening of track and field success. Jessica Ennis won the Heptathlon, Greg Rutherford the Long Jump and Mo Farah the 10,000 metres to prompt the Twitter joke, “A mixed-race woman, ginger man and Islamic refugee walk into a pub – and everyone buys them a drink!” For those of us who find multiculturalism a thing to be enjoyed not feared it was a triumph. In contrast Tory MP Aidan Burley’s Tweets following the Opening Ceremony seemed to sum up another Britain; the churlish and out-dated attitudes of the Little Englander. Never mind, he was probably worth a medal for his subsequent performance in the 1,500 metres backpedalling.
Work was a joy as I watched, wrote up and live-blogged ordinary people performing extraordinary feats. In contrast to the usual diet of saturation reality shows and soaps on television here was a different narrative. Style had been replaced by substance as the BBC joined the mood, put aside the soaked-to-the-bone misery of the Diamond Jubilee and provided some stunning reporting and punditry. Gabby Logan, Clare Balding and Michael Johnson were interesting, knowledgeable and professional – attitudes we seldom think of in connection with football coverage – and the true to form lazy efforts of Lineker, Hansen and Lawrenson shouldn’t detract from the overall stellar level.
Politically the big losers were the Conservative party even if London Mayor Boris Johnson’s star continues to rise. The success of Team GB (a term I loathe by the way) was a reverse of the current fashion for austerity and proved just how useful public spending is in promoting excellence. The lamentable efforts of private corporation G4S to provide a service stood in contrast. In particular Prime Minister David Cameron took a hiding. From an Opening Ceremony that hailed the NHS, an organisation currently being dismembered by his coalition, to a series of public appearances that coincided with GB sporting failure and a magnificently ill-timed announcement the government were to scrap the compulsory two hours a week of PE in schools the Tories took a hit. No wonder the PM’s exasperated and anxious advisors recommended he stay away from events.
Sadly the Olympics feeling appears to be evaporating as quickly as it grew with the Closing Ceremony a return to pre-Games cynicism. The “Now That’s What I Call 90s” extravaganza shared no narrative and offered little promise beyond stultifying Saturday nights in front of the TV being “entertained” by talentless celebrities re-hashing past moments of vague achievement. From Jessica Ennis to Jessie J at the twitch of a remote control. Beyond all reason I hope the metaphorical Olympic flame stays lit in our consciousness beyond the actual tournament. More prosaically I wonder if the last fortnight is doomed to be another Princess Di moment; a huge emotional jolt to our collective psyche at the time but forgotten in a blink.
Watford fans are celebrating the appointment of Gianfranco Zola as manager and Gianluca Nani technical director following the sacking of previous boss Sean Dyche by new club owners the Pozzo family. It is the well-liked Italian’s first appointment since himself being ruthlessly dismissed after 20 months in charge of the Hammers. When I say “well-liked” I’m afraid that doesn’t include me. His second season in charge of West Ham was probably the most miserable I’ve seen even including the two most recent relegations in 2003 and 2011. As much as football support is based on the primacy of schadenfreude I can’t but feel sorry for the Hornets.
Appointed in September 2008 as a “unanimous choice” following the resignation of Alan Curbishley, Zola was the surprise package of a shortlist that included current Parma head coach Roberto Donadoni, Croatian boss Slaven Bilic and present Swansea manager Michael Laudrup. Thought to be the favourite pick of Sporting Director Gianluca Nani (in turn brought to the club by Curbishley to oversee foreign transfers) Zola’s only experience of management was with the Italian under-21 side and he didn’t even possess a full UEFA coaching licence.
Zola’s role was seen as central to “The Project”, a piece of PR fluff that originated from CEO Scott Duxbury, was said to be a method for sustainable growth but in reality was a cover for asset-stripping the club of their most valuable talent. The idea was young players both via the academy and brought in from other clubs were to be developed and sold at a profit while maintaining a Premier League first team. Nani was in charge of this process but appeared to act less like a scout and more an on-the-books agent. Of all the players bought during his reign none were sold at a profit.
Some sympathy most be extended to Zola and assistant manager Steve Clarke even if they were on some of the highest wages in the country despite the clubs losing tens of millions. Duxbury and Nani were engaging in a degradation of the squad with first teamers Bobby Zamora, Matthew Etherington, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand and Hayden Mullins all sold. Diego Tristan, Radoslav Kovac, Fabio Daprela, Manuel Da Costa and Herita Ilunga were brought in but all proved to be poor substitutes. However, Zola’s decision to reconvene his professional tie with Nani at Vicarage Rd would suggest he was at the very least comfortable with the relationship.
Worst of all, Craig Bellamy, a Premier League striker of real quality (albeit injured for much of his time at West Ham) was replaced by the 19-year-old Savio Nsereko, a largely unknown striker from Germany of Ugandan parentage in a deal laughably said to be £9million but probably closer to £500,000. The poor lad made just one start for the club, never scored, suffered mocking for a lack of ability on the training ground and was last seen on loan at a minor Romanian club suffering from “personal problems”.
Duxbury has been linked with an administrative role at Vicarage Rd. A solicitor brought to the club by former Chairman Terry Brown he was the man who lied to the Premier League over the Carlos Tevez affair. He also forced Curbishley to resign by selling players from under him before being admonished by a judge for taking falsified transfer requests at Curbishley’s subsequent tribunal – a case the manager won. Although not entirely down to him losses incurred by the club for the two incidents total over £30m. Following the collapse of the Iceland banking system and subsequent disappearance of owner Björgólfur Guðmundsson, the club fell into the hands of Duxbury whom I’m led to believe by staff I’ve spoken with treated the place as a personal fiefdom. Perks included a Docklands flat as he rode around town in a club-leased Aston Martin.
Zola’s initial impact at the club was poor. Changing from Curbishley’s favoured 4-4-2 formation with two wingers to a Christmas tree affair with little width and two playmakers behind a target-man proved troublesome for the players, not least the midfield three. Too often other sides sat deep, smothered the link between midfield and front three as they exploited space down the flanks with counter-attacks. Zola’s system was pretty to watch but lacked goal threat by relying too much on the lone striker. Had Dean Ashton been fit and firing it could have worked well but with Carlton Cole – not a natural goalscorer – in place games were often tight. Ironically one of Zola’s few successes was getting Cole, a player with enormous talent but fragile self-confidence, to play somewhere close to his potential. His goal in a 1-0 away win at Wigan in the middle of an eight-game unbeaten run promised much for the future and helped propel the side to a ninth-place finish.
Unfortunately that was as good as things got. At the start of season 09-10 the club sold defender James Collins to buy attacker Diamanti leaving just promising youngster James Tomkins and hothead Da Costa to partner Matthew Upson in the centre of defence. Worse still, captain and right-back Lucas Neill had left the club with no real replacement leading to winger Julien Faubert playing right-back. Ilunga at left-back forgot all his first season form and the side always looked likely to leak goals. The Project just wasn’t providing the quality and quantity of players required. Youngsters Junior Stanislas and Zavon Hines showed promise but the rigours of regular top flight football were ultimately too much for them. It’s a tribute to Tomkins he seems to have recovered confidence after a gruelling baptism even if Jack Collison’s initial good form has been subsequently hampered by injury.
Although Burnley, Hull and Portsmouth were three of the worst teams seen in the Premier League the side struggled for results. Close games invariably seemed to drift away from us with Zola lacking the ability to wrest wins from tight encounters. Changes of formation from Christmas Tree to diamond then 4-4-2 and back again seemed to make no difference. By Christmas the side were only a place off the bottom with rumours of dressing-room rifts between the Italian-speakers (Valon Behrami, Luis Jimenez, Da Costa and Diamanti were seen as favourites) and the rest.
Honest players such as Scott Parker, Mark Noble and new captain Upson were having to deal with Diamanti and Jimenez for whom defending was optional at best yet seemed to treat the position of the club as something of a joke. That directly reflected the attitude of the a manager who considered himself a coach, had little input in transfer policy and during his 20 months at the club never once watched another side. For Zola, impressing the youngsters in training appeared to be as important as winning games.
In January 2010 everything changed. Porn barons David Sullivan and Gold bought into the club, took a couple of weeks to have a look around, gave Duxbury the choice of resignation or a hefty court case and set about maintaining the club’s status in the top flight. Clarke insisted the player to keep the club up was Blackburn’s out of form and overweight striker Benni McCarthy. On the 23rd of March a 3-1 home defeat against Wolves was quite simply one of the worst games I’ve seen from a West Ham side. There seemed to be no direction, no leadership on or off the field and no confidence to carry out allotted tasks.
Tensions rose between the owners and management team as they demanded Zola act like a “proper” manager. In turn he snapped and for the first time went to the press complaining of management interference. Hardly surprising as he’d been allowed to do what he liked under the terms of The Project with little sanction. Subsequent wins against Sunderland and Wigan after finally dropping Diamanti staved off relegation but the board had seen enough. 35 points from a 38 game season was the lowest ever from a side staying up. Zola had won 23 games from his 80 in charge; a success rate of 29 per cent, the worst of any Hammers boss. Two days after the close of the season Brady sacked the Italian during a 10-minute meeting. Frankly, I’m surprised she took that long.
Last August partner Jane and I enjoyed a relaxing holiday in a Croatian resort near the town of Poreč. The weather was hot, hotel excellent and scenery stunning. After a summer of shift work for me and an arduous if exciting holiday earlier in the year travelling around northern India we felt we owed it to each other to slob out for a week reading and eating ice cream. The only slight dampener on an otherwise great week was Jane complaining over a toe that was hurting her.
We laughed it off as a touch of gout due to the plentiful supply of free wine with our meals, or maybe, as I joked while we celebrated her birthday on the Tuesday, a touch of old-age arthritis. Arriving back in Blighty suitably refreshed Jane did the right thing by seeing her GP who in turn sent her for tests. It turned out it wasn’t gout, or osteoarthritis but something potentially nastier. The bloods revealed a high reading for rheumatoid factor. Jane was going to live the rest of her life battling rheumatoid arthritis.
Like many people I’ve spoken with since I had no idea what RA is (beyond thinking it a popular Scouse expression denoting the user feels hard done by). A quick bit of research and I learned while osteoarthritis is a wear and tear disease related to ageing and mechanical trauma, rheumatoid (there’s a growing movement towards dropping the arthritis) is an auto immune disease that as well as degrading skeletal joints can also affect eyes, heart and lungs. Similar to lupus, Crohn’s Disease and Guillain Barré syndrome the body recognises its own tissue as pathogens and attacks them.
My initial reaction on receiving the news was fear. Selfishly I considered how I would cope with Jane’s emotional needs and her increased and increasing physical difficulties. Most worrying was my own revulsion toward disability although a more subtle concern (and with more cause as it has turned out) was the disease would over-ride all other considerations within our relationship. Aware of my subconscious belief that to be strong is to deal with something, Jane soon supported me by hiding the full extent of her symptoms – a reaction that owed much to years of dealing with and comparing herself against her emotionally erratic valetudinarian mother. Fortunately over the intervening time, I’ve regained my senses and attempted to persuade her that if she’s feeling sorry for herself it really is ok to express it, especially to me.
The deterioration in Jane’s condition over the past 10 months has been terrifying – with her hands suffering most. Now she can find it hard to grip, particularly in the morning. I attempt every support although sometimes this is difficult. When for instance she rang and told me how she’d sat on the side of the bath in tears because she couldn’t wash her hair, once alone I was weeping my own tears – mainly of fury at the injustice of it all. Fortunately a right knee so swollen it was severely restricting her mobility has calmed down following an uncomfortable procedure drawing fluid out of the knee before firing a corticosteroid back in. Not so happily, support groups on the internet have provided little help, with Jane unready and/or unwilling to read other people’s horror stories.
All of life involves learning and the role I’ve slipped into is that of trying to maintain an evenness of emotional response. That means attempting to prevent the lows becoming unbearable but also the highs mountainous. And there have been plenty of peaks, even if some of them are relative. An early boost was a very good friend of Jane’s meeting socially with an experienced nurse working on a clinical trial unit at the nearest hospital. Through the contact Jane signed up for a drug trial and was able to temporarily avoid methotrexate, the standard treatment for RA. Known as a DMARD (disease-modifying antirheumatic drug) this drug is used in stronger doses for chemotherapy and is obviously best avoided if possible. Although a double blind trial we know Jane is taking fostamatinib due to some small but distinct side-effects.
As an example of the fluctuating nature of life these days the biggest low so far was immediately followed by a high. The care Jane receives on the trial is second to none. And because the disease can affect the lungs one of the myriad tests she took was a chest X-Ray. Checked by an outside agency the results immediately came back “suspected interstitial lung disease”. Following a very distressed phone call at home a quick tap into Google and I was horrified to read an article claiming the main treatment for ILD is transplant. My mum, dad and I rushed down to London from Suffolk on a Tuesday to provide what support we could.
We need not have bothered. Another even more tearful phone call the next day revealed the agency had cocked up their analysis. Jane’s team had pored over the scans and could find nothing at all untoward. I couldn’t be angry about the situation, and do understand why it’s always better to give a positive reading when there is nothing wrong rather than the other way around. As with many of these moments (the joy of finding your mislaid car keys can sometimes outweigh the frustration at losing them in the first place) the emotional positives emerge triumphant. After further research as well as some good advice from my nurse sister I later discovered ILD can be not much worse than the asthma I’ve suffered for all of my life and is in fact a generic term to cover many diseases.
And I suppose that is the point; my asthma isn’t something that bothers me any more than being short-sighted or suffering from migraines and so on. It’s quite likely Jane will have massive remissions between flare-ups and cope quite well. She still has employment at the same job in front of a keyboard and can continue walking both to work and for leisure. Most important however, is the growing realisation of just how much love and support we have around us. Several people have quietly come to me and expressed their concern I might be suffering from a lack of support – but as kind as their words are (and they are massively appreciated) I don’t feel like I need much at all. It’s Jane’s disease. As I’ve said in previous blogs, Jane taught me the value of kindness – now I can repay her.
To much excitement my ticket came through the post this morning and for the first time in 31 years I’m off to Wembley with West Ham. Although we journeyed together to Cardiff’s excellent Millennium Stadium for three consecutive years between 2004 and 2006, the League Cup final in 1981 was of a different football age. That match against Liverpool was the Hammers third visit to Wembley in two seasons following an FA Cup win against Arsenal and Charity Shield defeat to the same Anfield outfit. As an example of the different prevailing attitudes our then manager the late John Lyall (by every account a decent man) stole the next day’s headlines after he told referee Clive Thomas (a deliberately controversial referee) he’d felt “cheated” by a decision to allow an Alan Kennedy goal despite Sammy Lee lying in an offside position and interfering with play.
Not a season ticket holder at the time I’d had the presence of mind to claim tickets prior to the semi-final against Coventry via the Sunday league club I played for and unfortunately my dad and I were placed in the Liverpool end. As we watched Ray Stewart slide an injury-time extra-time equalising penalty past Ray Clemence I don’t think I would have bet on it taking over three decades for a return. I certainly wouldn’t have had any idea of the changes in the game I love in the interim. For a start it was another six years until play-offs came into being and not until 1990 were the finals played at Wembley. Even despite the present slight fluttering in my stomach which I know will slowly grow until peaking at dysenteric level some time next Saturday I believe play-offs to be inherently unfair.
Having played 46 games to decide an order of merit it is entirely perverse sides should then enter into a cup competition for promotion. As an example, my team benefited in 2005 from beating first Ipswich then Preston to gain promotion despite finishing sixth. Conversely this year’s final pits us against Blackpool, a team we beat 4-0 and 4-1 in the league. Perhaps there might be a justification if say, the top six sides played-off. But third to sixth seems arbitrary at best. The “reward” of finishing second in the table is less than our day out in Cardiff and doesn’t have the possibility of a trophy. Surely natural justice would legislate against the game of football rewarding failure in such spectacular fashion? But no, play-offs have been deemed a success by TV, and the hundreds of millions spent on Wembley need to be justified, so the FA collectively tug their forelock before counting the cash.
And let’s be absolutely clear about this, the flood of TV money since the second Taylor Report post-Hillsborough has done little for the game. Financial rewards are the highest they have ever been yet because of the huge disparity in reward between placings there has never been more debt – the Premier League alone loses close to half a billion pounds each season. Driven by the insatiable desire of supporters, clubs leverage themselves in order to grab the next rung on the ladder. So prevalent has the borrowing become any club remiss enough to keep a grip on finance is all but guaranteed a slide down the leagues – witness the recent demise of “well-run” clubs Charlton and Crewe. We are constantly told the play-off final is the “biggest prize in football” as if fans measure success in the folding stuff. The claim is of course nonsense either way – far from banking the money, boardrooms will immediately spend it on the wages of players needed to keep the side at their new level.
The ease with which competent foreign players can be bought in has led to a vicious circle of poor coaching in this country and a removal of the admittedly already waning local identity of clubs. As an example, the West Ham side that drew with Liverpool contained four home-grown players (five if you count Alan Devonshire) and seven born within the M25. In contrast, the Hammers XI that beat Cardiff in their play-off semi-final last week consisted of a notable three products of the youth team but a mere two native to London. Little surprise Canning Town-born Mark Noble’s No16 shirt is the club shop’s best seller.
For the fans who attend games the startling improvement in comfort of grounds has come at a heavy price. Although Dad and I are unlikely to forget the rivers of Scouse piss sluicing down Wembley’s rotting terraces, the cost of attending football has, in a total inversion of that which were told prior to the nascence of the Premiership, rocketed. My FA Cup final ticket of 1980 cost me £3.50 or assuming a 40-hour week just over an hours’ work at the then national average wage of £6,000. Today, even the cheapest ticket at £38 for an inferior competition would take around three hours’ work at an average wage of £26,000.
Once it was the Police who decided when games were to be played, now it’s Sky with scarcely a passing concern for supporters. This season’s away game at Brighton – pencilled in at the start of the campaign as a weekend away with or without the missus – was scheduled for a Saturday kick-off. Yet Sky moved the game to a Monday night only after tickets had been bought, travel arranged and hotels booked. So much for their doubtful advertising claim, “Football – we know how you feel about it – cos we feel the same.” Although a qualitative judgement, I doubt many who have experienced 30-years of football would say anything other than the atmosphere at games has plummeted, hence the ever more desperate attempts of clubs and TV to “sell” the game. Thankfully, the owners of West Ham have come out against pre-recorded goal celebrations – even if I suspect this to be a reprieve rather than full pardon.
As a comparison between the games that preceded it and our previous final 23 years earlier the 2004 play-off final against Crystal Palace was illuminating. It was my last match of a 56-game season – the only time I’ve been ever present throughout an entire campaign – and irrationally I felt my commitment should be rewarded with a win. However, unlike the semi-final home leg against Ipswich (brilliantly stage-managed by then manager Alan Pardew to produce an atmosphere) I felt more of a spectator than supporter. Mr Woo juggling a football prior to kick-off had nothing to do with my experience of football, nor did the various other “entertainments” on show, all of which belonged to TV. And despite the 30-odd thousand West Ham present there wasn’t any “heart” to the crowd as you get at Upton Park in the Bobby Moore Lower Stand or the gloriously named “Chav Corner” between the Alpari and Sir Trevor Brooking Stands.
Like John Lyall I felt cheated – and not least as Palace won to complete my worst day as a West Ham supporter. Worse than relegation the previous season and much worse than the shoot-out FA Cup final defeat to Liverpool two years later that didn’t feel like a loss at all. As joyous as it was to gain promotion with a play-off victory against Preston the following season, the post-match emotion was more vindication than victory. And that’s the biggest problem with play-offs – you have so much more to lose than gain.
None of which can stop me being just as excited over going to Wembley as I was 31 years ago. Maybe all this is my fault?
I was standing in the away end at the Valley, Charlton, and it was simply hosing it down as West Ham attempted to hold onto a 2-1 lead with a bit over a quarter of an hour on the clock. Despite an arthritic knee and what pace he ever possessed forever gone former Hammers hero Julian Dicks had been asked to play in an unfamiliar wingback role and was taking a chasing from Addicks right-back Danny Mills. Worse still Charlton boss Alan Curbishley, along with everybody else in the stadium, spotted Dicks’ distress and doubled up on him by bringing on substitute winger John Robinson. When I say “everybody” I mean all bar the West Ham manager. Despite having the useful French wide player Marc Keller on the bench he failed to act – Mills banged one in and Andy Hunt and Neil Redfearn grabbed a late goal each to give our South London cousins a 4-2 victory. I walked back to the car in Anchor and Hope Lane unable to believe any manager worth his name could have been so tactically inept. Soaked to the bone, angry and confused – that Saturday in October 1998 was the day I stopped believing in Harry Redknapp.
My journey with the man began almost 30 years earlier with a match at Upton Park against Stoke City. Seated with Dad in the recently opened East Stand two memories from my first ever visit to the Boleyn Ground remain. A dull 0-0 draw closed with a woman running onto the pitch to attack the referee. Off the pitch my spectator experience, as it would no doubt be called today, was enhanced by the mainly good-natured but relentless barracking of West Ham’s spindly right-winger. “Oi Redknapp! Stick yer tongue out – you’ll look like a zip”, they chortled, “How about starching that number seven on yer shirt – give yer some backbone”, they laughed. For me, versed only in primary school banter it was inexplicable how fans might not treat players as heroes. But even at nine-years-old the truth was as obvious to me as it was them. Harry was chicken.
Redknapp hung around the club for a couple of years more before coming to the same conclusion as all his “admirers” and leaving for Division Three side Bournemouth. His return came from the same club – this time in a coaching capacity and following a spell in the United States – as understudy to manager Billy Bonds while the club languished in the second tier. Following an initial struggle Harry’s presence revived the side as they played with energy and enjoyment, gained promotion and consolidated their position with a 13th place finish in the new Premier League. Bonds jumped/was pushed, Harry took over and the club established itself as a mid-table side over the next few seasons.
Even if there were obvious faults to be rectified (our away form and propensity to fall apart under pressure, for instance) Redknapp appeared to be doing a good job. His buys were astute and our home form remained solid. But Harry’s profile in the media seemed to bear an inverse relationship with his ability to manage the club. Journalists loved the crafty Cockney rent-a-quote even if in person he could be extremely brusque and quick to anger. Along with the fame came a biography and a telling insight into the man – but not in a good way. Ghosted by Derek McGovern it was little more than a series of justifications for a host of allegations many of which were never made in the first place. It was also rather, shall we say, slippery with the facts. Despite claiming to have made “no money out of football” and leaving Bournemouth £2.5million in debt he arrived at West Ham living out of Sandbanks on Poole Harbour, one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the country.
Fortunately the book also went a long way to confirming personality traits I would argue define his subsequent career. As yellow as he may have been on the pitch, Redknapp is ruthless on an interpersonal level and extremely difficult to deal with. Examples from the book include spats with friends Barry Fry and Peter Storrie. Even Sir Clive Woodward, author of the England rugby side’s 2003 World Cup win, found him impossible to work with as he attempted a role as Performance Director while both were at Southampton.
Club Chairman at the time Terry Brown claims in Brian Belton’s biography Brown Out Harry was tactically illiterate and relied heavily on first Frank Burrows then brother-in-law Frank Lampard. As somebody who went to a lot of away games over that period I’d echo those sentiments. Time upon time we would travel with a 3-5-2 formation – used ostensibly to accommodate a playmaker such as Eyal Berkovic or Joe Cole only for it to quickly become 5-3-2 with three static centre-halves as soon as we came under pressure. After yet another heavy defeat Harry would brush off questions about the performance with claims such as, “These lads wouldn’t know how to defend” and expect nobody to question why he had first bought then selected them. Perhaps his behaviour when “accused” of being “a wheeler and a dealer” by a Sky reporter gives us a clue?
As a motivator Harry employed a pretty simple technique. Build a large squad before dividing it into pariahs and teacher’s pets. Given his force of personality nobody would want to be on the wrong end of a Redknapp tongue-lashing. For the huge majority of players there’s nothing worse than being dropped and I’ve heard several top flight managers observe the only way to motivate them is with the threat of not playing. Multiply that by the knowledge falling out with your boss would ensure you’d never be picked and it’s a pretty useful if ruthless model. A case in point was the previously mentioned Keller – who never enjoyed a run in the team despite some very good one-off performances. Jermain Defoe would no doubt sympathise too.
Perhaps Harry’s vague association with truthfulness was a concern for the FA regarding the England manager’s appointment. When appointed West Ham boss following Redknapp’s sacking, relative unknown Glenn Roeder was asked which attribute he could bring to his new job. “Honesty” was the immediate reply, a declaration that in true Harry fashion led to a series of putdowns in the press. In reality, it was easy to see Roeder’s point, after a nasty training ground fight between Berkovic and John Hartson denied by Redknapp but filmed by Sky a case in point. From my vantage I was interested to witness a TV appearance where Redknapp claimed a whole series of events during a game against Bradford that simply never happened. A former colleague of mine worked for the Newham Recorder and shared a good relationship with H. Post-presser the cub reporter would be summoned to Harry’s office to be told. “What I said out there was a load of bollocks, this is what’s really going on…” An indication perhaps, the man is less the cheerful duffer the press would have us believe but more of a ruthless operator.
It surely can’t be coincidence that every club H has departed have been left in severe financial distress. I’m going to have to be very careful what I say here, especially as a recent court case brought by HMRC absolved Redknapp of any tax misdeeds. Suffice to say, the more money H spent at West Ham the less value we seemed to receive from it. Great signings such as Trevor Sinclair from QPR declined and were outweighed by washed-up rubbish like Titi Camara and Gary Charles. As time went by players appeared to be bought to serve not the team but agents. As an inveterate gambler Harry didn’t seem able to develop from a punt to purchasing solid players. In Tom Bower’s tome Broken Dreams Brown is said to become increasingly frustrated with his signings and offers Redknapp a proportion of any money gained above £15million for the sale of Rio Ferdinand if he would stop buying players. All of which begs the question who was signing the cheques? Scriptwriter and director Tony Grounds is a good mate and pre-match drinking buddy (not that I drink that much) I met through football and would no doubt say his Channel Four film All In The Game about a corrupt football manager had nothing to do with our West Ham. I’d merely invite you to watch it and make up your own mind.
One of Harry’s proudest boasts concerns the players he “brought through” at West Ham. Happy to claim credit for the development of Ferdinand, Frank Lampard jnr, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick – even Defoe – who played exactly 13 minutes for Redknapp – the sad truth is those players were moulded into what they were by the West Ham Academy Director Tony Carr and with the possible exception of Lampard all needed a different manager to develop.
All these things and more are known by FA committee member Trevor Brooking who was a non-executive director of the club for much of Redknapp’s tenure. So it’s hardly likely he would have been an advocate when it came to the Three Lions job. Privately Harry will be fuming. But I rather wonder if there isn’t a tiny part of him that’s glad. For the truth is, stripped of the day-to-day involvement of a football club Redknapp may well have been exposed at the top level – especially as to misquote Enoch Powell, “All managerial careers end in failure.” His honeymoon period would undoubtedly have been longer than Roy Hodgson – the man who got the job – but by God Harry wouldn’t want to lose the people who’ve been his best ally all these years – the press.