Ian Herbert: Heroes and villains of the year, from Darren Fletcher to Harry Redknapp and Alan Pardew

A look at those who may have slipped under the radar


Darren Fletcher

The Manchester United midfielder’s story of how he had fought the bowel disease which threatened his career, delivered in February in a voice which was cracked and not far from breaking, was the most compelling interview of the season. Fletcher talked of how the grim nature of ulcerative colitis led him to lie to his team-mates about why he was not himself and of the toll on his wife and children.

He wanted to spread awareness of the 260,000 people still living with the condition and its affiliate Crohn’s disease, and achieved that aim with vast dignity. Amid United’s tempestuous season, he has also spoken up more honestly than any other player for the squad’s failings.

Stephen Jones

The families of Hillsborough’s 96 victims were asked last month to select and testify the memories which best defined those they lost. The steadfast delivery of Stephen Jones, who had been married for four years to 27-year-old Christine Jones when she never came home from South Yorkshire, was inexpressibly moving.

He had introduced her to New Order and to The Smiths, whose 1985 song “Meat is Murder” compelled her to be a vegetarian. He recalled the lumpy porridge she used to make and smiled at the memory of the seven-inch vinyl singles she and her sister would buy and inadvertently leave out on the window sill. Small, infinitely sad, details, echoed by 95 other testimonies at the Warrington inquest, which reveals the true loss behind English football’s worst disaster.

Darren Fletcher Darren Fletcher  

Huw Jennings

In a season when Southampton restored a belief in the English game’s potential – they were runners-up to Liverpool in a New York Times study of how the Premier League table would have looked if English players’ goals were the only ones that counted – Jennings must take the credit for establishing the academy there which has produced such a rich production line – from Wayne Bridge to Luke Shaw and all points in between.

Working for a chairman, Rupert Lowe, who shared his convictions in youth, the former comprehensive school teacher left Southampton in 2006 amid uncertainty about his long-term future. He was eventually enticed to Craven Cottage, where Fulham manager Felix Magrath has said he will now blood the latest generation Jennings has provided. England owes him.

John Still

Delivering Luton Town back to the Football League from the bear pit of the Conference is only part of the accomplishment for the 64-year-old manager. Integral to that achievement has been repairing the dislocated relationship between fans and players at Kenilworth Road which reached its lowest ebb in the on-field altercation between captain Ronnie Henry and a supporter during September’s 3-2 comeback win over Lincoln.

Still invited the fan into the club, involved him in the following week’s post-match huddle and now a supporter joins the huddle every week. A transformation of the atmosphere at the club has been integral to Luton’s runaway Conference title.

Joe Thompson

Like so much that happens away from the bright lights of the Premier League, Tranmere Rovers midfielder Joe Thompson’s fight against a rare form of cancer – nodular sclerosing Hodgkin lymphoma – has been little heard of nationally. The then 24-year-old’s diagnosis last November sent him into a course of chemotherapy which concluded last Tuesday, with his test results expected next week.

Joe Thompson Joe Thompson  

He has not allowed the treatment to throw him from his aim of raising £20,000 for leukaemia lymphoma research by persuading players to go without a haircut for 12 months – a campaign you’ll find through @grow4joe on Twitter. Thompson has already raised £10,500. He hopes to be back on a football field next month.


Harry Redknapp

He was not shy about denigrating predecessor Mark Hughes when he took over at Queen’s Park Rangers 18 months back, but has been less keen to talk in the past nine months when a grossly underperforming team, featuring Niko Kranjcar, Yossi Benayoun, Benoît Assou-Ekotto and Rob Green conspired to finish only fourth in the Championship. Redknapp looks like a man who’d rather be elsewhere, perhaps back at West Ham, but needs chairman Tony Fernandes to show him the door. So he has absented himself. Redknapp no longer does post-match media and by the look of his team doesn’t look as if he does much pre-match coaching, either. The dip when coach Steve McClaren left for Derby in October gave an idea where the real work was coming from.

Harry Redknapp Harry Redknapp  

Alan Pardew

He has been able to characterise his headbutt on Hull City midfielder David Meyler in March as a redemptive experience and airbrush away his preposterous, disingenuous initial explanation –“I tried to push him away with my head.” But it was the Newcastle manager’s verbal abuse of his Manchester City counterpart Manuel Pellegrini  in January – a “fucking old cunt” is what he called him – which was the really disgusting piece of work. Everyone should be entitled to rehabilitation but Pardew just seems to be a serial offender.

Paddy Power

Their ambush marketing has made them publicity seekers of the worst kind, with stunts this season including the Old Trafford plane which joined the “Moyes Out” flypast in March, the grim reaper sent to Goodison for David Moyes’ last game and the rainbow laces posted to clubs in an attempt to garner cheap publicity around the serious anti-homophobia issue. Paddy Power call this humour. They may eventually twig that being loathed just isn’t great for business.

Ricardo Teixeira

The former head of the Brazilian Football Confederation has contributed as much as anyone to the cynicism and protest emanating from ordinary Brazilians to what might have been a beautiful World Cup at home for them. The high-handed, self-serving directors who have traditionally run Brazilian football – the cartolas, or “top hats” – have epitomised corruption at its worst. Only now, with the publication of David Goldblatt’s book Futebol Nation: A Footballing History of Brazil do we – and Brazilians – learn that the initial organising committee for this summer’s event consisted of Teixeira, his daughter, his lawyer, his press secretary and his personal secretary. This helps explain why a football-obsessed nation is at the barricades.

Billy Davies

His paranoia and unpleasantness have mercifully vanished since he was sacked by Nottingham Forest in March, though this has been the season when his media blackouts and unexplained sackings of City Ground employees were accompanied by the confrontation he had with referee Anthony Taylor during a heated derby with Leicester. Davies initially suggested he had been sent to the stand by Taylor for raising his voice, but it soon emerged that he deliberately barged into the official and unleashed repeated abuse at him. An apology would have been welcome after Davies was hit with a five-match touchline ban but instead we got a statement: “Under the advice of my legal team I will not be conducting any interviews until 26 March.”

Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday


Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities