Some years ago I remember sitting in the south stand of Spurs’ White Hart Lane stadium asking, with thousands of others, for Harry to “give us a wave”, and I still can feel the joy and excitement when he complied. For all English football fans, Harry Redknapp was reminiscent of the old English gaffer, a no-nonsense bloke who inspired loyalty with a mix of ferocious discipline and unrivalled charisma. Yet when Harry walked into the Gladstone Room at the Oxford Union, there was no halo surrounding this bringer of glory to the game of football. He wouldn’t have looked out of place in the local Morrison’s near his home in Sandbanks.
It is his down to earth demeanour that first strikes me when we are introduced. We could have been two blokes introduced in the pub rather than in the grandiose surroundings of the historic Union. As we begin to chat, it becomes clear that Harry is going to be open, honest and frank about his experiences and his opinions but even so, like any good sportsman would, I decie to warm up first.
A series of quickfire questions brings some expected and unexpected results. Favourite player managed? “Gareth Bale – you never knew when he was going to do something special.” Central midfield partner for himself, Jamie (his son) or Frank Lampard (his nephew)? “Both were big talents in their day, and as much as I hate to do this, it’s got to be Frank – such a threat in front of goal”.
Turning towards his colourful career, I am hesitant to bring up his infamous BBC interview regarding his status as a ‘wheeler dealer’ for fear of being on the receiving end of a few choice expletive laden turns of phrase. Instead I decide to focus on some of his more unconventional career moves, including that infamous switch between south coast rivals Portsmouth and Southampton. Did he regret it? “No,” he replies firmly, before explaining that he doesn’t “mind the aggro”. This leads to one of the many unbelievable stories that come from having a career as long and as varied as his, where the animosity upon his return from Southampton to Portsmouth meant that he “had six SAS men on the coach!” in order to ensure security for him and his players. This story seems extraordinary for most but when put into context with some of his other tales, it’s clear that no part of Redknapp’s life is normal. He has spent a night with Eden Hazard in a Paris hotel room, and he has dashed to Heathrow to catch Amdy Faye and make him sign for Portsmouth by threatening him with a bite “where it hurts” from his beloved bulldogs. On the most difficult players to manage, he is hesitant about recounting a debate with Paulo Futre at West Ham over the number 10 shirt. Futre had worn the shirt at all his previous clubs, but was allocated number 16 at West Ham. The next day, the player arrived at training with a team of lawyers ready to negotiate a deal for the number change. Just another day at the office for Redknapp.
Moving on to his more recent experiences, I bring up the drama surrounding his exit from Tottenham and the furore over the possibility of him taking up the helm of the national team. On his exit from Tottenham, he claims that he “didn’t see it coming”. Neither, of course, did the Spurs fans who mourned the loss of one of their most successful managers. However, my fellow Spurs fans will be buoyed by the news that he believes they can go on to win the league this season. “It’s wide open,” he claims, before suggesting that any Premier League season where Leicester is sitting on top and have a “great chance” means we’re “short of a great team this year.”
On the subject of England, he says that it certainly “looked like I was going to get the England job” and even claims that if he was a betting man the odds would have been 1/10. In retrospect though, he has no regrets and isn’t even sure he was cut out for it because of the “load of old farts at the FA” and the fact that he enjoys the “day to day” aspects of managing a club. Despite all this, he holds no grudges and certainly believes England have a chance this summer with such a young and talented squad with the likes of Dele Alli, who “looks a great lad” as well as Stirling and Kane.
On wider footballing issues, Harry is optimistic when questioned about footballers coming out, saying that “things have changed for the better,” although he recognises the difficulties surrounding these issues. “It’s a difficult situation…you never know how supporters are going to react,” he muses. On money in the game, he is more damning, arguing adamantly that the funding in the UK is too top-heavy. “More needs to be put down to lower levels because facilities for kids are terrible,” he says.
Looking to the future, will English fans ever see the man they call ‘Arry back in a dugout? The man himself doubts it, saying, “I’ve had such a long spell…I started to get weary.” Opening up about his new-found relaxed life he tells me how he enjoys “doing bits with BT” and “watching Bournemouth with the grandkids.” Football is never far away, and he says that having “left school with no qualifications” he “would have been a docker,” but instead he lived for football.
He admits he still loves watching football; “It’s my life,” he says, and what a life in the beautiful game it’s been