Harry’s game

In the wake of the dawn raids at Harry Redknapp's house, the sports pages rush to his defence

Harry Redknapp’s arrest raised uncomfortable questions for those who write about football. Is it corrupt? Is the game no more than a tissue of deception with a putrid core? And most pressing of all – what can we do to help out? Redknapp is, of course, uniquely popular with journalists, the most ready of any manager to hand out his mobile number and offer up a tasty quote. So what to do about it? Rob Shepherd summed up the mood in his News of the World column (December 2): “Over 25 years he’s been one of the best managers and blokes I’ve come across in football.”

Which might explain the Sun’s uncharacteristically dissonant set of opinions on the whole affair. Redknapp’s betting column may have been discreetly pulled the day the story broke, but there appears to have been a fair amount of tension between back and front pages. Two days after the news section published exclusive pictures of the police’s dawn raid, the sports pages hit back, furiously sticking up for their mate. ’Arry For England yelled Mark Irwin’s report on Portsmouth v Everton, accompanied by Phil Neville offering “his condemnation of police tactics”, plus Sol Campbell’s view that “it’s not nice for his family when the police start raiding his house”. Quite right. But then, it probably wasn’t meant to be.

In the Times, Martin Samuel described the arrest as “one of the greatest abuses of civil liberties since eight police vehicles arrived at the home of Mick Hucknall, the singer, to arrest him over a rape allegation”. In the Sunday Mirror (December 2) Jonathan Pearce offered an arm around the shoulder over the whole England manager business: “Harry would never have been the choice for the FA’s stuffed suits. Like Brian Clough, he would have ruffled feathers.”

Most bellicose of all, the People’s Dave Kidd devoted a column to Redknapp’s defence (“guilty only of being too honest and down-to-earth by half”). Kidd strove manfully, if unsuccessfully, to create a sense of “a smear campaign”, caught up with the FA’s need to “blackball” Redknapp’s candidacy for the England job. “Redknapp is the patsy,” he declared, a “sharp operator” guilty only of “doing his job well”. Kidd seems to know a lot about all this, enough to be convinced that “the heavy-handed bid to arrest him was an attempt to add a celebrity element” to the police inquiry.

Which may or may not be the case. But which also happens to be precisely Redknapp’s own view of the whole business.

From WSC 252 February 2008