It is high school reunion time at Fratton Park this weekend as a host of familiar faces reunite. Boasting two former Portsmouth strikers and an ex-Pompey midfielder in his squad, Harry Redknapp makes his first return to the south coast club since walking out on them to take the hot-seat at Tottenham just under a year ago. In opposition will be a clutch of ex-Spurs players, although the on-loan Jamie O’Hara is ineligible to face his parent club. Whilst Younes Kaboul, Michael Brown and Kevin-Prince Boateng were hardly great success stories at White Hart Lane, the returning trio of Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Niko Kranjcar were not the kind of players Pompey fans wanted to see leave. The focus will fall most on Redknapp, heightened by his yo-yo existence in Hampshire – leaving Portsmouth for Southampton only to return before joining Spurs.
Fratton Park is never the most welcoming of places. With facilities well below the level enjoyed at most other top flight grounds – a distinct lack of toilets and a roof on the away end only a recent introduction – the scene is set for hostility towards Redknapp. Curiously, for a ground that features the prolonged ringing of a bell throughout games, Spurs fans have been warned that banners and flags are not permitted at Fratton Park. Aside from the fact that the away end is too small to house a cloth article, it is hard to know quite what Portsmouth’s problem would be with opposing fans having a visible show of their support. The city likes to portray an intimidating image and the football club milk Fratton Park’s lack of welcome for all its worth. Tiny and tight to the pitch, the venom from the stands will not have far to travel to Harry’s ears.
For his part, Redknapp has moved to play down the occasion, dismissing claims he is taking bodyguards with him on Saturday. Typically blunt, he said: “I don’t want security – I don’t want anyone near me. I’m not bothered about the idiots. There are enough good people at the club who I know well and appreciate what I did there. Am I bothered about some nutter running up to me? No.” Quite how much vitriol Pompey fans are entitled to have for Redknapp is debatable. Having twice walked out on the club, he is never going to be celebrated universally in Portsmouth. Ironically, he received the freedom of the city three days after leaving for Tottenham, but one suspects things might have been different if the decision had not already been made.
At the same time, he still remains one of the best managers the team has ever had. Gaining promotion to the Premier League with a team full of wheeler-dealer bargains; keeping them in the top flight after returning to the club when they were in real danger of relegation; leading the team to their highest league finish in the top flight for five decades; winning the FA Cup and qualifying for Europe. It is quite a record. One man who thinks he should receive praise rather than abuse is Redknapp himself: “I’ve been the best manager they have ever had, I’m very proud of what I have achieved. If people are stupid enough to shout abuse they need their heads looking at in my opinion”.
Looking at the quality of the players who will be playing against their former employers, it is not hard to see which club has had the better side of the transfer dealings. Kaboul was a promising centre-back who arrived with a big reputation as the future of the French national team’s defence. Instead, it went a bit Florent Sinama-Pongolle for him at White Hart Lane and he is now trying to re-establish his reputation in a different blue shirt. Brown is tenacious and a team player, but he was too limited for Spurs’ attractive style, all bite and little bark. Boateng rarely got to model the Lilywhite shirt, his tattoos getting more of an airing than the club badge. In contrast, Defoe and Crouch have both been scoring for club and country, and although Kranjcar failed to do the business for Croatia against England, he has looked a quality acquisition for Tottenham.
With regards to O’Hara – the pick of the Spurs players to join Portsmouth, albeit temporarily – Portsmouth Chief Executive Peter Storrie believes he will be able to keep the young midfielder until the end of the season. He revealed: “There has been nothing from Spurs that Jamie will be going back in January, nothing at all. As far as we are concerned, we have an option to keep Jamie until the end of the season. That can be taken up in January if he is enjoying himself – and he is.”
Tottenham Club Focus
Defoe dazzles but may remain an England substitute – September 8
Redknapp to thank for Lennon renaissance – September 11
Spurs fail first big test – September 15
Transfer budget not affected by new training complex – September 18
Honesty not always the best policy in football– September 22
Redknapp almost spoilt for choice – September 25
Four-Star Robbie serves up timely reminder – September 29 Versatile Huddlestone is two for the price of one – October 2 Tall stories dominate while Reebok win proves too tall an order – October 6 Old friends, new enemies – October 16