Stay Up Pompey by Pat Symes

Parrs Wood Press, £14.95
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The Independent Online

From the moment Harry Redknapp heard that the former Panathinaikos director of football Velimir Zajec was coming to Portsmouth and would be looking over his shoulder, there was no doubting that Pompey's enormously popular manager would be on his way out. His denials last weekend sounded half-hearted and clearly it was only a matter of tying up a financially satisfactory deal. No Portsmouth supporter will deny him that, especially those who have read the story of the club's first season in the Premiership which is well told by Pat Symes.

From the moment Harry Redknapp heard that the former Panathinaikos director of football Velimir Zajec was coming to Portsmouth and would be looking over his shoulder, there was no doubting that Pompey's enormously popular manager would be on his way out. His denials last weekend sounded half-hearted and clearly it was only a matter of tying up a financially satisfactory deal. No Portsmouth supporter will deny him that, especially those who have read the story of the club's first season in the Premiership which is well told by Pat Symes.

Redknapp is one of football's masters of tying threads together and making stout rope. However, when Pompey comfortably won the 2002-03 First Division title he immediately pointed out that survival, not success, in the Premiership should be the ambition. Some fans thought that was defeatist, but his long service at West Ham had prepared him better than them. He even said: "The fans are going to have to get used to losing."

Pompey had two formidable disadvantages - a grim old ground with only a 20,000 capacity, and a lack of funds comparable with the leading clubs. The chairman, Milan Mandaric, had already sunk a large part of his fortune into simply keeping the club afloat. Redknapp brought in 10 new players without further degrading Mandaric's bank account too uncomfortably, although the wage bill soared to £20m a year. More than a full team of players left the payroll. The club's two biggest assets remained Redknapp and, ironically in view of its constraints, Fratton Park, which proved intimidating even to Manchester United and Liverpool.

The relationship between Mandaric and Redknapp has always been a source of media conjecture. Symes says: "One day they would share intimate long phone calls to compare red wine, and the next they could be at each other's throats." But he says they needed each other (though not any longer). "Redknapp had come along and given him something to show for his investment, namely two years of wonderful entertainment and a measure of success." But, oh, the rows between manager and chairman, especially over whether Jim Smith should remain as coach. All fascinatingly documented in a book that has suddenly taken on fresh relevance.

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