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

Heroes

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.

Villains

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.”

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