Monday 19 March 2018

Chants would be a fine thing if rules were always so golden

Dion Fanning

Harry Redknapp's troubled appearance in Tallaght on Thursday night was probably the most accurate representation of English football's ambivalent relationship with European football and, perhaps, England's ambivalent relationship with Europe.

These days, English football is able to embrace the European Cup, having concluded long ago that, like the single market, it is a good and mutually beneficial thing.

The Europa League continues to cause them problems and while it may be the case that, like the euro, there are systemic flaws that ensure it will be doomed, the hostility with which it is viewed points to deeper issues.

There is clearly nothing for England in the Europa League so they view it with disdain, like some EU directive on the amount of pork in Lincolnshire sausages.

It has upset the natural rhythms with its directive to play on Thursday. Even if a club doesn't have a league game until Sunday or Monday, there is a sense of not being fully prepared, a sense, I believe, that comes from the weekend arriving so quickly after a Thursday night game, and the collective release of adrenalin this provides.

The players might feel they are relaxing but all around them the weekend is taking place and they are part of it. There is a big difference between relaxing on a Wednesday or Thursday and relaxing on a Saturday.

Yet the distrust of the Europa League is also part of the island story of Britain. The reluctance to engage with the European Cup and the World Cup before it demonstrates that England has always wondered about the purpose of these competitions.

They suspect that they have been sent to try them and even when they embraced them, there is always the view, as outlined by Brian Clough, that there are "cheating bastards" out there trying to bring them down, a view which was no less of a generalisation just because Clough was right.

The suspicion of the Europa League must be viewed in this context. The competition is deeply flawed but as Shamrock Roves demonstrated this season it is also a breeding ground for hope. England views it as an inconvenience but perhaps things will now change with the Manchester clubs' participation.

Harry, of course, as he said himself, was "desperate" to stay in the competition, a statement at variance with the facts as many of his statements tend to be.

Last weekend, the BBC reported that Redknapp had "broken his golden rule" and criticised referee Chris Foy after Tottenham's defeat at Stoke.

By the time the BBC were reporting this reluctant contravention of his own rule on Monday morning, most people were aware that Redknapp had reluctantly broken his golden rule on several previous occasions, each time with the preface that he was reluctantly breaking his golden rule. The BBC seemed happy enough to report it as a unique event which may explain Harry's success with the media.

He was reluctant to let the chants of a few Shamrock Rovers fans spoil his relationship with the Irish either. With Harry facing a court case next month, the Rovers fans seemed to surprise Harry by taking up a chant he has heard at many grounds in England.

It may have come as a surprise to hear it in Ireland, especially as he had spent the week talking fondly of the Irish and the challenge his team would face against Shamrock, a challenge they wouldn't take lightly, despite not getting their name right. (Although the offence Irish fans took as commentators repeatedly called them 'Shamrock' was rather disproportionate given that some of them would have used terms like 'AC' for Milan; or talked about teams playing in Deportivo when they meant La Coruna without thinking they should have done a bit more research.)

Harry responded to the taunts with a clenched fist gesture. This happily did not lead to charges as UEFA decided it wasn't obscene, which it wasn't.

Harry was assailed on all sides by this new Puritanism, although there are no reports of any Shamrock fans actually being offended by his gesture. He may have been offended by their chants because it's certainly not how Harry likes to think of the Irish.

I dimly recall Harry speaking in glowing terms about an Irish friend he called 'More-teen' who was a developer or builder of some description whom he came across in Bournemouth. More-teen and Harry had many happy times together, not judging one another. As far as Harry was concerned, More-teen probably represented the pioneering spirit of the Irish.

Harry will have enjoyed his times with Paddy over the years; times spent with men who enjoyed a punt and wouldn't have had an overly judgemental approach to where a man got his money.

This was in contrast to the crowd he encountered on Thursday. They had no wish to prejudice his trial but were keen to speculate about where he might end up.

This wasn't Paddy as Harry knew him, but Paddy, as Harry knew him, is blamed by many for putting Paddy where Paddy is today. Harry might not have known this about Paddy. As a gambling man, Harry is probably not the type to turn away from any line of easy credit, something his transfer record at a club like Portsmouth would also indicate.

So he was probably not best placed to offer a considered view on the changing nature of the Irish story. Instead he held to the line that we were "lovely people", perhaps thinking of More-teen rather than the mob who chanted about his tax arrangements at close quarters.

He broke another of his golden rules and responded to their chants. I'm sure he has learnt his lesson. He won't do it again.

Sunday Indo Sport

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