This evening I was sat in the radio box at Roots Hall commentating over one of the most bizarre 15 minutes of football that I have ever seen. Southend came out after Half-Time 1-0 down but were 2-1 up within eight minutes. They would be 5-2 down just seven minutes later. Truly absurd football. Whilst calling the game I was leaning over watching the laptop of our colleagues at BBC London and I saw Portsmouth were 1-0 up away at Oxford. Late in the game I glanced over and I saw the Oxford v Portsmouth game was flashing ‘Goal’ and I awaited to see who had scored it and it was Portsmouth. I gave a proper fist pump as my co-commentator knew exactly what had happened.
You see I may call Southend games but I don’t hide the fact that I am a Portsmouth fan first and foremost. My love of the club may have waned whilst the glut of shall we call them ‘interesting’ characters owned the club. However the good guys now own the good ship Pompey and I now keenly read and watch the news from the south coast with interest.
Back in Harry Redknapp’s day though I was a Season Ticket in the Fratton End. I still lived down south and was working as a writer covering the club. They were good times. Whatever Pompey fans think of Harry now they’ll certainly say that our run to winning the Championship was a glorious year and staying up in the Premier League in that first year was pretty sweet. In Harry’s third full season though he left the club and would turn up along the M27 as manager of our arch-rival. Lets put it this way…Pompey fans…not overly amused by this.
Why am I writing about this today? Well Harry is serialising his book in the Daily Mail. One of the pieces is about his departure from Pompey and how the Pompey fans reacted and a couple of things jumped out at me:
Everyone had a rattle and they just went to enjoy the game. If that sounds a rose-tinted or nostalgic memory, I’m sorry, but it’s true. It was especially brought home to me when I was shown the door by Portsmouth in 2004 and Southampton offered me the chance to go there.
Now the thing is…Harry was never shown the door by Portsmouth. He resigned. He quit. He walked out of Portsmouth because he didn’t want to work for Milan Mandaric anymore. He didn’t like a Director of Football coming in over his head. One thing that didn’t happen was him getting the sack. How do we know this? Well because Harry said so at the time – and reiterated it when he was questioned by police in relation to his court case.
At the time he told BBC Sport:
It is something (resigning) I have been thinking about for a while. I made it without any pressure from the chairman or the board.
He told police in 2009:
He (Mandaric) got the hump with him because he brought in a director of football when I didn’t want one.
And he got the needle because I became bigger than him at the football club. He didn’t like that really.
Then we played Villa and we were 2-0 down at half-time and Milan — I had two friends sitting behind him — tore up his ticket into 50 pieces, threw it up in the air and said, “Why am I paying all this money for this rubbish?
So the next morning I rang Peter Storrie (the then chief executive) and said, “I’ve had enough of him. I want out”.’
Look I’m all for rewriting history. When I write my memoirs you’ll read all about how handsome I was as a young man and how women were fawning over me and jostling for my attention. That doesn’t mean it is true of course but we all like to remember the past more fondly than we possibly should.
He goes on to speak about the personal bile that he suffered at the hands of Portsmouth fans. A lot of it was over the top. I can’t defend a significant amount of Pompey fans for some of the things they said or did. However I’m not sure how Harry can honestly say that he didn’t think it would be a problem
I had all these very reasonable thoughts in my head as I left my new chairman’s house and I thought enough people would see the logic with me. If I couldn’t work for Portsmouth, this really was the next best thing.
He could’ve still worked for Portsmouth. He chose not to. When your boyfriend/girlfriend ditches you and starts seeing your arch-nemesis then generally you aren’t too happy . Football fans are pretty tribal so if you ditch them and move to the hated rival then expect some shit. Whether this is right or wrong isn’t something I’m going to debate at 01:04 but you have to expect it.
Harry is either incredibly naive or just has very little contact with the realities of the world. I don’t know which. He wrote earlier this week that he didn’t hold grudges but I think the general consensus is (and one I subscribe to) that he took the Southampton job solely to get back at Portsmouth. He was hurting and smarting by what he perceived as unfair treatment at Portsmouth (having a Director of Football brought in above him) but when he first came to Portsmouth he was brought in as a Director of Football over the head of the incumbent manager Graeme Rix. So he was fine doing that to someone else but when it was done to him it was extremely unfair. Gotta love it haven’t you?
He goes on to say…
Looking back, I think that maybe they liked me so much when I was there, that we had such a good relationship, that my leaving hurt far more intensely than the departure of another manager would.
They treated me like God because we had gone from being nowhere to being a Premier League team that had survived.
We had the best year, winning the title to get promoted, and I don’t think any of us felt we could top that. So when I went to Southampton it was as if I had betrayed all that affection.
They were too upset to step back from the situation and think: ‘Harry got pushed out because they brought this other bloke in’.
He did have a terrific relationship with the Pompey fans – he is right. He was treated well – he is right but he needs to remember that the most beloved manager for Pompey fans of my generation is Alan Ball, a man who also managed Southampton. The fact he managed us and them and then ultimately us again (just as Harry would do) didn’t matter to the Pompey fans. They (me included) adored Alan Ball for what he did in both his stints at Fratton Park. He always put the club first. This is why he was so beloved despite his Southampton connections. Harry cannot say the same with a straight face.
There is no doubt that Pompey fans were hurt and felt betrayed by Harry. I think it is probably fair to say overly so. For football is just football. However Harry should never say that Pompey fans treated him like a God. He was liked, but was he was respected and beloved like Alan Ball? I don’t think so.
To sum up Harry had good times at Portsmouth. Things went bad and he walked because he didn’t have everything his own way. He was never pushed. Never forced nor cajoled out of the door. He walked. He took the Southampton job out of pure spite considering he said at the time he wanted to take some time out to recharge his batteries. Yeah batteries take more than a few weeks to recharge. He came back, did a great job but that great job came at an even greater price and when he saw the writing on the wall he walked out again for pastures new.
Love him or hate him (or being entirely indifferent to him). Harry is an interesting character who is far more savvy than he likes to let on. He knew Pompey fans would not wish him well on taking the Southampton job. He knew they would vilify him. Did Jim Smith get some shit for taking the Southampton job? Sure he did but it was nothing like what Redknapp got because the fans had deep rooted respect for the Bald Eagle. That is something Pompey fans do not have for Harry and many sets of fans around the country seem to have a similar sense of indifference at best towards the current QPR manager and that isn’t just a coincidence…
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