Darren Alexander

A brief word on Darren Alexander, joint-chair of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporter’s Trust, whose funeral is today.

Darren was one of those larger-than-life types who didn’t just know so many people, but made such an impression on them all. Reaction across the supporter community to his untimely passing has transcended club tribalism and is an illustration of how much he was liked and by so many.

I was not a close friend of Darren. Those who were have expressed and written moving testimonies to his character, and anyone who did have the privilege of meeting him will recognise in the tributes Darren’s unfailingly generous nature.

Darren had time for everyone, and in his dealings with the wider Tottenham family, strove tirelessly to stick up for his fellow supporters regardless of who they were. You could argue the toss about Spurs, football in general and the way it is run endlessly with him, but always without rancour. There were no grudges, no agendas, just a love for the game and its supporters, warts and all.

My fondest memory of him is in the aftermath of Tottenham’s win at The Emirates in 2010. It was the first victory for Spurs at their place for 17 years – some kind of reward for all those who had so many trips to their place in vain. Darren was one of those who had more than done their time – this win was for them.

I spied him the midst of the joyous throng with a beaming smile on his face, but before I could say hello he gave me a rib-crushing hug. It was like a cross between getting a grapple from Giant Haystacks and a cuddle from a teddy bear.

 Darren’s joy was evident. He loved Spurs, loved football. He was a terrible name dropper and responsible for some appalling puns, but always delivered with tongue firmly in cheek.

That approach to life was needed in his role with the trust and other supporter organisations before it. It’s a thankless task getting involved with these things; every fan has got their view and too many are intolerant of others. Balancing those conflicting viewpoints, dealing with club owners, officials and politicians, all the while striving to achieve gains for supporters is difficult and often unrewarding work. The hard graft rarely gets appreciated. You need a thick skin, determination and a positive outlook to keep on doing it, and Darren had all of that in spades.

Arguably Darren’s finest hour was in his actions to help ensure Spurs did not leave Tottenham for the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. This didn’t make him popular with certain people, but the We Are N17 campaign was an example of fans’ passionate commitment to their club and the community that gave birth to it.

Darren recognised that, in the final analysis, football isn’t about £300k a week and pass completion ratios, nor agents, hangers-on and third-quarter revenue forecasts. It’s about place and people. And Darren Alexander was definably a people person. That’s not a bad legacy to leave behind.

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Enic out!? No – just do their job. The state of Spurs we’re in

ANOTHER weekend, another Spurs-in-crisis post-mortem on the following Monday. Look at the papers this morning and you’d be forgiven for thinking this is some member of the serially successful European elite that’s being probed and dissected, instead of a well-supported but perennially under-achieving also-ran. Such is the extent of the focus. For all Tottenham’s travails and persistent mediocrity, the club still has a gift for giving great copy.

The coverage has helped fuel a flurry of debate and navel gazing from fans and journalists. Depending on the take of individuals and some hard-to-ignore agendas, responsibility for the current chaos is distributed across the cast of managers, players, and directors of football (all past and present), and to varying degrees of culpability. But there isn’t enough focus on the ones really in charge – the owners.

Enic have controlled Spurs for 13 years. Critics of the Conservative governments of the mid-20th century described their reign as ’13 wasted years’ and there’s a forlorn sense that is what we are seeing with the regime of chairman Daniel Levy and his patron, Joe Lewis.

 In that time Enic have signed and sold a cast of thousands, appointed or sacked nine managers (or ‘head coaches’), and brought in four Directors of Football. The owners have enjoyed the benefit of capacity crowds paying top dollar, and drawn on unprecedented TV revenues. In those 13 years Spurs have won precisely one devalued trophy and qualified for the Champions League once. Average league position has improved by roughly five places. By their own measure of not tolerating failure in their managers, Enic would have sacked themselves long ago.

They won’t of course. They run the show and, having taken the club off the stock market and gained full control thanks to an ingenious share scheme, are accountable to no-one but themselves. Levy long ago made it clear what the English National Investment Company is about, and aside from directors’ fees, the proper return on that investment will come with a sale. But with no buyer on the horizon, it appears Enic are here to stay. An immovable object.

 The same cannot be said for their managers, who are moved on with unerring haste. Actually, ‘manager’ is a misnomer. Enic managers do not manage in the accepted sense. They pick the team (we can assume) and have a say in who is bought and sold (we assume) but do not have the kind of freedom to operate that Arsene Wenger, as an example, enjoys.

They are however the fall guy if things go wrong. Tim Sherwood, like all his predecessors, is now acting as a lightning rod for the growing disaffection. There are calls for his sacking, outrage at his press conferences, and mockery for his tactics, character, and in keeping with modern superficial ways, his dress sense.

Many fans have little time for him, and with good reason. He was an average player for Tottenham, labouring in the middle of the park and busy pointing fingers while the modern breed of mobile midfielders exemplified by Patrick Vieira showed him how it was really done. Since becoming a backroom operator at White Hart Lane and the training ground, he has been viewed with interest but also suspicion. Many Spurs fans haven’t forgotten his spiteful and damaging undermining of then boss Glenn Hoddle when Sherwood was ousted from the playing staff. Rumours of childhood loyalty to Arsenal might be superfluous in modern football’s disloyal world, but hardly endear him to Tottenham supporters.

 Yet without anyone knowing quite how, Sherwood has since established himself as a major figure at the club, under the mentoring of Harry Redknapp and with the apparent blessing of Levy. It is said Sherwood has long had his chairman’s ear, whispering advice and guidance on football matters and more besides. His work with the academy and coaches is, by common consent, something to be applauded, but seemingly there is an unmistakeable whiff around Sherwood that he’s a sharp and manipulative operator looking for the main chance.

It’s said ‘seemingly’ because few really know. That’s the point about Spurs. The club has always been political and opaque in the way it functions but those characteristics have been magnified in the 21st century. Who signs the players? The manager or head coach? The Dof? Or the Chairman? Are managers instructed to pick certain players? Who dictates strategy, tactics, and implements long term planning?

 Which begs the question: what is the long-term plan? It would be a nice idea. Whatever it is, it appears Sherwood won’t be around to work on it, at least as manager. He is already eyeing up a future role as Technical Director, publically voicing his ambition for another man’s job. It doesn’t make for petty viewing.

But if it’s hard to defend Sherwood it’s pointless to get too animated about him, either. He is a symptom, not a cause – a consequence of a culture created by others. No one at Spurs takes real responsibility. It’s the ‘not me guv’ school of business, whereby everyone from chairman to players deflect and shift blame for any failures. And it comes from the top. Whatever happens at Spurs, Enic always have a ready excuse to be absolved from wrong doing.

It is no surprise that their latest coach, with next-to-no management experience, and saddled with an ill-fitting squad not of his choosing, should be struggling. Andre Villas Boas, like so many before him, was not given nearly enough time over 18 months, so it is harsh to now condemn a rookie barely a third of a season into his shaky tenure. Sherwood’s 18-month deal that so enraged many was more a reflection of his canny grasp of how things work at Tottenham: see out the rest of the season as expected and the move on with compo in hand, or work out its full term. Either way, it was 18 months money, guaranteed.

Can anyone blame him? He has seen what has happened to his predecessors and reacted accordingly. When it comes to Spurs bosses it’s an interesting but minor diversion to argue about transfers, tactics, team selection, man-management, PR and all the other components a modern manager/head coach has to get to grips with, because Enic’s managers fare roughly the same. They enjoy an initial upturn in form and last on average about 18 months before, at the first sign of a wobble, being shown the door, departing with a generous payoff. Great work if you can get it, but no way to foster stability and build for the future.

Enic’s defence is that it is the DoF system that provides real continuity. In theory and in practice at other clubs, that has been the case. At Spurs, it’s just another example of the churn. There have been four DoFs since 2001. In fairness to Enic the most promising one, Frank Arnesen, left of his own accord, but none have been firmly established, nor had the scope to do fully execute their role. To compound the upheaval, in between these appointments it’s rumoured the board have held sway over player recruitment.

The response to all this turmoil is to suggest that the managers and DoFs simply weren’t good enough at their job. To which the counter is simple and valid enough: who appointed them? If the people being hired keep on getting it wrong, then maybe questions need to be more appropriately asked of who is doing the hiring. The two most successful managers of the Enic years have been ones the owners didn’t really want (Martin Jol and Redknapp). What does that say about Enic’s judgement?

This environment of instability and short-termism is pre-destined to create uncertainty and the risk of chaos. Chelsea have bought their way out it; Spurs can’t or won’t. So now the club is going through another dose of feverish uncertainty. The result is another unseemly mess of various factions jostling for position, influence, or compensation.

Where do Sherwood and Baldini, stand? Either way they’ll be quids in. The scout Ian Bloomfield is now back in the frame providing another potential challenge to Baldini’s position. Various Dutch candidates are letting it be known they are ‘interested’ in the job – and who wouldn’t be? Managing Spurs is a sure-fire way to be handsomely paid, succeed or fail.

While in the job, much of what these here-today, gone tomorrow managers have to say is irrelevant. But in Sherwood’s latest quote-friendly performance, there was one line that hit home, and hard. Asked if a new manager would be arriving in the summer, the stand-in said “The silence is deafening, isn’t it? It’s up to Daniel.”

It really is up to Daniel. And not forgetting Joe Lewis. When it is said that Spurs need a billionaire in order to compete, it’s easy to forget that they already have one. But one who hasn’t – and probably never will – put his hand in his own pocket to bankroll the club’s fortunes.

That is to be admired in many respects. The advent of the oligarchs and petro-billionaires who now own a number of clubs have made the task of self-sustaining clubs that much harder. It’s been a tough ask for Spurs to compete. Teams invariably finish where their wage bill dictates and Tottenham, operating around sixth in that domestic ranking, are doing well to hover around fourth or fifth place in the actual league.

Indeed fans of other clubs might be wondering quite what it is that’s exactly wrong here. Spurs are in good financial health, lie fifth in the table with an outside chance of securing a qualifying position for the Champions League, and are still in contention in this season’s Europa League.  

There have been a series of humiliating domestic thrashings, chiefly against the wealthier sides Spurs have been trying to compete with in recent campaigns, but it could be worse. ‘Just look at Leeds’, runs the narrative of the fearful and timid, holding up the bogeyman of Peter Ridsdale while thanking Enic for their prudent management of Tottenham’s comparatively weak resources.

There is something to be said for that. Enic have performed well in some respects. In the era of FFP, being solvent is no bad thing. The sumptuous new training ground has been built without a penny required from some generous benefactor. But progress where it matters – on the pitch – remains elusive.

So much for recent history. The question now is about what to do now. The call from many is to sack the latest manager. That will probably happen, but in all likelihood only temporarily staunch the blood letting and rancour.  Others want to press the nuclear button and get rid of Enic altogether, albeit without a realistic suggestion for replacements.

There is another way, however, and that’s for a quite revolutionary plan that will shake not just Spurs but football as a whole to its foundations. It’s for people who are very well rewarded to do a job to do it better.

One criticism of Enic is that they have been too risk averse, too unwilling to speculate to accumulate. They could show a bit more financial ambition without straying from the strictly assessed balance sheet. Tottenham’s transfer dealings over the last five windows show net transfer outlay that is small to the point of being negligible in the context of PL finances.

With the new TV deal in place, Spurs could spend that little bit bigger and not have to sell the star assets first. It might even enable them to hang on to the likes of Gareth Bale without the apparent fait accompli that they have to be sold. The mistakes of 2010, when the hesitancy to fully exploit the fleeting opportunity provided by Champions League qualification meant a frustrating season that ran out of steam, is looking more and more like a wonderful chance lamentably spurned. The owners apparently did not have faith in their own manager (Redknapp) to sanction substantial investment and it has come back to bite them.

But perhaps more important than the spending is a plan. Spurs can improve without the need for Lewis to dip into some of his billions. Bridging the gap to the elite is far from easy, but with the right people in place and given time, it can be done.  Appoint a Director of Football if that’s the way they really want to go. Let him pick a manager. And leave them to get on with their jobs over an adequate period. When things aren’t going quite so well, don’t panic, or pay heed to the calls for another cull. Have the courage of your convictions, stick by your decisions and make sure everyone knows you’re in it for the long haul.

Are Enic in it for the long haul? It’s a debatable point, as is what they really want for the club beyond an eventual return on their own investment. But this haphazard, short-term approach Spurs have now appears to be not just hindering progress of the team but constraining that potential profit.

 ‘To dare is to do’ runs the English translation of the club motto Audere est Facere, plastered around White Hart Lane and the spanking new training ground in Enfield. ‘To dare is too dear’, might be the more accurate modern definition, but that’s no excuse for Enic letting things slide the way they have. It really doesn’t have to be like this.

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SPURS FANS! Why waste time reading different sacked manager stories? Simply cut out and keep this handy recyclable guide!

IT’S that time of the year again, when people gather excitedly to celebrate the arrival of the messiah. It all harks back to an ancient faith that a star will appear somewhere in the East, and a saviour will lead followers out of the wilderness and on to the promised land.  Or at least Champions League qualification. Ba-dum-tish.

Now AVB, the latest great hope, has gone, it’s back to square one and looking for a new miracle for Spurs, along with the increasingly forlorn hope the new chap will really be “The One”. The unerring ability of the club to consistently mess things up is admirable in some ways. It takes a special kind of genius to get a club with such a rich heritage, based in London, playing in the world’s most lucrative league, with loyal-to-a-fault fans charged eye-wateringly high ticket prices – and yet still keep cocking it up.

Perhaps I’m missing the point. Maybe it’s not about sticking by a manager, trying to win things or at least having a good old go. Maybe it’s just about staying in the Premier League VIP Club. Progress on the pitch would be a nice bonus but the real model is to keep the engine ticking over without ever really hitting the accelerator. Within that model, managers and head coaches are inherently expendable (and handsomely rewarded for any failure, perceived or otherwise). This week’s bus driver for that particular route. And so Spurs are about to appoint their ninth ding-ding man in 12 years (excluding caretakers).

It is customary at this point to do a post mortem on the latest farce, attribute blame, and offer remedies. For what it’s worth I have my view and apportion fault and even some sympathy across a number of places. No one comes out of this well. But one cynic’s analysis is a pointless exercise with no effect on events.

Instead, given the rapidity with which Spurs managers/head coaches get the heave-ho, it might be more productive to do a piece that can be recycled for imminent future use. So, here’s a cut-out-and-keep template for the next Spurs Manager Crisis Shocka. Just delete/insert where applicable according to your view/events as they predictably, boringly pan out:

So, farewell _____________. It’s a crying shame     things didn’t work out/he was undermined/tactically clueless/a dead man walking.         A     win percentage/PPG ratio/dull, monotone voice              meant the sacking of __________   was      inevitable/very harsh/boring        and Daniel Levy/Joe Lewis/Lord Sir Alan His Lordship Sugar, Sire             should be      applauded/slaughtered/cuddled       for making the    brave/stupid/indifferent       decision to let him go.

Ultimately, what did for ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­__________ was that he lost         the dressing room/board room/his marbles/return tube ticket to Victoria.       A lack of Plan     A/B/C/D/E/F/G/H      was also a factor. It is believed that widespread criticism of         tactics/summer transfer targets/performances in the Xmas karaoke party        plus a bitter dispute over        job responsibilities/youth policy/Tudor Monastery Farm            led           Daniel Levy/Joe Lewis/ Lord Sir Alan His Lordship Sugar, Sire             to call it a day.

Media coverage has been predictably         informed/biased/superficial,      with      Neil Huskyvoice/Sam Wotshisface/Barney Heyhoe-Hipster in particular               fine/bitter/Satre-quoting     form.

_______________ is rumoured to be the replacement, though the compensation fee to         Swansea/England/Kuala Lumpur Meteors       will cost upwards of          £6m/£3.2m/bugger all.           Our sources                      understand/spin/lie               that                  Director of Football/Tim Sherwood/That burger van bloke on Paxton Rd             will remain in his role.

There are a number of big unknowns now. Can ______________ turn it around? Will ______________ revert to a               traditional attacking 442/a false nine sexy 433/an inverted nipples version of WM?

But maybe the issue people really need to consider is one that seems to have escaped many for  _______ years. When will proper questions be asked not of successive          managers/head coaches/Directors of Football  – but the people who appoint them?

 

 

 

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Chic show why music matters

It’s 8pm and a hot sun has set behind the South Downs hills. Yet though the shadows are darkening, the place is still bathed in gleaming warmth. The glow comes from a crowd high on euphoria. Chemically-assisted joy at this gig, however, is not required. The effect comes naturally, courtesy of the mighty Chic.

Half an hour in to the show and the joint, as they say, is jumping. Forget an elitist hierarchy of twinkle-toed hot steppers showing up the two-left-footers, though. Here, everyone is just doing their carefree thing in the way they know how and want to. “Everybody Dance” sings the band, but there’s no need; everybody is dancing. And singing, smiling, and laughing. A good few are even shedding a tear, too.

In over 30 years of seeing live acts I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Classic song after classic song. A band whose individual and collective talents are cooking perfectly. And at the head of it all a man who stands as one of the most creative and influential in the game.

Rodgers and his re-configured group have been tearing up festivals and stages this summer, notably with the weekend-stealing set at Glastonbury. Heading for the more genteel air of the Love Supreme Festival this weekend in deepest, cosiest rural Sussex, you wished for something special from them again but with a nagging doubt that the extraordinary quality of the live shows could not be maintained at every performance. As the crowd gather for the start of the performance, you can hear the talk – the sense of long-held expectation, the realising of a cherished aim, the hope that it really will be as good as we all want it to be.  

We needn’t have worried. Chic do not disappoint. Instead they turn in over an hour of outstanding songs drawn from the canon of Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the song writing and production duo who were effectively Chic and who injected hit-making brilliance into so many other careers.

And what a body of work theirs is that is being given an airing tonight. Not just Chic’s refined late-Disco gems like Le Freak, My Forbidden Lover and Dance, Dance, Dance, but the standout tunes from Sister Sledge’s catalogue, Diana Ross’s better mid-career moments, and Let’s Dance, the song that gave David Bowie his groove back. On paper it might seem like a track listing for a Disco and 80s karaoke night; in practice it’s the best club night you’ll ever go to.

The much-loved DJ Norman Jay says that everyone has a soundtrack to their life – the score of tracks and memorable tunes that are the milestones in our personal stories through good times and bad. In which case Rodgers and his late and sadly-missed partner Bernard Edwards have written the soundtrack for so many of us. It’s why Norman named his sound system after what was arguably Chic’s greatest song. It’s why we’re here under a cloudless evening sky in a sea of smiling faces amid the delirium of thousands, all having the best of the Good Times.

It’s a diverse crowd and better for it. Many are middle aged, and most probably reliving their late-1970s heyday. Veteran soul boys and soul girls, and judging from the accents plenty down from London for a day out in the sticks: the kids like my sister who wiled away dark hours in some subterranean club like Crackers while those in the ‘normal world’ got on with their daytime lives. She’s here tonight, along with the locals, a crop of hipsters seeing what the fuss is all about, curious and exuberant teenagers, and families. Nearby is an elderly woman leaning on a walking stick but she’s still determined to strut her considerable stuff.

 And everyone does do their stuff. You can’t do anything but. This is dance music so infectious, timeless and still searingly brilliant that you’d have to have feet of stone as well as a rock-hard heart not to be moved by it. ‘Disco’ doesn’t do it justice: to label it as such is no criticism, but there is so much more to Chic and Rodgers’ output than just four-to-the floor boogie tunes. These lush and sophisticated songs are beautifully written, arranged, and performed. There’s a depth and richness to them that makes a mockery of the rejection they received from some unwise quarters back then (and even still today). 

In its inception, the music was dismissed by snooty critics as lightweight. There was also the familiar and more sinister backlash against dance music’s black and gay roots that culminated in the risible Disco Sucks purge. But as Nile discussed in a terrific interview with Chic aficionado Danny Baker on the latter’s 5 Live radio show last Saturday, the group’s music was about much more than the face-value thrill of a premium dancefloor workout.

Rodgers explained that they used to strip tracks down and reconstruct them again within one recording to illustrate how the music was made. It was built on the foundation of the unmatched trio of his rhythm/lead guitar and Bernie’s bass, and the late Tony Thompson’s drums. Then in came the orchestration and Norma Jean Wright, Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin’s elegant vocals. It’s a formula never bettered than on the build in Le Freak, the seminal Chic hit, and on the much sampled Good Times, but it’s a characteristic of the band’s work running through each gorgeous song like a seam of gold. The current line up, including singers Folami Ankoanda and Kimberly Davis, have got the toughest of acts to follow – no more so than the great and prolific Jerry Barnes, a brilliant musician in his own right but one nonetheless who has to step into the bass-playing shoes of Edwards. But they all do it with Chic-style élan. Class acts every one of them.   

 Rodgers also talked with Baker about how there is a depth of meaning to the songs. Far from supposedly being the background music for an emerging new middle class in tune with the materialist, greed-is-good, individualistic economics of the time, Chic’s music was about people coming together and sharing the desire for good times amid the not-so-good. Rodgers draws a link from the music of the likes of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway during Depression era America of the 1930s to the late 1970s recession-age themes in Chic’s tunes.

 Happy Days Are Here Again wasn’t only a 1930s standard but a key lyric in Good Times, and deliberately so. The happiness may be temporary but very necessary – a means to put the daily grind and occasional grimness of life aside for a while and feel some collective joy. It’s an antidote, giving people hope that you can make a change for the better – for yourself and for others, and pertinent as ever in these testing times.

 And so here we are over 30 years later, in a field in Glynde and all having lots of delirious fun. At times like this you feel like there’s nowhere else you’d sooner be. The band look to be enjoying themselves too, which is fundamental to any really good gig. Nile is up there grinning from ear to ear and playing The Hitmaker, that famous Fender Strat, for all its worth. That value, reportedly, has been calculated as $1.3billion, based on how many hit records it has played on. If so it’s worth every penny.

 One of the odder comments about Chic this summer has been that people don’t realise they were behind so many great records. To which the response is where the hell have you been? Commercially successful but always and still credible, the current line-up of the Chic organisation is playing as good as ever. And they help demonstrate why music matters. It’s not about whose tunes or which genre are the best, just that really good music has such a power to thrill and move, inspire and unite.

 That was all clearly on show last weekend. So thanks to Jerry, Kimberly and Folami, keyboardists Rich and Selan, Ralph Rolle on drums (an exceptional Bowie vocalist stand-in), Don and Bill on horns, and of course, thanks to Nile. We all had a very good time.

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The Olympics were not perfect – but showed why sport matters

For anyone who grew up in the 1970s, London 2012 has been an odd affair. One look at the medal table to see ‘Team GB’ in third place has prompted us 40-somethings to do a double take and mutter ‘You what?’ Those of us reared on low expectations of our nation’s sporting endeavours and the games in general, have witnessed a joyous, uplifting and slightly bonkers demonstration that sometimes, sport really can be A Good Thing.

Four decades ago, the games were lumbered with a browbeaten image and provided a strangely comforting assurance of Britain’s place in the world. We tried but weren’t very good at it, grabbing the odd isolated success while leaving the serious stuff largely to the superpowers who exploited the games for overt political ends.

Politicians are, naturally, still at it. The Olympics were conceived as a political act, after all. But in a makeover so dramatic even Gok Wan would admit defeat, Britain now ranks as one of the world’s top nations in terms of medal hauls. Not only that, the country earned its firsts across a variety of disciplines. For all the justifiable amusement of dancing horses, British sportspeople are actually pretty good at this running, jumping, cycling and rowing and boxing lark.

The games were a huge success, but not just in the triumphs for Team GB. This past fortnight has been an extravaganza of participation, excitement, and spectacle – and all revolving around sport. Millions of people joined in gleeful experiences, were touched by the disappointment of defeat and, whether in the venues or at home, became part of those mass events that create a time and place in history. It may seem trite and sentimental but for a couple of weeks, for those of us who wanted to we really could revel in something to unite rather than divide.

Not that it was all perfectly choreographed sweetness and light. There were plenty of things to dislike and criticise – not least the demand from some quarters to forbid others to dislike and criticise. Danny Boyle’s occasionally moving and wholly entertaining opening ceremony reminded us that the right to be sceptical, irreverent and contrary is a feature of what we loosely define as a British ‘character’ – and indeed there is no such thing as single point of view. We rightly cherish difference, and those who express it. We might not agree, for example, with everything in Mike Marquese’s counter to the nationalistic and corporatized games-frenzy but it provided some welcome balance. The Olympics weren’t perfect – that is an impossibility – and dissenters who wanted to have a dig surely had the right to do so.

Other aspects grated. The ticketing carve-up was a huge frustration along with the sense that too much of the games were reserved for those with the right connections and the funds. The ongoing corruption of organised corporate sport was sidelined, and I found some of the patriotic fervour overcooked and unnecessary. There was a bit too much of a vain and desperate need to be liked and congratulated.  Britain on occasion became the Samantha Brick of international relations.

The media’s treatment of the games could have been better. Not in the presentation, which was comprehensive and by and large informative, and entertaining, but in terms of journalistic rigour. Joining in the fun and emotion is fine, but there needed to be more detachment. The mix of self-congratulation and surprise at being able to organise the games was also misplaced. For all its problems Britain is a rich, modern country with centuries of infrastructural development to call on. If the world’s seventh largest economy can’t organise a two week-bash in one of the planet’s most accessible cities than there is something seriously wrong. 

Some of us also felt out of step with the universal lauding of the volunteer games makers. Not in their devotion and good natured charm but in the concept of unpaid labour. Seeing young people working punishing long hours for free is an obscenity in an event in which so much money sloshes around. It surely won’t be long before those with an agenda to pursue start hailing the volunteer army as a means to promote their own self-interest and decry the low-paid and disadvantaged.

Oh look, it’s already happened. David Cameron has predictably tried to make capital out of the games, rehashing the busted flush of the ‘big society’ and citing the Olympics as proof of the value of competition, while taking a cheap shot at state-school teachers and the culture of ‘anti-competitiveness’. It is a facile and manipulative argument that deliberately misses the point. It may be worth noting that when the creed of winner takes all was at its height, Britain performed poorly in the Olympics.

The PM wasn’t the only one, of course. It was inevitable that the main parties’ politicians, regardless of stripe, would seek to claim the games as justification for their own narrow aims. Equally predictable has been the lazy comparisons drawn between the supposed refreshing ‘honesty’ of the competitors and the behaviour of footballers. The Olympics gave anti-football snobs an open goal to drone on about ‘role models’ and how footballers don’t deserve their success and riches. Which is shorthand for resentment that supposedly scumbag working class oiks can earn big money.

But the positives outweigh the gripes. The ‘30th Olympiad’, as my hitherto indifferent friend is now blithely calling it, was an overwhelmingly enjoyable occasion.  And that hints at something broader. People everywhere were captivated by sport. Not everyone, but enough to make it significant. Whether there will be a legacy or not is for another day when we can properly evaluate its longer-term impact. So too the question of whether it was worth the apparent £9.3 billion it cost to put it together.

In the short term the Olympics has had a more immediate value. It wasn’t simply about the winning, nor the individual. One of the notable things about the breathless interviews with wide-eyed competitors was the near universal desire to pass on thanks to coaches, family members, supporters, spectators and ‘everyone’. This was recognition that even for individuals grabbing the glory, it was a whole array of people who made it possible. Whether for the solo competitors or those in the team events, there was clear acknowledgement that much of the games was about people working together for shared goals.

Sport enraptured people for two weeks, unified lots of them, and made plenty happy. A story is being told of Seb Coe travelling home on the tube and meeting a ‘games maker’ who turned out to be a doctor who had treated victims of the 7/7 bombings. The doctor told Coe that he had seen the worst in people in 2005, but now the best in 2012, all thanks to the Olympics. That’s a pretty decent way to show that sport, sometimes, does matter.

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The games people play

It’s the fag end of the football season and once again Tottenham Hotspur appear to be at a crossroads. It is a situation as reliable as hosepipe bans in the middle of a monsoon. And yet again the full picture is hard to discern.

From a position of being the favourite side of neutrals and poised to genuinely threaten a title challenge, Spurs are stumbling towards the finish line, seemingly rudderless, bereft of form, and with the whiff of mutiny in the ranks. Judging by the deluge of comment online, blame lies entirely with the manager once destined for the England job but now seemingly out of the running. I’m not so sure it is all down to him, though. And precedent suggests the situation is more complex than to reduce it to the faults of one individual.

It now appears to be open season on Harry Redknapp, who has been cast as the villain of the piece. It’s quite a turn around. Just a handful of games ago songs were sung begging him to stay at the Lane. Now some of those same fans may be preparing to boo him.

Much of the criticism of Harry Redknapp is valid. He talks too much, says some wrong things at the wrong time, and his qualities as a manager are up for debate. But then we knew this already. His previous managerial form is not exactly a secret.

Prior to arriving at Spurs he had assembled several good sides that progressed under his watch. West Ham and Portsmouth enjoyed some of their better periods in their history. He won the FA Cup, and earned a reputation (deserved or not) as a busy operator in the transfer market. His teams played bright and entertaining football.

Redknapp is no Alex Ferguson, nor an Arsene Wenger, but then not many managers are. Redknapp has a record as a superb motivator, and if the players now are not showing signs of purpose and application, this is one charge that clearly sticks. But too much has been made of his apparent lack of tactical acumen. The idea that a man who has operated in or near the top level of football for over 40 years is clueless is, frankly, clueless. He might get things wrong but not without having some idea. The game just doesn’t work another way.

Rightly or wrongly (and he has angrily denied it), Redknapp has a reputation for being a wheeler dealer, an adept survivor in a business full of sharks and cut-throats. It’s a strategy many in the game utilise, but few seem to attract derision for it as much as Redknapp. He is partly to blame for that, given his tendency to talk – and talk, and talk. Great for the media, less so for fans of his club.

Redknapp says many things, often contradictory. A fan or foe can find what they want from his legion of quotes. For all the belittling of the club as ‘them’ and ‘never having it so good’, you can find examples of much more positive utterances. He has often spoken warmly of the club’s heritage and I recall the heady night after the home win over Inter when his post-match TV interview, featuring an impassioned championing of the way the club plays the game, won a round of applause in the Irish Centre just near White Hart Lane.

How times quickly change. However, it’s not what Redknapp says but what he does that’s really important. Some people attach too much credence to soundbites and take at face value more gnomic utterances that may have their own, less apparent agendas. It could even be argued that Redknapp’s seemingly blunt indifference is preferable to the dishonest platitudes supporters are usually treated to.

What Redknapp has actually done, is, in my view, largely been to the benefit of Spurs. Until the season ends, we cannot say for certain whether it will end on a positive or negative note, but overall his record is very good. This is more articulately argued in the excellent TOPSpurs column, so it is only worth highlighting here the achievements of qualifying for the Champions League and then reaching the quarter finals, with memorable performances and results against top-notch opposition both abroad and at home.

While no trophy has been secured, by modern definitions of achievement Redknapp has been an undoubted success. Not forgetting – however much his critics would argue otherwise – that he helped save Spurs when they were facing the prospect of a relegation battle.

And this is what strikes at the heart of Redknapp and Spurs now. He was brought in as a rescue act to remedy a situation of other people’s making. Enic have a chequered record in appointing managers and must have known that appointing Redknapp, with all the baggage he brings, was a risk – but it was borne out of necessity.

As it turned out he did better than anyone really expected.  That presented its own benefits, but also some dilemmas.  Redknapp joined Tottenham at the age of 61 and still commutes from his home in Dorset. He was never going to be a long-term overseer of a grand Tottenham project. It was a short-term fix. Enic even suspended their own Director of Football system to accommodate him.

Now those immediate goals are confronted by longer-term issues. The problem with talking about where Spurs are today and may be heading tomorrow is that too much focus is placed on one man. Redknapp did not put together this season’s early winning run nor earn all those wonderful victories of the last four seasons on his own; nor is he solely responsible for the heavy defeats and current poor form. It’s a team game, after all.

To take the example of transfer strategy, it would appear that some fans regard Redknapp’s dealings as disastrous. But this ignores the complexities of how the system might work at Spurs – who does what, what is the true budget, and the effect of wage policy are all unclear. We were reliably informed, not least by Redknapp himself, that Daniel Levy was ‘desperate’ to spend £30m on a striker in the last summer window. Yet against this Levy had previously gone on the record to state this sort of spending was unsustainable.

Then there is the thorny issue of ‘rotation’ and players feeling tired. Redknapp finally quashed this partial nonsense after musing it may have played a part, another indication of the contradictory nature of his comments. It is a simple case of looking at the total appearance figures of players at Spurs and other clubs, and the strength-in-depth of the relative squads, to expose the fuller picture. Similarly, much is also made of Redknapp’s supposed scouting failures, particularly when set against the success of Graham Carr at Newcastle. And yet which club did Carr formerly scout for? It only takes one guess.

And then there are the players. Another end-of-season reliable is that the current incumbents will get away virtually scot free while everyone else takes the rap. The squad at Spurs is supposedly the best for a generation. If Redknapp really did have so little to do with the previous fine form as one school of thought suggests, then it logically follows he is not responsible for the failures. If the players cannot motivate themselves for a push to secure a Champions League place, or overcome teams with demonstrably lesser players, then perhaps more questions need to be asked of those who actually step out on the pitch.

So what’s the whole truth? I don’t know and expect many of Redknapp’s critics don’t know either. How football clubs operate is largely opaque and murky, and definite conclusions are difficult to draw. It does seem that Redknapp’ Spurs career, England job or not, may have either run its course or reached a point where someone has a difficult decision to make.  The hope for Tottenham fans is that in the future Redknapp’s reign is looked back on as a progressive staging post on the path to success, rather than a brief spell in the sun or a case of a missed opportunity.

We should all hope it ends on a happy note, with Spurs proving that good management throughout the club can enable it to compete with the vastly superior resources of the Premier League’s wealthier guns. Fans might not like to hear their manager claim that their club is punching above its weight. Prices for season tickets suggest supporters are not getting full value, but put against the opposition Tottenham face and the financial means those sides can call on, it is at least worth acknowledging that Spurs are taking on and matching some pretty powerful opponents.

And if they fail, it is not even a question of apportioning blame. The manager, players, coaches and owners have given it a good go. It might not be quite good enough thus far, but Tottenham as a club is in a better position now than it was when Enic took over in 2001. Harry Redknapp has been one of the major players in that period of time since. He may not have been all good for Spurs but he certainly hasn’t been all bad.

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Sports nostalgia books – ideal Christmas gifts

Among my new books on sale now are When Boxing Was Boxing – with a foreword by the great Barry McGuigan – and When Cricket Was Cricket.

Check out some of the reviews here

There’s also Those Were The Games written with Richard Havers. It’s a celebration of superb football match reports on the great games of yesteryear – the glorious and famous, the fascinating and pivotal, all beautifully scribed by a host of terrific reporters.

There’s more info on a whole range of other books here

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