The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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A Statement of Principle

The human form and the streak of a jet plane.

No one is talking about the fact that what made the negotiations between Harry Redknapp and Newcastle United break down last week was Harry Redknapp’s demand to be given his own private jet. No one is interested in the fact that Harry Redknapp would have been the coach of Newcastle United if Newcastle had made it possible for him to travel to and from his job in a cask of metal hurtling thousands of feet over the surface of the Earth at speeds of hundreds of miles per hour.

It’s a case of he-said, she-said, of course. There was a quote from a Newcastle source in the Independent, but Harry wasn’t born yesterday, and he isn’t going to confirm to the first reporter who sidles up to him with a pen tucked into his hatband that his decision to walk away from the table was contingent on Newcastle’s refusal to buy him a twenty-million-dollar boron-reinforced plastic Gulfstream G550 that would take him to work every morning on a screaming arc over the clouds.

Personally, I want to believe it.


Look at Harry Redknapp’s history this year. Just as he’s negotiating his contract extension with Portsmouth, the Royal Navy quietly moves two super aircraft carriers onto the site of the team’s new stadium. When the police want to enlist his aid in a corruption investigation, they do so by sending 60 officers to escort him to the station.

Harry Redknapp does not do things by halves.

So I was depressed, a little, when I learned that he’d turned down the offer from Newcastle for all the right reasons: he had a good thing going at Portsmouth, he was settled, his players trusted him, etc. It took the wind out of the sails of the Harry Redknapp legend, a bit. When did Harry ever take the safe, sane, rational, measured approach? When did Harry start living like a mortal?

We need people like Harry Redknapp, I thought, because it’s a drab sort of world, and the further you go the more you’ve got to stoop your shoulders to make the jacket fit. And you do what you can to make it better, you try to leave it more beautiful and bizarre than you found it

but everywhere you turn there are men with eyes like drowned princes who take what they want and light their cigars on what it means to you.

Eyes like drowned princes.

I never wanted Harry to go to Newcastle. It was the wrong move. It was the kind of sideways that looks up when you’re living it and down when you see it on TV. They were going to double his salary; they were going to raise dripping chests from the sea for the transfer market; but four years at half the money where you can be successful is worth more than eighteen months of failure for twice the money somewhere else. And at Newcastle you never can tell whether the pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon, and the chalice with the palace holds the brew that is true, or what.

But if Harry’s making calm, correct decisions, if Harry’s mild, if Harry’s acting like he’s fallible, then three grains of the splendidness of the world fall down through the neck of the hourglass, and three color televisions spontaneously go black and white. We need Harry to be larger than life. We need Harry to be wild-eyed and cynical and enormous, because the world needs splendid things.


But if Harry really turned down the Newcastle job on account of a private jet, then do you see what’s happened? He’s made the right decision for reasons that are even more outsize and insane than the wrong decision would have been. He’s still bigger than platinum. He will coach your football team, but only if he can live in another geographical region and wage a war on speed and gravity every day on the way to the office. Every choice he makes is a signed statement of intent to say what he likes to the cod-eyed dossier men and set the thermostat to whatever number he wants.

Maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe not. But that’s where we’re going today—into the sky, on a vapor trail, with Harry Redknapp, and damn the heat of the sun.


A Statement of Principle

by Brian Phillips · January 14, 2008

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