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Old 9th February 2012, 12:32   #1
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Default Harry Redknapp: there's something about Harry

Harry Redknapp: there's something about Harry

For some watching the trial, Harry Redknapp was an archetypal geezer, for others a charmer. But for John Crace, he was simply the man he fell in love with

John Crace, Wednesday 8 February 2012 19.00 GMT

There is always tension before a verdict but this one had never really felt much in doubt from the moment Redknapp it's hard to resist calling him Harry; everyone else does walked smiling into Southwark crown court in south London to take his seat alongside his co-defendant, billionaire businessman and former chairman of Portsmouth FC, Milan Mandaric, some two and a half weeks earlier. "There's absolutely nothing to worry about, I can promise you," he had said during the first adjournment in an aside to the galleries packed with reporters, Tottenham Hotspur and FA officials, football supporters and the odd teenage girl who had come to get a glimpse of Redknapp's son, Jamie. And it was hard not to believe him.

Other football managers may have had more success, but few have been more loved, and over the past few years he has achieved the status of a national treasure. Football writers love him because he always gives good quote, the fans like him because his teams play attractive, attacking football and, since Fabio Capello announced he would stand down as England manager after Euro 2012, he has been everyone's favourite to replace the Italian. Which in itself requires an element of double-think, because for the past two years Redknapp has had two charges of tax evasion hanging over him.

For any other man, these charges would have been enough to throw serious doubt on his suitability for the England job. But Redknapp isn't any man; he is everyone's exception. He is a man whom other men myself included are not ashamed to love. There is something about him that makes you feel you know him even when you don't. And as with other national treasures, people tend to read into Redknapp's character whatever they want to see. So for some he is the archetypal what-you-see-is-what-you-get, always-ready-to-have- a-laugh character out of an Ealing comedy. For others, including the police, he is the East End working-class wide boy: a dodgy geezer.

Both stereotypes are hopelessly simplistic. In person, Redknapp is one of the most charismatic and likable people I have met; even when surrounded by a scrum of reporters and fans, he connects with people person to person. He talks to you as if he knows you and as if his time is your time. But you don't get to be one of the most successful managers in football just by cracking jokes and being charming. Many modern footballers have egos as big as their weekly earnings and require a manager with a will of iron. Faced with a possible prison sentence, others might have crumbled. Redknapp's Tottenham side have been enjoying their best season in decades. He even appeared to take heart surgery in his stride just before Christmas.

Nor does the dodgy geezer caricature stack up. Redknapp was cleared of taking bungs by the Stevens inquiry in June 2007 and released without charge in November of the same year after being arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and false accounting. Even so, despite having twice been cleared of these other charges, the City of London police and the Crown Prosecution Service decided to go for the hat-trick. If found guilty, the dodgy geezer version of Redknapp would have been the one that stuck in the public mind and his career would have been as good as over just as it was nearing its peak.

Windowless, often airless, slightly grubby off-white walls with pale wood panels; the court had the feel of justice at its most municipal. Somehow the drama was missing. This wasn't the Wembley cup final trial most had expected. Ninety minutes in the hands of a lawyer is merely the time required to ask one question.

Courts operate on their own space-time continuum; one that is instinctively understood by every member of the legal profession, yet remains a mystery to the outsider. "The case will last for two weeks," Judge Anthony Leonard told court six at the start of the trial, apparently certain in the knowledge of how long everyone was going to speak for. As barrister John Black QC outlined the case for the prosecution at length, Redknapp tried manfully to pick his way through several ring binders full of evidence. Mandaric preferred to just listen. The guard who sat next to the accused in the dock concentrated on his book of word puzzles. During one of the breaks, Redknapp joked: "This man could put a glass eye to sleep."

The pace picked up towards the end of the week when John Kelsey-Fry QC, Redknapp's barrister, a man almost as stellar as his client, made his first real appearance. Over a meteoric career, Kelsey-Fry has acted for, among others, Roman Polanski, Sharon Osborne and Steven Gerrard and is considered one of the stars of the bar. It wasn't hard to see why. In cross examination he is sharp, succinct, witty and charming; juries love him. Even his wig has class. "It used to belong to Christmas Humphreys," he told me when I found him outside the court, sneaking a quick cigarette one lunchtime. "He was the barrister who prosecuted Ruth Ellis [the last woman to be hanged in this country]. He was also a Buddhist and refused to sit on any capital cases. So he was a curious man: someone who was prepared to prosecute a woman to the gallows but not pass sentence."

It wasn't until the second week that things became marginally clearer. No one was disputing the basic facts; it was the interpretation that was in question. The prosecution was alleging that two payments into a Monaco bank account had been a scam to avoid Redknapp having to pay PAYE on a bonus due for the sale of Peter Crouch: the defence was saying the contractual bonus had been paid through the proper channels and that this payment was a private arrangement between two friends.

Mandaric was first in the witness box: time and again over the course of more than six hours, Black suggested the money was a bonus and time and again Mandaric told him he was mistaken. "I know I'm sounding like a broken record, Mr Black," he said at one point, "but I can only tell you what happened." Redknapp looked on intently, though it became clear his mind wasn't wholly on the case. The second Tuesday of the trial was transfer deadline day. "What's going on?" he asked the football hacks during a break. "Apparently, you've bought Louis Saha," said someone. "Really?" Redknapp replied. "That's news to me."

Football was also clearly on Redknapp's mind first thing the next morning. When he took his place in the dock before the judge and jury arrived, he gave a big grin and made a 3-1 sign with his fingers, a reference to his team's victory over Wigan the night before. You couldn't not admire him. A man with the focus to engineer a comfortable league win and still have a laugh when he was due to give what could turn out to be the most important performance of his life later in the day. Even Mandaric, who had remained polite if reserved throughout the trial, seemed to be infected by the party spirit. When he returned to the dock, his cross-examination complete, he pretended to throttle Redknapp. Redknapp slapped him on the back and grinned.

"Why were you all laughing when my dad was called?" Jamie Redknapp whispered to me. "Because Mr Black had told us all in the adjournment that the defence wouldn't call your dad to give evidence," I whispered back. "Why wouldn't he?" Why indeed, because Redknapp didn't disappoint, putting on a typically Harry-like bravura show, kicking off in fine style with, "He would say that, he's an Arsenal supporter" in response to Mandaric's barrister, Lord Macdonald, describing him as an average footballer.

On why had he called the Monaco bank account Rosie47? "Because Rosie was my dog. She was a lovely dog, and 1947 is the year of my birth. It was like a security code. Like I have to say my mother's name, Violet Brown, to get access to my HSBC account over here." That was another security code that would now need to be changed. Had he thought he was due a 10% bonus for the sale of Crouch? "Well, morally yes, because Mr Mandaric had said Crouchie was a basketball player and I'd be owing him 10% on the money Portsmouth lost. But my new contract said 5%, so that's what I got."

Did he remember signing the form allowing Mandaric to transfer money out of his account to the US? "No. he must have typed it up and I just signed it. To be honest, we were playing Man United later that day and I was more worried about marking David Beckham." Did he ever ask Mandaric how the investment was doing? "Once, after we won at Blackburn. Disaster. He told me it had been a total disaster. Everything had been lost and he'd try again. To be honest, I never thought about the account again until years later." Why had he lied to Rob Beasley? "Why should I tell a News of the World reporter the truth? He didn't tell me the truth." And so it continued.

The only time Redknapp cracked was when he snapped at the police officer who had led the dawn raids on his house and was sitting with the prosecution team. "Mr Manley, will you stop staring at me," he said. "I know you are trying to cause me a problem." Whatever the problem was, it was soon dealt with, as Detective Inspector Dave Manley was nowhere to be seen in court the following day.

The picture that emerged wasn't just of a happy-go-lucky, disorganised business arrangement between friends; it was of another world, the world of football, where large sums of money are the norm for the very successful. Mandaric is worth 2bn, Redknapp earns more than 5m a year and 100,000 is a relatively inconsequential amount that can be easily forgotten. In the year Mandaric had invested and lost the money for Redknapp he had lost 17m in other deals. In another deal gone wrong, Redknapp had taken an 8m bath on a property development.

And that was the essence of the defence's closing speeches. Why on earth would either man bother to try to go to such lengths to save about 30,000 in tax each? Mandaric had paid 100m in taxes over the last 10 years, Redknapp had paid more than 8m, and if Redknapp was so greedy, why had he given the 130,000 compensation he was due on leaving Portsmouth in 2004 to a football youth development scheme? They were good questions to ask in response to the prosecution's closing remarks that the News of the World tape was "perhaps the most important and compelling evidence in this case".

As the verdict was announced, Jamie Redknapp's eyes reddened as he struggled to contain his emotions. But Harry gave little away. A hug with Mandaric, a shake of the hand with the guard in the box, a mouthed "thank you" to his defence team and the jury, and he was away. On the steps outside the court, he said that waiting for the verdict had been horrendous and that the whole ordeal had been a nightmare, but you wouldn't necessarily have guessed it by looking at him. Yet over the course of the trial, part of the Redknapp enigma had been cracked open. To some people he may still be a bit of a geezer. But no one can say he's a dodgy geezer. If anything, in most people's eyes, he has become even more of a national treasure.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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