IF CIRCUMSTANCES had worked out differently, they might now form the England management team, which would have made for a dismaying sight for the Tartan Army at Celtic Park tomorrow night.
Nearly three years ago, concern was building among Scottish supporters. Harry Redknapp’s potential promotion to England manager was not the cause of anguish. Rather, it was the threat he would bring on board his long-term assistant Joe Jordan that gave the fans nightmares.
The presence of Martin O’Neill in the away dug-out was an odd enough sight last Friday night, when Scotland defeated the former Celtic manager’s Republic of Ireland team in a crucial Euro 2016 qualifier. Friendly match or not, it would have seemed like a breach in nature had Jordan turned right after emerging from the tunnel to join the England backroom staff and substitutes tomorrow.
Say it ain’t so Joe. Fortunately, he never had to disappoint Scotland supporters by confirming that yes, it was indeed so – the man who led the line nine times for Scotland against England between 1973 and 1982 had indeed committed what was jokingly put to him yesterday as “the ultimate betrayal” by swapping sides to become assistant manager of the Auld Enemy.
This danger flared in February 2012, two years after Jordan was in the running to succeed George Burley as Scotland manager (he was again linked with the post prior to current manager Gordon Strachan’s appointment).
Events collided to seemingly pave the way for Redknapp to become England manager in a season when he was experiencing success at club level with Tottenham Hotspur, despite off the field worries.
To his relief, Redknapp was cleared of cheating the public revenue after a high-profile trial. Hours later Fabio Capello resigned as England manager. Redknapp’s name shot to the top of list of those backed to replace the Italian.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
“That could have been interesting but that didn’t happen and you move on,” shrugged Redknapp yesterday, as he reflected on this at a Glasgow hotel, while previewing tomorrow’s clash between Scotland and England. “I’ve never lost any sleep about it.”
He certainly doesn’t appear to keep up with how England are faring without him. “I am looking forward to Tuesday night as I wasn’t that bothered about England against… Lithuania?” Told it was, in fact, Slovenia who England had defeated 3-1 the previous day, Redknapp was equally dismissive of a side ranked a place above Scotland in the Fifa rankings.
“Sorry, but they all sound the same and they are all about as good as each other!” Scotland, he contends, will be a far greater test, even if the domestic game in such a poor state that he wonders whether Celtic centre-half Virgil van Dijk, who he admits interests him, can be adequately judged from his performances in the Scottish Premiership.
Now manager at Queens Park Rangers, Redknapp was joined in Glasgow by Jordan, his faithful assistant since the pair stared working together at Portsmouth nearly a decade ago. Unsurprisingly, Jordan endorsed his friend’s credentials to occupy the role of England manager, one that was, in the event, given to Roy Hodgson, following a process in which Redknapp was not even interviewed.
“There was certainly speculation about Harry and I’ve got to say I thought he was a certainty,” said Jordan. “No disrespect to anyone else who was in the running for it, I just thought Harry was a stick on. I know him, I’ve worked with him for ten years. He would have been spot on for a national team job.”
On the question of who might have been asked to be his assistant, Jordan replied: “I don’t really know. It was never something that we discussed.”
But would Jordan, proud owner of 52 Scotland caps, been prepared to join him at England? “Would I have gone as his number two?” he smiled. “He’d have needed to have asked me! It would have been a big decision for me.”
Jordan mentioned that John Gorman, born in Winchburgh, assisted Glenn Hoddle. But Gorman never played for Scotland. He did not reach the legendary status of Jordan by scoring at three successive World Cup finals. “That makes me realise how fortunate I was,” ponders Jordan. “My career hit off between 1973 and 1982.
“The World Cups fell within those two dates. They could quite as easily have been another way and I wouldn’t have made three World Cups. For a forward to have made three World Cups with three different managers and three different teams – the big thing was that I never had an injury until the last World Cup in 1982.”
Even then, Jordan made the squad, and scored in his last appearance for Scotland – a 2-2 draw v Russia in Malaga. He is desperate to see Scotland qualify for another major finals, and he believes they are on course to do so, but first comes the challenge of England, a fixture Jordan knows well after making his debut in a 1-0 defeat in 1973.
He has happier memories of the following year, when Scotland set off for the World Cup finals in West Germany on the back of a morale-boosting 2-0 victory, with Jordan scoring one of the goals. In his time with Scotland, he missed only one Auld Enemy clash, and it was for the kind of reason which underlines his pedigree – he was needed by Leeds United for their 1975 European Cup final against Bayern Munich.
Similarly, his Scotland debut two years earlier – against England – came just days after a Cup Winners’ Cup final appearance v AC Milan.
“It came a wee bit out the blue because, during that season, [Scotland manager] Willie Ormond had said I still had a bit to do, which was fair enough,” recalled Jordan. He had to wait until 1974 for his first taste of beating England.
“We all travelled up after playing a testimonial at Middlesbrough,” he recalled. “We all joined the squad and there was the story about wee Jimmy [Johnstone] rowing out to sea before the game. I still laugh about it.
“But, on the day, he performed. It was just before the World Cup and we were the only home nation who’d qualified, so there was pressure on us to perform. That was a huge game because it would have been a damp squib if we’d lost to England at Hampden in front of 100,000.”
Can the current Scotland side now claim a first home win over England in nearly 30 years? “They have nothing to fear,” said one of Scotland’s most fearless performers.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS