Saturday, 12 January 2008

Don't Let Harry Head North

Don't let Harry head north for shooting practice
By Russell Brand

I'm on the Isle of Wight caught up in the seductive nostalgia of umpteen childhood jaunts, avoiding paparazzi (two of them, the same two - I can see how Britney Spears has got entangled with one, the proximity begins to feel like intimacy; I almost invited one of them into my bath this morning out of a combination of curiosity and pity) and to tell you the truth nobody reminded me to write this article until moments before the deadline when I was off shooting clays with my chums.

Ah, the power of the establishment. Whilst you may deride it and attack it from the foothills prior to ascent, on arrival at the summit it is very difficult to eschew the baubles and the Barbour. That is why the revolution will be tricky - it takes great discipline not to check your principles at the door of the Groucho and allow your ideals to be neutered by pina coladas and fellatio.

Big Sam Allardyce became the eighth casualty of a particularly bloodthirsty season. I don't recall so many managers having fallen so early on before and Sam was remarkably philosophical, saying there's little point in bitterness or regret in these situations and that's true, but it must be challenging to stifle those instincts regardless of the pay-off.

He was ever Freddy Shepherd's appointment so I suppose he was vulnerable as soon as Mike Ashley took over but they do seem a bit trigger happy up on Tyneside; if I'd behaved with such profligate abandon whilst cracking off clay pigeons I'd've felled two photographers and perhaps an instructor to boot as oppose to the breathtaking display of marksmanship that have led to me becoming something of a local hero and, possibly, if the legislation can get through before the ferry departs, mayor. All power ought be wielded in a considered and responsible manner.

Allardyce surely deserved a season, but I suppose if you own a football club that you've loved since childhood and are not happy with the fashion in which it's being run you must act. Like in a marriage, though that's not an analogy that I can personally validate so perhaps, more reasonably, a holiday.

If you go on holiday with a lover and after the first night you realise that you, in point of fact, despise your companion; the way they eat, address waiters and are cruel to the street cats of Lyndos, perhaps it's prudent to give them the old heave ho' and try your luck with a chamber maid. Or in this case Harry Redknapp.

I've said before in this column that I love Harry, I think he was great at West Ham and has done wonderful work at Portsmouth but most importantly is the most amusing manager working in top-flight football.

Once, on Goals on Sunday where he guested with Paul Merson he told an anecdote of Merson's early career at Fratton Park and the special attention granted to gifted players. As is well-publicised, Merson had problems with addiction relating to gambling and alcohol and during one traumatic period he requested some time off to go to Tony Adams' addiction clinic.

Harry consented acknowledging that Merson would benefit from the treatment. When Redknapp relayed this story on telly he went: "Merse came to me saying can I have some time off to go to Tony's clinic cos I'm having a bit of trouble with the booze, the gambling and the birds..." Merson interrupted here, saying: "Not the birds Harry, I was still married then, remember?"

Harry cared not a jot that his candour had retrospectively devalued Merson's marriage and blithely ignored his former charge's appealing looks. "Anyway I give him the time off then I got a phone call from a mate, saying 'I'm in Barbados, I've just seen Paul Merson on the beach'. I goes 'No. Merson's in Tony Adams' clinic' - turns out he was lying but he came back the next week and scored twice."

The upbeat ending of the yarn was somewhat lost on Merson as he was now just staring blankly into camera having been off-handedly outed as a philanderer in a story meant to illustrate his wayward talent.

Some say Redknapp deserves a big stage on which to display his under-appreciated skill. But he is adored at Pompey and will be forever loved in East London and, whilst Newcastle are a fantastic club with incredible supporters, I don't think their administrators deserve a great manager like Harry.

Guardian column

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