Harry Redknapp became the latest recipient of the Football Writers’ Association Tribute Award when the Tottenham manager was honoured at a gala dinner in the Royal Lancaster Hotel on January 13.
The 61-year-old, who guided Portsmouth to FA Cup glory at Wembley in May 2007, jetted back to the capital following his team’s Barclays Premier League game at Wigan to take his place at the top table for what was another memorable evening for the FWA and its guests.
A toast was presented by England World Cup winner Sir Geoff Hurst, who recalled his playing days with a young Redknapp at West Ham, while the evening was also a special occasion for long-serving FWA member and former London Evening Standard reporter Michael Hart, presented with an honorary life membership by current FWA chairman Steve Bates.
Harry Redknapp started his managerial career at Bournemouth, claiming a famous FA Cup win over Manchester United in 1984 as well as the old Division Three title.
It was, though, on his return to the dugout at Upton Park some 10 years later when Redknapp made his name, stepping up from his position as assistant to Billy Bonds.
During his seven-year tenure, Redknapp nurtured the talents of several promising youngsters who would one day go on to represent England – such as Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand and Chelsea pair Joe Cole and Frank Lampard, his nephew.
Ferdinand, 30, who has captained both England and United and helped his club achieve Champions League glory last season, is in no doubt of the influence Redknapp had on his career.
“Harry was my inspiration, the manager who took a chance on a gangly, slightly awkward teenager and gave me the momentum to become a Premier League and Champions League winner, and an England international,” Ferdinand wrote in his personal tribute to Redknapp for the FWA dinner.
“Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, Frank Lampard, my brother Anton and many others who have made a career either at the top or lower down the leagues also owe Harry a debt of gratitude.
“Harry makes you feel 10 feet tall. We went out on that pitch believing we were the greatest footballers who ever lived, whatever our ability.
“He had you working for that moment on a Saturday where you would truly believe you were a better team than Manchester United or Arsenal.
“Few managers can walk into a dressing room and generate an instant feel-good factor the way he does.”
Redknapp is often seen as a jovial character, but Ferdinand maintains a steely determination hides behind that colourful exterior – as the Spurs squad are currently experiencing.
“Harry has an image as this happy-go-lucky type, but believe me he is deadly serious about his football – he could not be without football,” said Ferdinand, who was sold by Redknapp to Leeds in November 2000 for a then a British transfer record of £18million, which also made him the world’s most expensive defender.
“He lives and breathes it. He hates players showing the slightest hint that they are taking the game for granted.
“Harry would tell me that the best way to make a success of my career was to follow Bobby Moore’s example and behave like he did on and off the pitch. How could you argue with that?”
The after-dinner entertainment at the Royal Lancaster was kicked off with a cabaret by Kenny Lynch and Bobby Davro, both big fans of Harry Redknapp.
The duo’s performance will live long in the memory for those who attended, which included current Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce as well as former England manager Sir Bobby Robson, who continues his brave battle against cancer.
FWA chairman Steve Bates believes the night was a fitting tribute to one of the game’s most popular characters.
“Harry received the award from our organisation because of his outstanding contribution to football both as a player and, latterly, as a manager,” he said.
“Harry has always enjoyed a good rapport with the press who appreciate his professionalism, humour and readiness to give his time for interviews win, lose or draw.
“He follows a long list of distinguished recipients and thoroughly deserves this honour and has been a highly popular choice.”