Magazine article The Spectator

Happy as Harry

Magazine article The Spectator

Happy as Harry

Article excerpt

With league fixtures into double figures, the autumn's general-excuseme overture has finished and the long winter slog is really underway. The eightsome reel at the top of the Premiership comprises natch the four usual suspects (Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea) and a fresh quartet of determined pretenders girding up to press on from highly promising starts: Manchester City, Portsmouth, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United. The eight are managed by a Frenchman, a Scot, a Spaniard, an Israeli, a Swede, a Welshman and two Englishmen. The last brace are contrasting guvnors: Newcastle's plonking praesidium-pompous Sam Allardyce could have been created by Arnold Bennett, while Portsmouth's perkily engaging and philosophic been-theredone-that Harry Redknapp might be straight out of Dickens. I know with which I'd prefer to share a few convivial Saturday night sherberts.

This weekend, Arsenal vs Manchester United will hoover up the blanket coverage, but I fancy Portsmouth's Newcastle safari might be the more relevantly significant contest. Blithe 'arry-boy vs Alderman Sam.

In my years on the (even then) non-stop football beat, the Waterloo buffet-car meant either Fratton Park or the equally tumbledown Dell; usually the latter, for Southampton were then more regularly swanks of the Solent. There was, nevertheless, always a frisson of nostalgic edge about a trip to Portsmouth: uniformed matelots still turned up in hundreds to watch, the Pompey Chimes still chorussed -- 'Play up Pom-pee! Pom-pee play up!' mimicking Big Ben's bongs -- and, of course, they were one of the crack teams of my boyhood. I think I can still recite, uncribbed, the XI which won two successive Championships in 1949 and 1950 -- well almost: Butler, Whatsisname, Ferrier, Scoular, Thingamyjig, Dickinson, Harris, Reid, Clarke, Phillips, Froggatt. …

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