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Old 11th February 2012, 13:09   #1
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Default David Conn: Redknapp trial judge says the game has 'rather lost its way'

Redknapp trial judge's damning verdict on a game that has 'rather lost its way'

The Tottenham Hotspur manager may have been acquitted, but Justice Leonard's verdict on football suggested he had been quietly staggered by what he had heard in his humdrum court

David Conn
Friday 10 February 2012 12.57 GMT

A blizzard of images blows across the mind at the end of a week outstandingly mad even by the frantic norms of 20 years since the top clubs forged their Premier League breakaway to keep all of football's new money. Nobody would ever have dared to script a fictitious day in which the favourite to become the next England manager is cleared in the morning of tax evasion, then the Italian incumbent resigns in the afternoon from his 6m a year job over the captain who is up on a racism charge. As Redknapp and son Jamie wrestled themselves into their black people carrier with darkened windows outside Southwark crown court, leaving a press pack and smattering of middle-aged Spurs fans to think of Monaco and Rosie the late bulldog, the lingering thought was of those few quiet words the judge, Justice Leonard, had reserved for the game of football itself.

Court 1 had been crowded and it was difficult to hear Leonard as, in his wig and robe with purple sash the kit of a man who, for all his politeness, sends guilty men to prison summed up the Redknapp and Milan Mandaric case for the jury. He did not seem to need to talk about football itself, as he had not, throughout 13 days of the criminal trial. The context was Leonard telling the jury to disregard anything outside of the precise facts about that $145,000 paid by Milan Mandaric into Redknapp's Monaco bank account, and their view on whether these "men of good character were telling the truth". But the judge still seemed to go out of his way, to have a quiet word about the game: "Football is a sport which has become so commercial," he said, "it may be thought by some to have rather lost its way."

The actual verdict was to come 24 hours later, but that was the judge's verdict on football, and it was striking to hear it articulated so clearly and economically. The Premier League's own lobbying operation partly ensures that it rarely is, that such sentiments about the game losing its soul must always be balanced by acknowledging the good work clubs do in their communities, about which the league is never shy to inform politicians. With the 20th year ticking round, prepare for a triumphalist flurry of great football memories not recollections of the greed for money that drove the top clubs' financial breakaway from the Football League, or the multimillion-pound personal enrichment reaped by the men who engineered it. Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, can be expected to roll out the phrase he uses completely unembarrassed, quite opposite to the musing of Justice Leonard, that the Premier League moves in a "virtuous circle".

When the judge spoke you realised that, sitting up there listening, he had been quietly staggered by the sums of money bandied about in his humdrum court: 800,000 for Redknapp's basic salary in 2003-04, a 500,000 bonus for staying up in the Premier League (because the financial gap with the Championship, opened up by the 1992 breakaway, is so great), a 10% share of the TV merit award which, for finishing 13th, was 436,000. That while the prosecution's barrister never managed to make the charge stick on Redknapp that he was blase about such sums "Nobody had it harder than me as a kid, Mr Black," the Spurs manager retorted, referring to his impoverished upbringing in Poplar at one point Redknapp said of his reaction to the 500,000 bonus: "I said, that's nice."

There was also a reflection about the parlous state of many clubs in Mandaric's long, calm evidence, when he spread awareness of his huge business achievements in the US which he feels, aggrieved, have been unrecognised here. He became the serial owner of three grand old football clubs because all three were ruined. The billionaire patiently explained that Portsmouth were bust when he bought the club, Leicester City were desperate, and Sheffield Wednesday, the club from where Sir Dave Richards, the Premier League chairman, made his contacts in football and which he left sunken in debt, were 24 hours from administration when Mandaric took over in December 2010.

So the judge found the clarity to express his view, deftly, that football is a sport that may "have rather lost its way". And those in court who follow the game intimately thought: "You haven't heard the half of it, your honour."
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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