Why I’m surprised so many Pompey fans hate Harry Redknapp – Simon Carter

Cup-winning ex-Pompey boss Redknapp with a photoshopped I'm a Celebrity hat.
Cup-winning ex-Pompey boss Redknapp with a photoshopped I'm a Celebrity hat.
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It is rare that a news story can result in both Pompey and Saints’ fans, those perennial arch rivals, both singing merrily from the same song sheet.

However, that changed recently when it was announced Henry James Redknapp was one of the first names confirmed for this year's I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here jaunt in the Australian 'jungle'. Very quickly, both sets of supporters were posting social media comments wishing Redknapp the very worst of luck.

Redknapp celebrates winning the FA Cup in 2008 on an open top bus tour of Portsmouth when an estimated 200,000 fans came out to cheer them.

Redknapp celebrates winning the FA Cup in 2008 on an open top bus tour of Portsmouth when an estimated 200,000 fans came out to cheer them.

Even Southampton FC were quick to troll the manager who oversaw their first relegation for 31 years in 2005 either side of Redknapp’s two successful periods as Fratton Park boss. ‘Careful Harry doesn’t leave you half-way through to join @bbcstrictly’ Saints tweeted earlier this week, a reference to the fact Redknapp walked out of St Mary’s in December 2005 to rejoin Pompey.

The kindest comments from fans asked television viewers to ensure they voted for him to take part in all the Bushtucker Trials. They quite liked the idea of Redknapp having to hoover witchetty grubs or live cockroaches into his 71-year-old mouth, or of seeing him sticking his head in a hole populated by creepy crawlies while one half of the smuggest duo on primetime TV (Dec) looks on chortling. The unkindest comment, by a Pompey fan, hoped a funnel web spider would attach itself to a part of Redknapp's anatomy (not his nose) and refuse to let go.

How did it come to this? Which club's fans would – even in (presumable) jest – want its most successful manager of the past 68 years to have one of the deadliest spiders in the world attach itself to an anatomical part I can't mention in a family newspaper (no, not even online)? Would Liverpool fans wish that on Bob Paisley, or Manchester United on Sir Alex Ferguson, or Southampton fans on Lawrie McMenemy, or Leeds fans about Don Revie?

But of course this is no ordinary 'most successful manager' we are talking about here, and Harry Redknapp is a large part of no ordinary football story.

Harry Redknapp and Sol Campbell lift the cup on May 17, 2008. Picture: Steve Reid (082214-990)

Harry Redknapp and Sol Campbell lift the cup on May 17, 2008. Picture: Steve Reid (082214-990)

For he is part of the recent Portsmouth Football Club story, and – as we all know – that is certainly anything but ordinary.

I'm no expert on all things Pompey, I'll happily concede that, but a part of me is surprised there is so much vitriol from Blues’ fans towards the man who gave them three unforgettable moments in the space of six seasons – 1) guiding Pompey to promotion to the Premier League 2) relegating Southampton from the Premier League and 3) overseeing Pompey's second FA Cup final success and their first since 1939. That is a fair hat-trick, is it not? But you still want funnel web spiders approaching him unawares in base camp, or vomiting after chomping on a kangaroo’s penis, with the television cameras running?

Yeah, yeah, I'm not an ostrich with my head stuck in the sand. I know there is more to this particular love-hate relationship (ie lots of Pompey fans love to hate Redknapp) than the above facts.

I know Pompey supporters were furious with Redknapp when he was unveiled as Saints’ boss in December 2004, but is that piece of footballing treachery vastly dissimilar to Brian Clough resigning as Derby County manager in a fit of pique in 1973 and then, a few years later, leading the Rams' arch rivals (Nottingham Forest) to the first division title and two European Cups? But despite that, Clough is still fondly recalled by Derby supporters.

Harry Redknapp during his time as Pompey manager.

Harry Redknapp during his time as Pompey manager.

OK, I know there's even more to this story. I know Pompey fans were angry again when Redknapp quit for a second time in October 2008 to take over at Tottenham.

I remember him being booed and jeered with calls of 'Judas' when he picked up the Freedom of the City of Portsmouth award just days after his second departure.

I know comparisons with Clough only go so far (though no doubt both will consider themselves unlucky never to have managed their country). After all, Derby didn't end up in financial meltdown, beset by administrations, points deductions and relegations, just a few years after Redknapp's departure. And to the best of my knowledge Brian Clough didn't set up offshore bank accounts in his dog's name, or whether he even had a dog called Rosie – facts which came to light during the crown court trial in early 2012 which ended with Redknapp acquitted, along with ex-Pompey chairman Milan Mandaric, of tax evasion.

And yes, I know some Pompey fans blame him for his role in the club’s subsequent financial implosion following his second departure.

I’ve never really understood this one, though. He was the manager, he didn’t sign the cheques to bring in players Pompey couldn’t afford and pay those players wages they couldn’t afford either. He wanted the best players he could get – same as the majority of football managers. It was up to the people above Redknapp to say ‘no’ to his demands. I don’t recall bosses getting the blame when clubs elsewhere nosedived into administration.

Pompey fans are obviously familiar with Redknapp's time at Fratton Park. But it's his tenure down the other end of the M27 at St Mary's which I will forever remember.

In contrast to his time on Portsea Island, at Saints he was a truly spectacular failure. I should know – I was the sports editor at the Southampton daily paper for the duration of Harry's 11 months at St Mary's, a time that should have given all Pompey supporters endless pleasure.

Redknapp's dalliance with then Saints’ chairman Rupert Lowe was the ultimate Premier League marriage of convenience.

In a normal world, Lowe would not have touched Redknapp with a barge pole, they were chalk and cheese characters – the public school-educated chairman ideally wanted a young(ish) coach (a ‘yes man’ in the eyes of the more cynical Saints’ fans), but the experiment with ex-Pompey winger Steve Wigley had not worked and Saints were embroiled in a relegation battle.

Saints supporters were demanding a more ‘traditional’ manager (like the much-loved Gordon Strachan), an experienced firefighter, and Redknapp fitted the bill. He had never suffered relegation and when he joined Saints they weren't even in the bottom three.

He had 22 games left to save Saints, but he won just four of them, suffered a humiliating 4-1 thrashing on his first Fratton Park return in the process, and Pompey's arch rivals duly finished bottom. For the first time since the 1950s, Saints were below the Blues in the top four divisions. And the same man had overseen one club’s rise and the other’s demise.

Redknapp often looked as miserable as sin during his time as Saints manager. His body language rarely suggested he was delighted to be at the club and his press conferences were hardly jolly affairs of talking Saints up either.

He resigned shortly before the first anniversary of his appointment, reportedly telling Lowe he considered Pompey 'his spiritual home' and was keen to speak to Mandaric about returning to Fratton Park.

Deep down, Redknapp probably knew after just a few days of being pictured with a Saints’ scarf above his head that he had made a bad move. Writing in his autobiography years later, he said: 'Wherever I went, there was always the chance of running into some nutcase from Portsmouth. There is nothing quite like Portsmouth people — if you aren’t with them, you are the enemy.'

Fair comment?

Redknapp was the second person to have managed both Saints and Pompey. The first, Alan Ball, is still fondly remembered by both sets of fans – possibly the only man in the history of Saints v Pompey rivalry who could claim this honour.

Redknapp, in total contrast, appears widely hated by the supporters in the blue and white corner (as far as I can see), and completely hated by those in the red and white corner (100 per cent fact). That, you have to admit, is some achievement.

It will be intriguing to see how the general public will view Redknapp on I'm A Celebrity ... To most football fans outside Hampshire, he has a good reputation – 42 per cent of fans questioned in a poll wanted him to succeed Fabio Capello as England boss six years ago.

Forever approachable, forever quotable, forever quick with an anecdote (and also forever quick to put a good spin on his own achievements). He took Bournemouth from the third tier relegation zone into the second division for the first time in their history in 1987, he generally did well during his seven years in charge at West Ham, he took Tottenham into the Champions League for the first time, overseeing Gareth Bale's metamorphosis from a spotty teenage left-back into the player who would one day become the most expensive in world football en route.

He managed in almost 1,400 senior games, from taking over at Bournemouth in October 1983 to his final game as Birmingham City boss 34 years later. That is a distinguished career indeed, but it featured just one major trophy (if you don't count an Inter-Toto Cup triumph with West Ham in 1999, and it's fair to say I'm not). That was the 2008 FA Cup, and he won it with Portsmouth. But now one fan who used to worship Redknapp is wishing him a close encounter with a venomous arachnid.

So here's the conundrum for Pompey supporters.

Do they keep on voting for Redknapp to eat a merry cocktail of jungle ants and fish eyes – telling their partners 'that'll teach the bugger for signing Emmanuel Olisadebe' – in the hope their warped idea of fun runs for a few weeks, or are they so annoyed by seeing his face on telly again that they want him voted off as early as possible before any of his fellow campmates ask searching questions about Rosie? Having said that, I’d be surprised if some of the contestants have any idea who Harry Redknapp is.

Could he win it, though? After all, another ‘cheeky Cockney’ sportsman – former cricketer Phil Tufnell –  triumphed in the second I'm a Celebrity series in 2003? In the subsequent years, however, only one more sportsperson (motorcyclist Carl Fogarty) has been crowned King of the Jungle. Generally, and in a sad (but unsurprising) summing up of today's celebrity-obsessed society we live in, reality TV stars from Geordie Shore and Made in Chelsea have won in more recent years.

So history is against Redknapp. Harry 'Houdini' might not be able to rescue himself from an early exit in the coming weeks, and for once he cannot call on Nico Kranjcar, Peter Crouch or Jermain Defoe to help him out either.

It will also be slightly strange to see him being interviewed without winding down his car window first...