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.
For all his faults, you’ve gotta love the bloke. I realise that not everyone feels the same way. He’s clearly never going to be flavour of the month with West Ham fans again and the disgraceful way in which 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 he 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 just 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 likely to remain so).
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 righthand 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 the fabulous Marc Vivien-Foe, we finished fifth. Now, of course, Redknapp is at QPR and I think they are going to need more than snookers to escape the drop this year.
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 seems, the FA don’t care for Marmite. Shame. If they had preferred something with rather more flavour than the insipid Roy Hodgson, Mark Noble might have finally won the England cap he so richly deserves.