Football: Redknapp turns fortune hunter

The West Ham manager tells Glenn Moore how he hopes luck is finally on his side for tomorrow's FA Cup tie at Highbury
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The Independent Online
EIGHT TEAMS left and the FA Cup has reached the stage where managers, players and fans alike start looking for reasons to say "this is our year, our name's on the Cup because..."

At Barnsley, they have noted that the last time they won the pot the Titanic went down - 86 years later the White Star liner is going down nightly at Odeons all over the country.

At Coventry, they look to the historic first-ever win at Villa Park in the fifth round. At Leeds, they have been handed four successive home draws against lower-division opposition. And in the other quarter-final, West Ham, having won a penalty shoot-out at Ewood Park after apparently throwing the tie away at home, travel to Arsenal tomorrow convinced that Lady Luck is on Harry Redknapp's claret-and-blue shoulder.

If she is, says the West Ham manager, it will be for the first time where the FA Cup is concerned. In more than 30 years in the game as player, coach and manager, he has never reached the sixth round before. A teenage apprentice when West Ham won the competition in 1964, he had left for John Bond's Bournemouth by the time they finally returned to Wembley to beat Fulham in 1975.

"I don't know if I've even been close enough to be unlucky to be honest," said Redknapp, as he cast his mind back over years of FA Cup failure. Then he remembered one example, with Bournemouth at home to Manchester United in the fifth round in 1989. It was 1-1, Trevor Aylott and Mark Hughes the scorers, when Luther Blissett was presented with an open goal in injury-time.

Redknapp recalled, with a mixture of admiration and hurt: "Steve Bruce fouled him, he jumped on Luther's heel just as he was about to slide the ball into the back of an empty net. It put him off balance and Luther screwed the ball wide. It was the last kick of the match. We all thought Luther had missed an open goal from five yards out with no one to beat, but it turned out Brucie had flipped him up in the air.

"We all missed it, the ref, everyone. Alex Ferguson said Bruce had told him his only chance was to foul Luther, but it wasn't until we saw the video we knew what happened. Alex was in deep trouble that year and if we'd knocked them out who knows what would have happened.

"He was still toiling when we went up for the replay at Old Trafford. We were much the better side, then one of our players hit a 40-yard back- pass straight to Brian McClair. His goal knocked us out of the Cup and took the pressure off Alex."

Five years earlier the result had gone the other way, Redknapp, in his third month as a manager, guiding Bournemouth to victory over United, who were then the FA Cup holders.

Having required a replay to get past Windsor & Eton in the second round, Bournemouth beat United 2-0 in the third. "It was a big day for me," Redknapp says, "probably the day that got me established at Bournemouth. I had a good run there after that. To beat them quite comfortably on the day was a terrific result for us."

Not that everyone was impressed. Redknapp adds: "On the Monday we trained on an artificial pitch. It was one of the old surfaces, not astro. We weren't supposed to use it but the gate was open, there was no one around, so we thought we might as well.

"When we finished we found the groundsman had locked us in and put a bolt upon the gate. That was Bournemouth for you. On Saturday night we'd been on Match of the Day and were the toast of the country, on the Monday this geezer has rode up on his bike, thought: `I'll show them' and locked us in. We had an 18-foot fence to climb to get out. That certainly brought us all down to earth."

It is an experience Redknapp has kept with him. As he sits in his office at West Ham's spacious but homely Chadwell Heath training ground, not far from where he grew up the son of a Stepney docker, he adds: "It makes you appreciate how lucky you are when you get to have a training ground. It's a different ball game at that level.

"We used to be out there for hours after training looking for balls. If we lost one it was a catastrophe. We didn't have a laundry and loads of kits, the players had to take their own kit home to wash every day. That's why I like loaning players out, I think it's the greatest education any player can have.

"Rio Ferdinand went on loan last year to Bournemouth, Frank Lampard to Swansea. I think it was the making of them. They suddenly realise how lucky they are. They have a woman cooking lunches for them, got a nice changing-room, a cup of tea when they finish training, sauna in the dressing- room - it's a different world. They go down to Swansea, probably have to drive to an windy old training place and are very lucky if they even get a cup of tea after."

Managers once learned the same way and while John Gregory has had an apprenticeship at Wycombe, Gianluca Vialli, fresh from pristine Premiership dressing-room to nouveau riche boardroom, is more typical of new appointees at the big clubs.

"People used to start from humble beginnings and worked their way up, but that has changed now and there are a lot more foreign coaches coming in. Martin O'Neill did it, and Jim Smith and Ron Atkinson, there are still a few. You learn so much about every aspect of running a football club at a lower level."

Redknapp worked in Seattle as player-coach and at Oxford City as assistant manager (to his friend, the late Bobby Moore) before moving to Bournemouth, initially as player-coach. He became their longest-serving (nine years) and most successful manager, but his fond memories of Dean Court are scarred by tragedy.

In 1990, while following the World Cup in Italy, he was involved in a car crash which killed Brian Tiler, the club's managing director, and left Redknapp with a fractured skull, broken leg and cracked ribs. "It was a tough old time, it just goes to show you never now what is around the corner, one minute things are going lovely, the next minute..."

"I'd be lying, though, if I said it changed my approach to life. It should have done, perhaps, but within a few months I was back into football, flying around like a lunatic. The doctors told me I was not to watch any games, but I was still manager at Bournemouth. I went to watch them at places like Reading and Aldershot wearing dark glasses with my coat up round my neck. I just couldn't stay away."

Tomorrow he will be at Highbury, looking tense and overwrought as usual. Having made a nervous start to their campaign against Emley, West Ham have won at both Manchester City and Blackburn away and thus travel with confidence but, due to injury and suspension, hardly any strikers. Redknapp will be hoping Dame Fortune, at least, is finally available to play her part.