Newcastle fans spent September cursing the “Cockney Mafia” but now their football has a definite north London imprint. Stuart Rayner hears Joe Kinnear sing Tottenham’s praises.
In Dublin’s fair city,
Where the boys are so pretty,
We first set our eyes on big Joey Kinnear,
As he wheeled his wheelbarrow,
Through the streets wide and narrow,
Crying ‘Tottenham! Tottenham!’
THE Tottenham Hotspur fans might not hold Joe Kinnear in the same affection they did when he was the subject of their terrace song, but the 61-year-old’s fondness for White Hart Lane remains.
They have tasted his patience in the past – after all, Alan Sugar once told the hapless Christian Gross “You’re hired!” in preference to him – but the footballing philosophy he learned in north London dictates the Newcastle United interim manager’s whole outlook on the game.
Before Kinnear was appointed as United’s interim manager, “cockney” was about the most offensive C word anyone could use on Tyneside. But since he started reviving the club’s fortunes along with fellow former Spurs full-back Chris Hughton, animosity towards our friends in the south seems to be on the wane.
Between them, Kinnear and Hughton spent 31 years at Tottenham – as players and, in the latter’s case, 14 years as coach and caretaker manager. And the influence of Spurs’ greatest manager, Bill Nicholson, formed a lasting impression on the young Kinnear.
“I was very affected by Bill Nicholson and Eddie Bailey (his assistant),” he says. “I look back sometimes at the way they handled things. There was a calmness about everything they did. They preached the same thing on a daily basis. He used to always have a motto: Train as you play. I’ve always used it.”
But there is another element to Nicholson’s schooling, one that will be more pleasing to Magpie ears than Kinnear’s unexpected rendition of his old terrace song in this week’s Press briefing.
Like Newcastle since Kevin Keegan’s first coming as manager, Tottenham are indelibly linked to a particular way of playing – attractive, positive, push-and-run football. Lazy football stereotypes ignored the fact that under Kinnear’s stewardship, Wimbledon began playing more on the grass than in the clouds. It is something he has tried to bring to St James’s Park. “We try to keep the ball on the ground,” he explains. “We pass it all day long but we did that at Wimbledon and people always used to write the opposite. I’ve been brought up the old-fashioned way. I’m too old now to change.”
The old-fashioned way is back en vogue for Premier League managers. When Blackburn Rovers sacked a managerial novice and replaced him with an old hand this week, it was an acknowledgement that the division’s best bosses have all been round the block. At 61, Kinnear and his opposite number tomorrow, Harry Redknapp, have both replaced younger men in the dugout this season to good effect, so much so that United owner Mike Ashley was this week quoted boasting his man was “better than” another old stager, England coach Fabio Capello.
“I don’t know,” says Kinnear, when asked if managers get better as they get older. “Like anything you do in life, with experience you’re aware of all the bad times and the hard times in football. I suppose when you’ve been through it all, nothing sets you back. You just have to be aware of what’s round the corner.
“I’ve had the hard times and successful times but you learn from the defeats. It’s how you handle them and let it affect yourself. The last thing you want it to do is to let it snowball onto the players. It’s about getting the best out of players, providing you can do that, hopefully you can get the results.” And the Capello comparison? “I didn’t see the Fabio Capello comments, I was told about them,” he says.
“There’s only one difference between us – I’m five million quid behind him!
“If I can get hold of that article I think I’ll frame it, then drop round his (Ashley’s) house with that article.”
When he was manager of Wimbledon, Kinnear was the perennial name in the frame for every vacant manager’s job, but particularly those with the Republic of Ireland and the regular Tottenham vacancies. The closest he got was an interview at White Hart Lane. It is a job he would have loved.
“I’ve never been involved in Tottenham’s backroom staff,” he says. “I’d have loved to have done it years and years ago. I had an interview for the job (in 1998) with Alan Sugar. The lad from Switzerland, Christian Gross, got it.
“(Sugar) was a decent fella, a nice man. I met him on numerous occasions and he was okay, fine. But I’ve never seen him on The Apprentice because I don’t watch TV, except for sport.”
So does he have any regrets at missing out to a man whose time in charge of the once-great club is remembered only in fits of laughter? “Long time ago, long time ago,” he says. So was the Nicholson era, but fortunately for the Gallowgate purists, Kinnear has a long memory.