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In Review: Harry Redknapp: The Biography

Filed: Wednesday, 27th January 2010
By: Staff Writer

Les Roopanarine
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"The only winger who doesn't score goals is Stanley Matthews. And I don't think you're another Stanley Matthews, are you Harry?"

After writing the original title of this review, I thought that I had hit a problem after only four words. The original tile was mean to be ‘Old ‘Arry In Print’ but I knew that it would not work. I dropped the disrespectful ‘Old’ and added the missing ‘H’ because I knew that some people would campaign and I would understand what they were saying. By using ‘Arry’ I would be indulging in the stereotypes that have followed Harry Redknapp to wherever dugout is he is managing at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. This manager is often portrayed as an East End barrow boy that has scrimped and saved to get a football team together against the odds. Harry’s squads have been known for holding their own in the league, although sometimes by the skin of their teeth. These teams will also deliver an occasional shock defeat on a wealthy and bigger side. To a certain extent, some of this true, but there is more to Harry and a Redknapp outfit then these clichés.

This book demonstrated that it is pretty obvious that Redknapp has not had continual access to diamond encrusted cheque book and platinum credit cards for the whole of his managerial career. There have been many occasions when a desperate Redknapp was attempting to plug a defensive hole or add a bit more pace to midfield with a cut price deal on an unknown diamond. The chapters demonstrate that Redknapp has had to find something else that will make his team compete at the highest level of English football and this book suggests that this special something is a fantastic team spirit. The players believe that they have the talent to beat the world’s best sides and most of these players repay the faith of their manager. However Roopanarine’s biography mostly manages to go behind the Whitechapel Road barrow boy image and those overviewed clichés.

Like any football book that talks about a living figure in the game, Les Roopanarine has run the risk of producing a book that will be out of date within a very short while. The author has solved the problem by talking about his arrival at Tottenham as a case of Redknapp’s football’s career coming full circle after Bill Nicholson had assessed Harry the 11-year-old, for a possible playing career at Spurs during the winter of 1958. We all know that Redknapp started his playing career at Ron Greenwood’s West Ham, and the early chapters talk about West Ham in the sixties when Redknapp played alongside Hammers greats including Moore, Peters and Hurst. The story includes an interesting story about Greenwood ordering his players to teach the next generation of footballers in the schools around Upton Park, where there is an early notice that Redknapp has some ability to coach the game.

It could be argued that Harry Redknapp entered the national consciousness after his Bournemouth side beat Manchester United in a famous FA Cup win of January 1984. He achieved an even bigger profile in the West Ham dugout, but it would be a shame to forget about Redknapp’s career across the pond for Seattle Sounders in the North American Soccer League. Roopanarine has undertaken a lot of research about this under reported period of Redknapp’s career and it shows in this book which has told me more about US soccer than any book that I have read in the past. There seems to be more to American football than yellow-tinged video film from the seventies, sun-cracked pitches, empty concrete stadiums and slightly faded football stars.

The West Ham years for Harry Redknapp are an up and down rollercoaster that can rival the best that Blackpool could offer. The book mentions the messy beginning of Redknapp’s period at the Upton Park when the Billy Bonds/ Harry Redknapp joint managerial partnership collapsed, and Redknapp’s early forays into the transfer market. The book does not pretend that every single purchase was an unqualified success. For every Marc Rieper, there was a Marco Boogers. Florin Raduciolu seemed to care more about a Harvey Nichols shopping trip than a league cup tie against Stockport but it was refreshing to remember the artistry and pace of Eyal Berkovic.

These particular West Ham chapters celebrate Harry Redknapp’s willingness to take an extended punt on local youth talent, and the name check on Hammers youth is extensive. Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole are discussed in detail, including how Redknapp first came across Ferdinand in a Southern Junior Floodlit Cup in 1994. However, it only seems yesterday when John Hartson’s feet came too close to Berkovic’s head and the book also highlights Redknapp’s anger when Andy Impey was sold to Leicester City against the manager’s wishes. It becomes a key theme in this book that Redknapp is at his most (possibly understandable) frustrated when football decisions are whisked away from his domain of responsibility. After I had read the story about Redknapp’s first period as Portsmouth manager, I was left wondering what happened next for Velimir Zajec who was parachuted into Fratton Park and precipitated his move along the M27 to Southampton. .

In fact, Roopanarine continually wonders how Harry Redknapp managed to survive at Portsmouth for so long with two dramatically charismatic chairmen, at a club with crumbling infrastructure but with a big heart. Six years on, the book is still astounded why Redknapp decided to become Southampton manager, as well as why he decided to return to Fratton Park. Many observers note that Redknapp was mentally and physically suffering during this period but became energised by his return to Portsmouth. He managed to save the club from relegation after the disastrous managerial rule of Alain Perrin where some of the imported players could not speak a word of English. He achieved the FA Cup in 2008, and it is weird to reflect on events that seem so recent but are slowly slipping into history to be overtaken by new concerns. Since Redknapp left Fratton Park, there have been three Portsmouth managers in three and a half years.

This book is a decent read for all supporters regardless whether they had the chance to catch Redknapp in their own dugout or a Redknapp team in action. Roopanarine has certainly talked about a football figurehead that has had a large association and wonders in the final paragraph whether Redknapp’s “passion and the pin-sharp footballing intelligence” will make him the next England manager. Time will tell whether Redknapp achieves this ultimate accolade in English national football, although this book has demonstrated that Harry can offer more to the game than a little bit of cockney charm.

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