If Harry Redknapp is Marmite, put a slice of bread in the toaster and pass me a knife so I can spread him on thick. I love the bloke
I realise that not everyone feels the same way. He’s clearly not flavour of this or any other month with Sir Trevor Brooking if there’s the slightest truth in the reports about the England job. And the way Billy Bonds was eased out to make way for Harry to take over as West Ham manager certainly left a nasty taste in the mouth. But that’s Marmite for you. Once addicted, you’re on the stuff for life.
I first got hooked on H as a kid. Not a game would go by without me lending my voice to the North Bank choir as we belted out the classic: “Harry, Harry Redknapp on the wi-ing!” It wasn’t that the carrottop winger was the best player in the side – far from it, in fact. But it was a catchy song, and I’d find myself humming it at less appropriate moments as well – like when I was required to stand in the corridor because I’d upset the geography teacher again. Be honest, I bet you’ve found yourself singing the Ludek Miklosko song under your breath while you’re waiting for the traffic lights to turn green on your way to work.
Redknapp’s record as a player isn’t much to write home about, really. Between 1965 and 1972 he made a total of 149 appearances for West Ham, scoring seven times. But the strength of his personality, a sharp wit and a talent for dropping the name of Bobby Moore into any conversation with a journalist elevated him to a status that wasn’t entirely deserved. Like most West Ham fans, I had mixed feelings when he got the manager’s job at Upton Park in 1994, becoming only the eighth in the club’s history. I wonder what his predecessors would have made of him?
Syd King, West Ham’s first gaffer, would have undoubtedly approved – if for no other reason than, like me, he claimed to have a taste for the sort of foodstuffs that divide a nation. In his case it was a stock cube. “When training, Oxo is the only beverage used by our team and all speak of the supreme strength and power of endurance which they have derived from its use,” appeared above his name on the back of a promotional postcard featuring a team photograph in 1904. And you thought commercialisation was something new?
King ruled the club for the best part of 30 years and, as with H, he had an eye for a transfer target. Among others, he signed Vic Watson – who is still the club’s record goalscorer (and with 326 goals to his name, is King ruled the club for the best part of 30 years and, as with H, he had an eye for a transfer target. Among others, he signed Vic Watson – who is still the club’s record goalscorer (and with 326 goals to his name, is likely to remain so). He also had a rare talent for upsetting the directors. But that’s where the similarities end.
There were suggestions that King trousered money to which he wasn’t entitled, for example, and that’s certainly not an accusation this columnist would ever think of levelling at Mr Henry James Redknapp. Charlie Paynter replaced King in 1933, remaining in charge until 1950. Like Redknapp, he took over at a difficult time for the club and turned things around (when isn’t it a difficult time at West Ham?) And he, too, was never short of a few words when asked his opinion about footballing matters.
Next up was Ted Fenton, who was intensely disliked by many of his leading players, not least club captain Malcolm Allison. But he was prepared to give the youngsters a chance, and just as Redknapp introduced the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole into the first team, Fenton promoted the likes of John Bond and Ken Brown – who went on to become club legends. Fenton’s successor was Ron Greenwood, who clearly thought enough of Redknapp to give him his chance in the first team. And, according to Harry’s former right-hand man Tony Adams, the master’s influence rubbed off on the pupil. “When he works I can see Ron Greenwood in him,” the former England captain once said.
How John Lyall and Lou Macari regarded Redknapp is anybody’s guess, but it’s no secret what Billy Bonds thought about his former mate after he took his chair in the manager’s office. The two men haven’t spoken since. Bonzo is West Ham’s greatest ever player in my eyes, but it could be argued that, as manager, he’d taken the club as far as it could go under his control and Redknapp offered something different.
It’s hard to imagine Bonds taking a punt on Paolo Di Canio, for example, but H was prepared to stick his neck out when the volatile Italian was shown the door by Sheffield Wednesday, and we all recall how much he brightened up our Saturday afternoons for four years. Not that Redknapp had an unblemished record as manager. Towards the end of his third season in charge, we were staring relegation in the face once more. In his immortal words, we needed snookers – and with the help of astute signings John Hartson and Paul Kitson we got them.
Some of his purchases, of course, weren’t so clever. Just mention Marco Boogers, Joey Beauchamp or Florin “two-bob” Raducioiu to any West Ham supporter of a certain age, and the chances are you will see a grown man cry. Perhaps Redknapp’s greatest achievement in his time at Upton Park was getting us back into Europe after an absence of almost 20 years. In 1998-99, with a team that included Marc Vivien-Foe and Shaka Hislop, we finished fifth.
Now, of course, Redknapp is at QPR after being out of the game for a little under six months. If they are going to escape the drop this year they are going to need more than snookers; divine intervention looks to be their best hope. If they stay up – and I hope they do – Redknapp will again have to live with the Harry Houdini headlines for a few days. Still, having been pulled from a burning vehicle while soaked in petrol, pronounced dead at the scene of the accident and then lain unconscious in an Italian hospital bed for two days, that won’t be the toughest challenge he’s ever faced.
If Redknapp does pull off the great escape, it will undoubtedly be through the window. Which window would that be? I hear you ask. And I reply, with the help of a small drum roll, the transfer window! January just wouldn’t be the same without Harry’s bulldog jowls wobbling independently as he shakes his head in denial of any hint that he might be about to engage in some form of transfer activity. Of course he’s got no plans to bring anyone in. Maybe in the summer. But definitely not now.
Should he have been given a chance at international level? There’s no denying that many fans around the country, if not in East London, wanted him to get the England manager’s job. But it was not to be. If the stories that came out of FA headquarters are to be believed, Sir Trevor did everything in his power to scupper the appointment of his former teammate. And Redknapp’s chances certainly weren’t helped by tax evasion charges, even though he was exonerated by a jury. • Like most things involving Harry Redknapp, the trial at Southwark Crown Court was highly entertaining – not least when it came to the evidence about how Harry had opened a bank account in Monaco using the name of his dog, Rosie.
When Redknapp was at the Upton Park helm no postmatch press conference was complete without him moaning about the lack of players at his disposal. But at least we can all relax now, safe in the knowledge that – unlike H himself – at least Rosie will never be down to the bare bones.