Glen Little: Jungle tigers, Kanu’s disabled lift, strangled by Hermann - Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth Holiday Camp was wonderful
Within weeks of Glen Little’s Fratton Park entrance he had been ambushed by tigers, involved in Nigerian riots, feared for his life in a Cape Town taxi, and broken his toe during strangulation from team-mate Hermann Hreidarsson.
Welcome to Pompey’s greatest team for more than half a century. Or Harry’s Holiday Camp, as the right winger lovingly labels it.
In June 2008, Little arrived at a club which the previous month had claimed the FA Cup and finished eighth in the Premier League, while was now facing European competition for the first time in its proud history.
He entered a changing room containing the likes of David James, Lassana Diarra, Sol Campbell, Sylvain Distin, Glen Johnson, Kanu, Niko Kranjcar, Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and, of course, Hreidarsson.
Earmarked by Harry Redknapp as the right-wing replacement for the frustratingly enigmatic John Utaka, Little was plucked from Reading on a free transfer.
Unfortunately his time with the Blues was blighted by injury, restricting him to eight appearances – and bettering AC Milan’s Kaka.
Yet for that one season, Little occupied top-table seat alongside Pompey heroes, icons and legends.
He told The News: ‘Kanu, who was a lovely man, had a disabled lift at the training ground and he would use it.
‘We’d be sitting in the meeting room waiting to watch a match video, then you’d hear a ping and he would get out of the lift, which got a laugh every time.
‘He couldn’t stretch his leg out to get up the stairs, so instead used the lift. You’d watch him and he’d shuffle around the pitch, even in the warm-up.
‘What about Kanu in his prime? Can you imagine him in the 1970s, he would have been unplayable!
‘They were a really good bunch. The core of the group – mainly English lads – called themselves The A-team and would go out drinking every Tuesday, heading to London, Bournemouth, wherever.
‘I’d heard a few things about David James, but liked him. A bit sarcastic, a bit serious at times, quite clever, a quirky type, and often drove into training from his Exeter home.
‘Early on we were on the coach and all of a sudden he showed me a picture he’d drawn of me. It wasn’t a caricature, an actual picture, and wasn’t bad. I didn’t even realise he was doing it.
‘Then there was the Sol Man. He’s a year above me, but I’m one of those who still acts 18, the kid who never grew up. Whereas Sol has been 38 his whole life.
‘He did what he wanted. We would all be in for injury treatment and he’d turn up when he fancied it. On occasions he would announce “I’m going down the David Lloyd gym” and was gone again.
‘At one point in the 2008 pre-season, we were at Nigel Mansell’s place, Woodbury Park, in Exeter. Sol was going out and eating on his own, he knew someone who owned a restaurant down the road, so didn’t sit with us.
‘I remember Jamo and Defoe, big hitters, saying to him “Come on Sol, you’re the skipper, we are all eating together”. He replied “I don’t need this, I'm off”. He was different wasn’t he and I can understand that. All he knew was Tottenham and Arsenal.
‘Then there was Glen Johnson, who turned up at Fratton Park 10 minutes before playing AC Milan and performed fantastically well.
‘That summed him up, such a natural talent, yet lackadaisical. That was the only thing which let him down – his mentality. He would do things, such as a backheel on the edge of his box, and you’d think “You’re world-class, yet doing that ridiculous thing”.
‘Usually you’d eat at 9am at the training ground. Whereas Jonno would turn up at 10.30am, rush upstairs to the canteen for an omelette and come out. He was get out of your car, put your boots on, and out you go, no preparation. Maybe that suited him?
‘He was a bit too easy-osey. Still, that season he was on fire, our best player.
‘As for Lassana Diarra, he was a quiet lad, kept himself to himself, but the best I ever played with. Mind you, he did it when he wanted, also in training.
‘There were times he turned up and you can tell he didn’t fancy it. I knew that anyway as my mate Steve Sidwell had been with him at Chelsea. When he was on it, though, wow.’
Little was an established Premier League performer with Reading before an Achilles issue sidelined him for a year.
Having turned down a new deal at the Madejski Stadium and interest from Derby, he arrived at Fratton Park as a 32-year-old off the back of just three reserve games.
Unfortunately, a freak injury inflicted by Hreidarsson one game into pre-season would set the tone for a frustrating Blues career.
‘Hermann came down the stairs, I spotted him and said “How’s the Hermannator?”,’ added Little.
‘He muttered something about me talking too much, grabbed me around the neck and pulled me off a chair.
‘By doing so my leg went up, kicked the coffee table, and broke a toe on my right foot.
‘They had told me the story about a Christmas night out and Hermann playfully grabbing Richard Hughes by the throat. Hughesie couldn’t breath, he was going red, and had bruising afterwards.
‘I hated playing against Hermann, definitely one of my toughest opponents. Jumping up with him was all elbows. Then, when the game’s going on, it was “Ahh what’s that?” and he’s trod on your toe. Did he do it on purpose or was it a trick of the trade?
‘I can remember facing Wolfsburg in December 2008, with me and Hermann named among the substitutes, sat on these heated seats, 12 of them in a row.
‘He came back from half-time carrying this big frankfurter hot dog. It turned out he’d got it from a lounge on the right as you went into the tunnel. Then he ate it while sitting on the bench!’
As FA Cup holders, Pompey were invited to Nigeria for a two-game exhibition event in July 2008, forming part of pre-season preparations.
The Blues lost 2-1 to Manchester United, yet headlines were dominated by the riot which erupted pre-match outside Abuja’s National Stadium as fans priced out of match tickets displayed their anger.
Then, following three days in west Africa, Little and his team-mates ventured to South Africa, where they faced Ajax Cape Town.
Little said: ‘Cape Town was the best Stag Do ever, yet this was pre-season!
‘One night we decided to go out after dinner. A minibus, a female guide, and 10 of us, including Defoe, Crouch, Kranjcar, Sean Davis, Hermann, Richard Hughes and Glen Johnson.
‘Now we’ve got to be up at 5am the next day to go on safari in Johannesburg. Hmmm, I’m at a new club and need to make a good impression, but they were nagging me to go along.
‘At one point we arrived at this really posh place and, while stood on a balcony in the VIP area, Defoe said to me: “Just do an hour, I promise you I’ll go with you at 2am”. Not that he did!
‘At 3.30am I went outside on my own, there’s no-one in the streets, and got into this cab, instructing him to take me to the Table Bay hotel.
‘As we’re racing through the red lights in the town centre, it genuinely occurred to me I might never get seen again. “Premier League footballer goes missing in South Africa!”.
‘When we landed a few days earlier, we got on the coach at the airport and a bloke came on the microphone: “Welcome everybody to Cape Town. It is like a lot of cities, like London and New Year, but you can’t go into town after 6pm”. How is that like London and New York, then?
‘Still, I got back, caught 30 minutes of sleep, before heading down to reception at 5am, as instructed.
‘There, with the beers in and sat around a table, were Johnson, Defoe, Hughesie, Hermann and Crouch! Then another player walked in with a woman.
‘At that moment, Harry came down the escalator, looked at everyone in reception, and shouted “Johnno, this is pre-season, you know”. It was unbelievable, Harry’s holiday camp!
‘Then it was off to Johannesburg on four propeller planes, with eight of us in each. It was like the film The Wild Geese as we landed in this bush on the runway, in fact it wasn’t even a runway.
‘After getting off, we stood around, worried about what might be coming out of the jungle, then the first jeep came. Harry Redknapp jumped in, four to each jeep, and had gone.
‘Well, I was on the last one, and, as we’re driving to the lodge, we went past this vehicle with a flat tyre. It’s only Harry!
‘Mind you, later that day, our jeep broke down. We were having a bit of a laugh and joke about it, but the gamekeeper accompanying us warned us to settle down. He has the gun, the rifle, but was getting worried, with tigers looking at us.
‘They tell you that if something happens, you say “Grrrrrr” to the tiger because they don’t know what to do. If you run, you've had it, because you’re prey.
‘The gamekeeper was a bit nervous, these tigers were all around us. Oh we were a bit happy when the replacement jeep turned up.
‘To think I was used to pre-season doing Sweden and the Isle of Man!’
With Redknapp attempting to build on Pompey’s highest top-flight placing in more than half a century and first silverware in 69 years, Little represented his first summer signing ahead of the 2008-09 campaign.
It was a case of third time lucky for the Blues boss, having previously attempted to recruit the winger without success.
Understandably, Little was disappointed to see Redknapp quit for Spurs four months later, yet there were others at Fratton Park delighted to see the manager’s October 2008 departure.
‘I thought everyone loved Harry, but found out after coming to Pompey that wasn’t the case,’ added Little.
‘Harry hated David Nugent, he couldn’t stand him. The feeling was mutual. My first week there, Harry tried to get rid of him to Ipswich on loan.
‘Nuge kept telling him “I’m not going, I’ve got a hernia problem, I’m not fit”. Harry’s response every time was – you ARE going!
‘Where we trained at the Wellington Sports ground, the gaffer’s office was one side of a corridor, with the treatment room opposite.
‘On one occasion, we were in the treatment room and suddenly there’s a big crash outside. The physio, Gary Sadler, opened the door and noticed a big dent in the wall.
‘It turned out that Harry had thrown something from the office in a rage because Nuge said he wasn’t leaving.
‘Harry was shouting “How many watches do you want? I’ll give you £100,000 to go. You can buy a car and two watches with that”. Nuge wouldn’t take it, though.
‘In the end Harry left before Nuge, shortly after returning home from our Uefa Cup game at Braga after losing 3-0.
‘I played and collected an injury. I was gutted. The next morning, I was having my breakfast when Harry came in and said: “Hello Glen, you all right? I’ve spoken to Gary, you’ll only miss a couple of games, it’s not too bad is it?”.
‘Then he added: “You going in the pool?”. He was buzzing. While everyone was in the pool, he sat at the table on his phone.
‘When we returned to England, he got off the plane and was on the phone again. I remember thinking “Harry’s fine, he’s in a great mood”.
‘No doubt he was hearing the figures that Tottenham were paying him!’
Little’s own Pompey career effectively ended four months later, when caretaker boss Paul Hart sanctioned a loan move to Reading in March 2009 for the remainder of the season.
Upon the expiry of his one-year Fratton deal that summer, the winger was released and later featured for Sheffield United, Aldershot, Wrexham, Welling, Grays Athletic and Heybridge Swifts.
He said: ‘My body let me down at Pompey, it was the most frustrating time for me.
‘Everywhere I’d been previously, I had become a crowd favourite, which was Glentoran, Burnley and Reading.
‘Then I was at the biggest club with the best players I’ve played with – and it’s the first time in my life I hadn't done well.’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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