Many episodes of Harry Redknapp’s life have found him in a precarious position, dangling by his fingertips with observers wondering how he could possibly escape.
Somehow ‘Harry Houdini’ always has, and yesterday he did it again when the jury – some of whom had chuckled repeatedly at his comments – acquitted him of tax evasion.
In his typical Cockney blokeish way, Redknapp had described himself as ‘a fantastic football manager, not a hard-headed businessman’ who had always paid too much tax.
He said: ‘Don’t rip anybody off on the way but if there’s a chance to earn a few quid, take it because it doesn’t last for ever.’
But equally, in dealing once with a trainee, Redknapp recounted how he had to explain to the youngster about how the income tax system worked, telling him: ‘Everyone in the country has to pay it.’
Both tales reflect the happy-go-lucky nature of ’Arry Redknapp who, to millions of football fans, represents the dreams and triumphs of the common man.
One of those was a fan who stood outside the court in the cold for an hour, clutching a copy of the Spurs 2012 album, in the hope that Redknapp would spot him and autograph the book. He duly obliged.
At almost 65, Harry doesn’t seem to have a grey hair on his head – unusual in a profession which tends to age people very quickly. But then the docker’s son’s passion for the game is unquenchable.
Despite hauling himself from East End hardship to considerable wealth, he says he is utterly flummoxed by the world of finance.
The court heard that he had ‘no business sense whatsoever’ and he claimed he ‘writes like a two-year-old’. He said he has ‘never wrote a letter in my life… can’t work a computer… don’t know what an email is… never sent a fax and never sent a text message’.
Their company, Pierfront Developments, founded in 2003 when he was managing Portsmouth for the first time, made a pre-tax profit of £1.75million last year.
Currently, it is building a development of 92 flats in Southsea, which are expected to sell at around £100,000 each. Planning permission was held up by a dispute during which Harry said the scheme would not go ahead if he had to include 30 per cent as affordable homes (under government social housing rules) because this would make the development financially unviable. Local critics described this as ‘corporate blackmail’.
Harry overcame the problem by agreeing to give Portsmouth council £600,000, in exchange for which it gave planning permission for the development without any affordable dwellings.
The company says the development will ‘still lose money’ because of the parlous state of the housing market, but the project is going ahead because, as a spokesman explains: ‘Harry didn’t want to let anyone down.’
Redknapp says that he and Sandra were once so ‘skint’ that they were barely able to pay the mortgage on their modest £6,000 semi when she was pregnant in 1973 with second son Jamie Redknapp, football columnist, Sky pundit and former player who accompanied his father to court every day.
Sandra helped make ends meet doing home hairdressing in Hampshire, where they lived when he played for Bournemouth.
Moving into management changed all that. When Portsmouth were paying him £800,000 a year (plus a £500,000 bonus for guiding the team to promotion to the Premier League), he and Sandra paid £3million for a huge house on the exclusive Sandbanks peninsula in Dorset, where property land values are the fourth-highest in the world.
Their home is in prime position, facing Poole Harbour, with a gated drive and garden running down to its own private mooring. It is now worth around £10million.
Harry, who left school with no qualifications, could certainly afford to moor a yacht there these days but he doesn’t have one.
‘Football is Harry’s only hobby,’ says one of his oldest friends. ‘It’s pretty much all he talks about.’ Not money, it seems. Harry’s mantra is: ‘Money is not my god.’
Nevertheless there have been stories over the years about controversies involving bonuses and profit deals from the sale of players.
In 2001, he quit as manager of West Ham (the team he played for in the Sixties and Seventies) after falling out with the then chairman, who was uneasy about Harry’s personal involvement in an unprecedented 134 transfers over seven years.
Harry quit insisting he was innocent of any wrongdoing.
His next brush with the authorities came in 2007 when police appeared at his Sandbanks home at six o’clock one morning.
As part of an investigation into football corruption, 60 officers from City of London Police had raided several addresses nationwide and made five arrests on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and false accounting.
Redknapp was not there – he was in Germany for a football match.
He also realised that any allegations of corruption – which he vehemently denied – and his subsequent arrest for questioning could put paid to him being considered for a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity of managing the England football team. He vowed to sue.
And after being released without charge, sue he did.
The following year the High Court ruled the police raid was illegal, and he was awarded £1,000 damages for wrongful arrest.
But in 2009 the police were back on his doorstep over matters unrelated to the first raid, and this time his arrest led to the 13-day court case that ended yesterday. Harry’s humour, as well as his mercurial skill handling footballers and getting the best out of them, has always been part of his appeal. But even friends concede that sometimes his loyalties have been sacrificed for ambition.
For example, who but Harry Redknapp could get away with moving from Portsmouth to manage their most bitter rivals just along the coast, Southampton – then be allowed to return to the Pompey fold again a few years later?
One moment he was ‘scummer’, a traitor whose mobile number was maliciously posted on the internet and there was even the suggestion that his life was in danger.
The next – with barely a blink of embarrassment or discomfort – he was on his way back in the role of saviour as the club headed for relegation.
He not only saved Portsmouth but took the unfancied team to the 2008 FA Cup Final – and won. From ‘scummer’ he was now a hero, and given the Freedom of the City.
Yet just as he was due to receive the honour came a bumper offer of £3million a year to manage Tottenham Hotspur, one of the big, glamour clubs which was struggling at the bottom of the Premiership.
So there was Harry, having just lucratively jumped ship to North London, having to return for his induction as a Freeman of the City to a boiling Portsmouth sea of jeers, boos and cries of ‘Judas’.
No wonder his head was bowed as he was formally led into the council chamber for the brief ceremony. But then, this was ’Arry Redknapp, remember, so rescue was at hand.
It came in the voice of a young girl standing just in front of him and saying: ‘I just want to say we still love you Harry and thank you for everything you did for us.’
In a moment the jeerers and cat-callers were overwhelmed by a roar of affection. He had faced another crisis and triumphed.
But there was another huge challenge ahead. All his football life he’d talked of his love of Arsenal and how his father used to take him to all their games.
Now he had been appointed to manage their bitter north London rivals, Spurs.
Harry typically explained away the dilemma by saying: ‘I haven’t murdered anyone, I haven’t raped anyone. I’ve just got a new job.’ End of crisis.
He received an alternative offer to manage struggling Newcastle, but that was never a serious option since working 370 miles away from Sandbanks would have separated him for days on end from Sandra. They have been closer than ever since the death in 2008 of her twin sister Pat – mother of Chelsea and England star Frank Lampard.
The Spurs job in North London – in which he has been spectacularly successful – means that he can drive his Mercedes home to Sandbanks most nights, even though the 140-mile journey takes nearly three hours. His alarm clock is set at 5.20am for his drive to work – hardly the perfect schedule for someone who had surgery to clear blocked arteries in his heart less than three months ago. What makes it possible is sharing the driving with his assistant manager Kevin Bond, who lives near him.
Yes, the Redknapps live well, in a house with ornate furnishings around which family pictures are everywhere – they have five grandchildren.
Their British bulldog Buster has the run of the place.
Of course it was the couple’s other bulldog Rosie (since deceased) whose name was given to Harry’s Monaco bank account which was at the centre of the tax avoidance case. Incidentally, when Rosie was alive, visitors to the family home were advised not to wear highly polished black shoes because she would chew them, ‘whether feet are in them or not’, says one victim.
The Redknapps are also incredibly generous. Harry and Sandra play a leading role in a local charity, Leukaemia Busters, and have written cheques for many thousands of pounds to help it. These days, Harry appreciates a bottle of fine red wine in much the same way as his friend, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Yet the public prefer to retain their fond image of him as a bacon-sandwich-and-cup-of-tea man.
Above all, yesterday’s acquittal means he remains the people’s favourite to manage the England football team.
It might pay some £6million a year, but recent incumbents will testify there isn’t a more perilous job in football. Redknapp wouldn’t worry too much about that. He isn’t known as Harry Houdini for nothing.
by Jeff Millins