Read Harry's Games Online

Authors: John Crace

Harry's Games







Also by John Crace

Vertigo: One Football Fan's Fear of Success

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Baby Alarm: Thoughts from a Neurotic Father


John Crace

Constable  •  London






Constable & Robinson Ltd
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP

First published in the UK by Constable,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson, 2013

Copyright © John Crace 2013

‘Anthem' Words and Music by Leonard Cohen © 1992, Reproduced by Permeission of Sony/ATV Songs LLC, London W1F 9LD

The right of John Crace to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication
Data is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978-1-78033-911-5 (hardback)
ISBN 978-1-78033-912-2 (ebook)

Typeset by TW Typesetting, Plymouth, Devon

Printed and bound in the UK

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Jacket design & typography ©
; Cover photograph © Alamy






For Jill



1   Harry Kicks Off

2   In the Dock and the Dugout

3   Just About Managing

4   England Expects

5   Hammering Out a Deal

6   Going, Going . . .

7   Rival Bids

8   Coming Up Short

9   Winning His Spurs

10   Bouncebackability








Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in.

From ‘Anthem' by Leonard Cohen


It seems to have taken a fuller than usual complement of family, friends, psychiatrists, doctors, therapists, surgeons and physiotherapists to help me write this book. So my apologies in advance to anyone whom I have accidentally omitted . . . and to anyone whom I have included who would rather not have been.

Thanks must first go to all those who agreed to be interviewed either on or off the record, including Steve Claridge, Trevor Morley, Erik Thorstvedt, John Sissons, John Williams, Sam Delaney, David Conn, Julian Guyer, Mike Leigh, Arild Stavrum, Pete Crawford, Rick Mayston, Mat Snow, Martin Cloake, Trevor Jones and Pete Haines.

Thanks also to Andreas Campomar, Matthew Hamilton, Charlotte Macdonald, Angela Martin and Jon Davies for guiding my hand and not objecting too strongly to the inclusion of a Leonard Cohen quote; to the brilliant Julie Welch for reading the manuscript and giving it her seal of approval; to John Sutherland for his forensic eye and unwavering support; and to Richard Nelsson and Jason Rodriguez for their painstaking trawls through the archives.

To Jill, Anna, Robbie, Alex Benady, Theo Delaney, Patrick Barkham, Steve Chamberlain, Neil Pearson, Matthew Norman,
Malik Meer, Suzie Worroll, John Rullestad, Terry Blake, Hunter Davies, Angie Stanger-Leathes, John Kaare Hoversholm, Tim Parks, Simon Hattenstone, Bob Granleese, Tom Butler and Rob White goes my gratitude for sharing their lives, having a laugh and not shouting at me too loudly.

Thanks to Clive Hebard, Craig Hepburn, Phyl Fenton, Mervyn Sloman, Frankie Murrey, Trevor Jones, Pete Haine and Pete Crawford.

And to Herbert Hound, my profound apologies for not having provided you with your own Monaco bank account.


8 February 2012

Shortly after 11.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 February 2012, the tannoy crackled inside Southwark Crown Court: ‘All parties in Mandaric and Redknapp to go to Court One.' The journalists, TV reporters and football fans – who had been kicking their heels and drinking too much coffee ever since the jury had been sent out just before lunch the previous day – formed a scrum outside the door to Court One. The media ticketing system that had been introduced on the first day of the trial to guarantee everyone a place throughout had ceased to be operational on the second day. Ever since, it had been every man and woman for themselves in a land grab for the key seats in court. Or any seat, for that matter.

‘Good old Harry,' said one radio reporter. ‘His timing always has been impeccable. He's just made sure the verdict is the lead item on every lunchtime news bulletin. What a pro!'

With the also-rans of the press and fans in situ, the seating reserved for family, friends and FA and Tottenham Hotspur officials began to fill up. As so often on the pitch, Redknapp was the top attraction in town. Finally, the two defendants – Milan Mandaric, the Serbian billionaire and former owner of Portsmouth FC, and Redknapp – entered the court. They both gave nervous
smiles but their faces were drawn and they looked understandably edgy.

You could smell the excitement and fear in court. We were just minutes away from two versions of history. In one, the defendants would be found guilty and almost certainly sent to prison with Redknapp's reputation and career in tatters. In the other, Redknapp would walk free, the allegations of tax evasion and financial chicanery that had dogged him for years wiped clean, leaving him a clear run at the top job in football. His Spurs team had been playing the best football in the Premiership and were in contention for the title and, ever since Fabio Capello had announced he would stand down as England manager after Euro 2012, he had been everyone's favourite successor.

Finally, something was going to have to give. These two differing histories could no longer run in parallel as they had done for the best part of two years, ever since the authorities had decided there was a case for Redknapp to answer over this latest investigation into his tax affairs. There had even been rumours the FA had asked sports editors not to make a big deal of the impending court proceedings in the run-up to the trial as they didn't want to queer the pitch for their chosen one. Normally, the idea of any sports editor obliging the FA would have been laughable, just another oddity in the long line of myths and legends that seem to surround Redknapp wherever he goes. It was impossible, however, to ignore the fact that the case had received remarkably little attention alongside consideration of Redknapp's football credentials in the sports pages.

It was odd that these two versions of Redknapp's future had managed to co-exist at all, let alone survive for so long. With any other man, the two charges of tax evasion would have thrown serious doubt on his suitability for the England job. But Redknapp wasn't any ordinary man: he was everyone's exception. Other British football managers may have had more success, but
few have been more universally loved, and, over the years, he has acquired the status of a national treasure. Football writers like him because he always gives ‘good quote' and the fans like him because his teams generally play entertaining football. His weaknesses are part of his charm.

Redknapp is a man whom other men – myself included, at times – are not ashamed to love. There is something about him that makes you feel as if you know him when you don't; he has genuine charisma. Unlike other public figures who often appear to regard dealing with the press or meeting the riff-raff as an unavoidable hazard of the job, Redknapp gives the impression he enjoys it. He'll stop the car and wind down the window for a chat and he has the knack of making eye contact with you. He makes it feel natural, relaxed.

At one point in the trial, a mobile phone had rung in the public gallery. The ring-tone of ‘Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur' had been greeted with a smile by everyone other than the judge and the prosecution, and during the first break in proceedings afterwards Redknapp had made a point of sharing the joke with the fan whose phone had rung. When he talks, it's as if he knows you, as if you're an old mate with whom he's sharing a confidence. Above all, he makes you feel as if you aren't imposing; that his time is your time.

As with most with other national treasures, people tend to read into Redknapp whatever it is they want to see. For some, he is the what-you-see-is-what-you-get, always-ready-to-have-alaugh character out of an Ealing comedy; for others, including the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), he is the East End working-class wide boy. The archetypal dodgy geezer.

Both versions of Redknapp are hopelessly simplistic. You don't get to manage one of the top clubs in England just by cracking jokes and being charming. Many modern footballers have egos as big as their weekly earnings and require a manager with a will
of iron. While faced with a possible prison sentence, Redknapp had got his Spurs side playing better than they or the fans ever dreamed possible. Hardly a soft touch, then. He even appeared to take heart surgery in his stride just before Christmas the previous year.

Neither did the dodgy geezer caricature entirely stack up. There had been rumours swirling around about Redknapp's financial dealings for more than a decade, the most vociferous of which had been Tom Bower's allegations about Rio Ferdinand's transfer from West Ham to Leeds in his 2003 book,
Broken Dreams
. Redknapp had always denied them but had never sued Bower for libel. Rather, he had been cleared of taking bungs by the Stevens inquiry into corruption in football in 2007. He'd then been released without charge in November of the same year after being arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and false accounting in connection with the Amdy Faye transfer.

You'd have thought that having been cleared twice might have put an end to the whispers about Redknapp, but the rumours continued to persist and the City of London Police and the CPS seemed to be determined to have one last crack at making them stick. It was their judgement, as well as Redknapp's career, that was in the balance and would be determined in the next few minutes. Yet just who Redknapp really was – what really made him tick – would still be up for grabs either way.

‘The thing is this, John,' a former top manager said when I told him I was planning to write a book about Redknapp, ‘no one's going to talk to you right now. I mean, his friends will, but they will just tell you what a wonderful bloke he is, which is really dull and not much help. You might get a few of his old enemies to say something, but everyone has heard what they've got to say many times over already. And the people who are more neutral and could give you a more balanced view are going to keep their
mouths shut now Redknapp is a bit of a national hero. So you're a bit stuck.'

‘Would you be willing to give me any insights?' It seemed worth a try; I had nothing to lose.

‘You've got to be joking. I work in this world. I've got to live with these people.'

This wasn't particularly worrying, as the manager hadn't told me anything I hadn't suspected myself. I didn't see any future in approaching Redknapp himself for an interview, even though the Spurs media bods I'd chatted to at the trial hadn't ruled out the possibility of him agreeing to talk to me. Redknapp had already written one autobiography in the late nineties, had given dozens of interviews since and I couldn't imagine that he would have anything much to add until such time as his agent negotiated a seven-figure advance for the second instalment of his autobiography on his retirement.

Neither could I run the risk of falling even more under his spell. During the course of the trial, we had had a number of brief conversations – we'd never met before – and each time he had held me spellbound. This was partly because I could never rid myself of the childish football fan within – ‘I can't believe the Spurs manager is actually talking to me' – but mostly because of his seemingly innate ability to generate a sense of intimacy where none exists. If I felt like this after a few brief encounters, what would I be like after some lengthy conversations? I had the feeling that Redknapp had the power to make me believe anything he wanted me to believe, so a little distance might be useful.

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