By Gary Gray
Gary Gray lives in Seattle and works as a compliance analyst in Bellevue. He is a soccer aficionado and writer who graduated with a Law degree from Williamette University in Salem, Ore.
Sports history in Seattle conjures up names like Steve Largent, Ken Griffey Jr., Shawn Kemp, and Gary Payton. But Seattle’s past holds another great name many may not be aware of – Harry Redknapp.
The English manager has coached the best in Europe, and it all started here.
Perhaps because of soccer’s traditional second-tier status in America, Redknapp’s time with the original Sounders is not well known. Seattle’s soccer roots run deep, deeper than the recent arrival of international stars like Robbie Keane and Obafemi Martins to Major League Soccer that some see as signs of a turning point for professional soccer in America. In fact, the region’s connection to international talent reaches back to 1976, the year the NFL’s Seahawks were founded and a year before the inception of MLB’s Mariners.
The Sounders were established as a North American Soccer League team in 1974. Aside from the NBA’s Sonics, founded in 1967, the Sounders are Seattle’s oldest major-league professional team. (Sorry, hockey fans, but the Seattle Metropolitans, who won the 1917 Stanley Cup, were more like a club team than a modern major pro team.)
Long before stars like David Beckham signed with L.A., another soccer star – or soon-to-be-star – traveled from London to join the Sounders – Harry Redknapp.
Redknapp’s coaching days began right here in the Emerald City. In 1976, Redknapp came to Seattle to be a player/coach under Jimmy Gabriel for the Seattle Sounders, then a two-year old North American Soccer League (NASL) club. He made 15 appearances that year, and the Sounders finished second in the Pacific Conference, earning a playoff spot. The following year, Redknapp cut back his playing time, making only five appearances, but the club finished third in the Pacific Division and made its way to Soccer Bowl, the NASL championship match. They faced the New York Cosmos, who had an aging striker named Pele, perhaps the greatest player in soccer history. New York defeated Seattle 2-1 before 35,548 fans at the old Civic Stadium in Portland, Ore.
Redknapp coached under Gabriel with the Sounders for two more years, drastically cutting his playing time (three appearances in ’78 and one in ’79). His playing career ended and merged into what would become a brilliant managing career, which would retrace the path he took as a player. After leaving Seattle, Redknapp returned to England to become assistant at Oxford City to Bobby Moore, the captain of the 1966 England team that won the World Cup and a former teammate of Redknapp’s at West Ham.
In 1982, Redknapp became manager at Bournemouth, where he was in charge until 1992. In 1994, Redknapp became manager at West Ham United. He would spend a few short spells with Portsmouth and Southampton before arriving at White Hart Lane (Tottenham) in 2008.
In storybook fashion, Redknapp took over as manager of Tottenham Hotspur in the fall of 2008 and saved a sinking ship. The club had taken only two points from its first eight games. After firing manager Juande Ramos, the club signed Redknapp.
The club’s next four games were remarkable, as they defeated Bolton, Liverpool, Manchester City, and played to a draw against Arsenal. The 10 points lifted Spurs clear of relegation territory and set the stage for a brighter future. Redknapp also won the Premier League Manager of the Year award. The club finished in fourth place in the Premier League the next year and secured a spot in the Champions League. There they competed with the best clubs in the world and made it to the quarterfinals before falling to Real Madrid in April 2011.
Spurs finished fifth in the Premier League in 2010, and fourth in 2011. Because of Chelsea’s win in the Champions League, Spurs did not qualify in 2011. Redknapp was sacked. But in a short three-year span, he had developed a winning tradition that may have led to his own firing.
Redknapp began his playing career as a midfielder on the youth teams at Tottenham and West Ham United. In 1965 he made his first appearance with the first team at West Ham United and played for the team until moving to Bournemouth, a Division 3 squad, in 1972. He played there until 1976.
Despite a full career in football, Redknapp’s best days may be ahead of him. Late last year, he took on what may prove to be the biggest challenge of his career. In November, Redknapp took over as manager of Queens Park Rangers, a club that was relegated despite his efforts. This season has been more positive. Through Oct. 8, the club shares the spot at the top of the League Championship (England’s second-tier) with Burnley (both clubs having 26 points). Queens Park’s, and Harry’s, return to the Premier League looks inevitable. Perhaps the best is yet to come.
No matter what happens at QPR, Seattle’s soccer history is richer for having had Redknapp be a part of it. And who knows what the future holds. Sigi Schmid, 60, is relatively young for a soccer coach, and if he continues to find success with Sounders FC of the MLS, perhaps Europe will call one day.
And if that happens, could Seattle look east across the pond and request the return of one of England’s finest?
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