Brian Viner: Redknapp escaping punishment was just – not least because his witticisms are a must

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

The wisdom of the Football Association might be considered a contender, along with the feminism of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, for the title of the world's shortest book.

But maybe that's unfair to poor King Abdullah. On the other hand, the FA blazers were plainly correct in deciding not to punish Harry Redknapp for his comments about Mark Clattenburg's muddled refereeing at Old Trafford last Saturday, however disingenuous their insistence that they were not influenced by Redknapp's willingness to make a major issue out of any improper conduct charge that might be imposed, by boycotting post-match television interviews.

As even the myopic FA could see, Harry was right. He was right that it was rubbish officiating, almost certainly right that Clattenburg and his assistants quickly synchronised their stories, and right that it is preposterous to expect a manager, moments after the whistle has blown on a highly controversial match, to remain a beacon of diplomatic calm with a TV camera in his face. Or even a day or two later. Football is an emotive game.

Moreover, of all the managers you wouldn't want to lose from the snatched telly interview, Redknapp is perhaps level with Ian Holloway at the top of the list. Only the week before he had "revealed" to the Sky Sports cameras that he was playing Wilson Palacios having bumped into the Honduran's rather beefy mum while out shopping, and since she'd come over to see her boy play, and he didn't fancy being on the end of Mrs Palacios's displeasure, he had no option but to pick the lad. That's not something Arsène Wenger would say, nor is it any surprise that Redknapp has more entries than most managers in my colleague Phil Shaw's delightful new collection of football quotes, Tell Him He's Pele... And Get Him Back On (Ebury Press, £8.99).

One of those quotes was issued after five wins from his first six matches as Tottenham manager. "I should get out now, I've taken this team as far as I can," quipped Harry. The Spurs faithful will be glad he didn't. As for the title of Phil Shaw's book, I've heard it ascribed to at least five different managers, but according to Phil, pretty much the oracle as far as these things are concerned, it originated with Partick Thistle's John Lambie, in response to the news from his trainer that "McGlashan's concussed, gaffer, and doesn't know who he is."

Maybe the sequel will be "Tell Him He's Bale... And Get Him Back On". The great Cliff Morgan, when assessing the brilliance of another Welshman, Gareth Edwards, once said to me that "he had that quality that Pele had, the ability while running forward to see over both shoulders". Bale seems to have that vision too, and while it might be a little premature to bracket him with Pele and Gareth Edwards, it surely won't be long before Sheikh Mansour's Manchester City come calling, chequebook poised. Harry, one fervently hopes, will tell them to stick their millions more or less where he told the FA to stick its improper conduct charge.

Clarke has never gone quite close enough – but he still gets a cigar

Darren Clarke is a generous-spirited fellow. A couple of years ago I was one of six hacks – hack in one or two cases being the operative word – who played nine holes with him round Foxhills in Surrey. He was unfailingly encouraging and kind, and afterwards, when we had jointly interviewed him over a decent lunch, there was no question of anyone but him picking up the tab, even though it was an event organised by one of his sponsors. Even in this age of multimillionaire sportsmen, it was a rare gesture of munificence. I also watched Clarke taking time off from his vice-captain's duties at last month's Ryder Cup to dish out logo-ed merchandise to grateful members of the local constabulary.

Anyway, I have no doubt, knowing the man he is, that Clarke will have rejoiced in his pal Lee Westwood's anointment this week as the No 1 golfer in the world. I'm sure, too, that he took great pleasure from the success of Graeme McDowell, a fellow-alumnus of the wind-battered links of Co Antrim, in winning this year's US Open. But might there, somewhere deep down, be just a twinge of regret? I've stood on enough practice grounds to know that hardly anyone had the natural ball-striking ability of Clarke in his pomp, and if he'd had the rub of the green like McDowell, or worked as hard on his fitness as Westwood, he would probably have made it to the summit himself. Still, if there is a twinge of regret, it will doubtless be banished by another fat cigar.

Wednesday a big day for Port

It's not every week, or even every 50 years, that my hometown football club, non-league Southport, gets to play live on national television. But tomorrow the ITV cameras will be at Haig Avenue, not 500 yards from where I went to grammar school, for the FA Cup first-round tie with Sheffield Wednesday. It's the Port's biggest game since mighty Everton arrived in the third round of the Cup in 1968, and a pleasing reminder, in this age of the £200,000-per-week pay packet, that romance in football is still alive.

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