Don’t bring Harry … Redknapp

We've got Harry, Harry, Harry, Harry Redknapp on the wing, on the wing

Slim pickings: Harry Redknapp on the wing

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.


About Terry Land

West Ham supporter, freelance journalist, photographer, gardener and in possession of pink/green political values. Wedded to the idea health and happiness are best enhanced by the consumption of industrial quantities of curry and chocolate...

Posted on May 1, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Very accurate and perceptive view of the cult (nearly mis spelt that) of arry. As you say to resist the clamour for his appointment there must have been some very convincing argument made by those in the know and the fact that Sir Trev was on the other side of our new England manager may just hint as to where much sanity may have come from. Sadly part of me wanted to see Harry’s self, and over time press destruction in public and I rather expect he would have eventually looked very similar to the frightened animal in the headlights we knew so well as a player with no Billy Bonds to look after his rear. But then I still expect that to happen at Spurs (if later than initially anticipated), the masses are already expressing the early words of revolt and only top 2 will ever placate that bunch next season, assuming he survives till then.

    Oh Im the blurry one in the background of that pic.

  2. Nice piece that explains some of my intuitive misgivings about the the landslide of support for Redknapp after Fabio went. Here’s my take on today’s appalling Sun headline. I’ve included a link to your piece.

  3. Very well-researched and written article. It is odd that Harry came into the West Ham setup during a period when the club allegedly only took on ‘the right sort’. If that concept was anything more than window dressing for the public (and there were obviously some shady characters around then, although ‘the right sort’ during the late 1960s in the East End of London may have allowed for a greater degree of latitude compared to what it may have meant elsewhere), then it is hard to see what he picked up from the experience. Certainly compared to the values presented on the inscription on the Bobby Moore Statue outside Wembley – values that admittedly may be romanticised to the point of being impossible to live up to – Harry lacks in just about every area, even compared to the reality of Moore, who was a great player but no angel in private. Instead of aspiring to emulate Moore, a man he was picked alongside during his playing career at West Ham, he seems to have based his entire career, publicly at least, on that other London hero Del Boy Trotter.

    The resulting public persona is not without its appeal: the image of the crafty underdog, fighting above his weight and winning against better-fed but less wily adversaries, chimes with folk myths that have run through British culture since time immemorial. But it only really works if the hero is really as wily and essesntially good at heart as he makes out. Sadly, there were times during his managerial period at the Hammers when Harry seemed to be operating on the transfer market using the bingo principle: picking at random and hoping his numbers came up. Likewise, there have been many indications during his career where the good-natured cockney wheeler-dealer has proved to be anything but.

    Ultimately, I don’t think Harry is a bad human being. However, as you point out, he has a lot to thank the media for. And while I always felt at the time that Harry’s departure from Upton Park during a period when the club was actually doing comparatively well was odd, after all these years the gap between that public persona and what may really have been going on behind the scenes certainly seems to be a big enough hole to swallow a man up.

  4. Great article, but how many times do I need to be reminded to copy my long and involved (but obviously witty and hilarious) response first, before pressing ‘post’, in case the internet asks me to log in, only for it to disappear into the ether afterwards? *Sigh.*

  5. And yes, I spotted the Stranglers reference, too!

  6. Fareastender

    I wonder how much the demands of Daniel Levy effected the appointment. I’ve no doubt that the FA would have spoken to him prior to talking to Redknapp and were probably given a financial demand that they would never been able to accommodate.

    Good article and good supporting links.

  7. Oh, it’s back. Ha ha! Wittiness and humour can now be judged on their own merits. Happy days!

  8. I enjoyed it even tho I don’t follow or even understand football…………………hence and because I know you quite well and of course admire you I really think its time you wrote more about everyday life Terry……thats what I like about you or mass knowledge about most things

  9. Nice knife job. You seem to have missed out the bits about Redknapp being the best manager the club has had in recent times, not least because of the brand of football and flair players he encouraged. You clearly have never met him or spent any time with him either. Perfect? Far from it. But based on what you’ve written I know who I’d rather be in the trenches with and Harry’s been far more successful in his career than you, thats for sure.

    • Hello Mark

      Thanks for your reply. I’ve met Harry Redknapp on many occasions and found him at different times to be either incredibly warm and amenable or rude, ignorant and arrogant. I must say, I’ve never noticed a middle ground – he’s either playing the “Good Ole ‘Arry” role or reverting to what I’d suggest is closer to his “real” character. I’ve met a lot of football managers in my time and never come across such a divide.

      I don’t agree with you he was our best manager in recent times, his “brand of football” as you describe it, led to almost constant disappointment away from home. I also believe, as I say, players needed to move to progress and after three or four years of progress under Redknapp the team not only stagnated but moved backwards – his last season saw us narrowly escape relegation.

      Most important of course, is the legacy he left the club – which was of a sub-standard squad on huge wages. With Harry you need to look at the full package – and the truth is, Spurs are the first club he’s left that aren’t in severe financial stress.

      Finally, I’m not sure why you feel the need to throw personal stuff at me. I’ve paid you the courtesy of first publishing your post, then replying in a courteous manner. I’d ask you to do the same.


  10. It’s easy for the writer to criticise Harry but the fact is that he has been very successful in most of his management roles including West Ham. I always liked Harry as a manager. I thought he did a tremendous job with limited resources and used good tactics that suited West Ham at that time.

    I remember that he was fired for publicly calling out Terry Brown’s written assurance to OLAS that all the Rio money would be spent on transfers when it was a blatantly obvious to all fans that Brown had lied. Brown has been universally reviled for his ineffective contributions to WH yet Harry gets the bad press?

    Sure there have been questions about Harry’s integrity but, that is also true of the current WH manager, Sam Allardyce. Few are ready to question Allardyce’s 4-3-3 tactics that always look like 4-5-1 to anyone with more than 1 braincell; BFS’s denial of “long-ball tactics” when it is plain to see and admitted in the press by players that WH play “hoof-ball”; the procession of ex-Bolton players (for years the example for bad football) that are now WH regulars: the pursuit of 6 foot plus African muscle bound athletes for our team; BFS’s connections to certain agents and so on. And the author criticises the man that played some “triffic football”?

    Harry Redknapp has been successful at virtually every club he has managed yet vague comments like “It surely can’t be coincidence that every club H has departed have been left in severe financial distress” are just cheap shots. I wonder how much “financial distress” Tottenham are feeling right now compared to the threatened relegation they felt when he was first brought in?

    Financial management is not the responsibility of football managers. That is the responsibility of directors to decide the budgets and what is spent. Every football manager should ask his directors for more money to buy better players. It is up to the person that signs the cheque to say yes or no.

    It’s fashionable to kick a man while he’s down in this modern age, especially if one that managed our deadly rivals. He qualified Tottenham for CL football but for the unexpected Chelsea victory. He was everyone’s favourite for the England job and now he’s out of work. Well, Mr Land, you are probably right that he should never return to WH but not for the prejudicial reasons you have written about.

    I will always remember Harry’s time as WH manager as some of the best years I have had supporting WH home and away. The football was superb at times and even when we lost we did so having played football. We had players that were, as you point out, raised by Tony Carr but it took a manager that appreciated skill to bring them through with patience. How many of Tony Carr’s recruits have made it since Harry left? How many have been shown the door by the current manager?

    Thanks Harry and good luck with whatever you do in future. Some of us won’t forget your contribution even if you are a bit dodgy at times….

    • Thanks for your comments, I’m always pleased even if they don’t agree with me.

      1. You say Redknapp has always been a successful manager, I say he leaves a terrible long-term legacy.

      2. Redknapp was fired for buying sub-standard players to line his own pocket. Read Tom Bower’s Broken Dreams.

      3. Redknapp went beyond profiting from transfers and started buying players merely so he could profit. A different kettle of fish.

      4. At Tottenham Redknapp finally met with a chairman prepared to stand up to him. I don’t think anybody seriously thought Spurs would finish the season where they were whoever was manager.

      5. Finances are the responsibility of the manager if he’s buying players to line his pocket or blackmailing the Chairman.

      6. I wrote this blog at the time Roy Hodgson was appointed England manager. Redknapp was still at Tottenham. Hardly “kicking a man when he’s down”.

      7. As I’ve pointed out, it took a change of manager to bring the best out of our Academy products.

      • My response is that –
        1. I said in my original piece that it is the manager’s duty to get the club to spend as much as they can afford on players. If directors spend more than they can afford it is simply ridiculous to blame an employee however senior he might be.

        2. I haven’t read Broken Dreams but I was a regular OLAS reader at the time and well remember that OLAS trapped Harry, in an interview they printed in full, to say how much he had spent on players from the Rio money. They then showed him a letter from Brown to OLAS saying that WH had spent the whole £12m (I think it was?) on new players.

        I thought then and still do today, that Terence Brown was not the kind of man to allow an employee free access to transfer cash. Brown lied about the money and like many Chairmen, passed the blame to an employee by firing him. There have been several investigations into Harry’s transfer dealings and he has never been found guilty of anything.

        Sure Harry may well have got a bung out of it but, that was what was happening with agents in those times. The current manager of WH had his son caught on camera discussing a bung deal for his father yet Harry is the one you chose to attack? Have you ever written about Sam’s transgressions in a blog or do you ride the wave of success until he becomes an ex-WH manager before saying anything negative about him?

        3. So says you and I know it is common internet gossip but really? What evidence do you have for that? At the time I was excited at the prospect of Titi Camara and Rigobert Song (I think it was), joining WH from successful Liverpool. Same as I was excited by many other players joining long since Harry left, that eventually turned out to be complete mingers and wastes of money….

        4. Not sure what you are saying here other than you admire the Tottenham Chairman. Personally, I think the Tottenham Chairman is an egotistical little shit that would stab his own grandmother (or more accurately pay someone to do it for him) for a quick buck. This is the man that paid investigators to do illegal searches into Olympic Stadium and West Ham officials to screw up our successful bid for the OS and got away with it remember. He’s also the man that said in the press that the FA would have to cough up £7m if they wanted Harry as England manager yet when he found out they didn’t fired him!

        So instead of feeling sorry for a man that took a relegation threatened club to their 3 highest finishes in recent years, you credit that man Levy for sacking someone for a reason you don’t know, purely on the basis of your dislike of that person? OK can’t argue with that.

        5. I am sorry but you clearly have no conception of how any business is run. I do not know of any football club where the team manager has anything to do with finance other than ask for it from the directors or their financial managers. You say Harry leaves a terrible legacy but did he do that at Tottenham? No he didn’t. He finished 4th, 5th and 4th again I think it was and then was rewarded with the sack. Maybe there is something there that Levy knows that we don’t but I suspect it had more to do with dressing up Tottenham with a smartly dressed, well spoken manager that fits Levy’s ideas better with an eye to a future sale than an East End cockney manager would….

        6. I apologise. I only read the article for the first time last night.

        7. What? Like Frank Lampard junior? Joe Cole? Rio Ferdinand? Michael Carrick? Just from memory all players first blooded by Harry. Not only that but he kept them in the team even when fans were baying for them to be dropped….

        It’s been interesting discussing it but I believe you will get far more sympathy than my argument would amongst most of our fans. Mostly because he’s become an unsavoury joke figure but that’s the way of the British press and public. Build ’em up so you can knock ’em down again.

        The return of Harry is not at all likely because we have a manager that has done well and deserves the opportunity to continue to do so. The fact is though that Sam Allardyce has given more concern to me than Harry Redknapp ever did.They both have a reputation for having taken bungs but Harry has played open attacking football and used wingers and creative players (like Paulo DiCanio) throughout his career so I forgive him his possible indiscretions and thank him for several years of fun football. BFS does it by playing bruising 6ft plus athletes that can kick a ball a long way but which would I rather have. Sorry but it would be someone like Redknapp every time….

  11. 1. Even when the manager is blackmailing the Chairman?

    2. You said that. Read the book.

    3. I have plenty of evidence which for obvious reasons I can’t put on here. Here’s a tip: Watch the Channel 4 film “All In The Game”. Written by a West Ham supporting mate of mine (who would deny in public it has anything to do with the Hammers) it details exactly what was going on. The only fiction is the Chairman’s son.

    4/5. I’m completely agnostic about Daniel Levy. My point was, the first club Redknapp managed with a Chairman who wouldn’t be bullied by Redknapp is the first one to remain financially unscathed on his leaving.

    7. With the exception of Lampard, all of them (and Defoe) needed a change of manager before they developed their potential.

    8. I was saying all these things (and more) while Redknapp was at the club.

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