The transfer of award-winning football writer Harry Harris from The Mirror to the Daily Express for a six-figure salary may be delayed by a neat bit of defence by Piers Morgan. The Mirror editor appears to be about to hold him to his 15-month contract.
Morgan has already persuaded film critic Jonathan Ross not to leave for the Express, despite being offered a deal believed to be worth £150,000, 30 per cent more than he earns at The Mirror.
Harris’s deal could bring him in £300,000, with signing-on fees and loyalty bonuses, because his contract was negotiated by sports and entertainment lawyer Mel Goldberg, who treated negotiations just as he would the transfer of a top football player.
"We treated him as though he was David Beckham," said Goldberg. "We knew the Express wanted him so we got more or less what we asked for."
The two-year contract went through very quickly, with Goldberg talking to Express Newspapers boss Richard Desmond, whom he knows well, editorial director Paul Ashford and their lawyer.
But Morgan told Press Gazette: "Harry has led the way in demanding footballers honour their contracts, so I’m sure he’ll be utterly determined to set a marvellous example by honouring his own contract in full — and teach those money-grabbing disloyal soccer stars a lesson in how to do it.
"At his request I raised his notice period to 15 months in 1997 and I am obviously now delighted that I did so.
"Harry is therefore contracted to us until December 2002, which is handy because it gives us more than a year to plan his leaving party."
Harris, in Spain for Arsenal’s match with Real Mallorca, cannot believe he will be held to the contract. He insists his parting with Morgan, in an hour-long telephone conversation last weekend, was very amicable.
"I have a good relationship with Piers. He is far bigger than that. He sees me as Patrick Vieira being lured away by the evil forces of money and and he would be Arsene Wenger, coolly persuading me to stay. I said I had made up my mind and he wished me the very best: ‘We’ll give you a great send-off. You’re one of only two people that have left that I would ever have back.’"
Harris, 49, who has been at The Mirror for 18 years, appears to be a wanted man. A year ago the News of the World tried to lure him with a big contract, say colleagues, and in the past few days News International is believed have made a new offer, topping Desmond’s, a package for writing for the NoW and The Sun.
Harris said he was leaving for a number of reasons, not all financial. "It will break my heart to leave The Mirror. But this deal shows the value of football and sports journalism. Football drives sales. Other senior football writers should look on the moves of Brian Woolnough to the Daily Star and myself as benefiting them. We are showing the true worth of football writers. I said to Richard Desmond, ‘You’ve got me on the cheap’."
By Jean Morgan