When it comes to telling tales from within football, there’s no doubt that Harry Redknapp takes the crown. From transfer deadline day dramas to training ground shenanigans, the man’s got stories that can make you chuckle. But this one is one of his maddest stories, recounting a nerve-wracking incident involving none other than the enigmatic Paul Merson.
Now a Soccer Saturday pundit, Paul Merson has been no stranger to controversy throughout his career. The former Arsenal star, whose battles with alcohol and gambling have been well-documented, found himself in a frightening situation during his time at Portsmouth, and it was the quick thinking of none other than gaffer Harry Redknapp that saved the day.
As Redknapp spilled the beans in his autobiography, which was serialised by the Daily Mail, the drama that unfolded at Fratton Park that day seems unbelievable. It was a clash against Millwall, and the stakes were high on and off the pitch. Merson, seeking a lifeline for his gambling debts, approached Redknapp with a request that would leave the seasoned manager in an awkward situation.
“‘Would you look after this for me, gaffer?’ he asked,” Redknapp reveals, describing the moment Merson handed him a bag bulging with a mind-boggling £30,000 in cash. But this wasn’t just any cash; it was Merson’s repayment to an Irish bookmaker, and the mob was hot on his heels.
Redknapp took on the task, albeit with a dose of ingenuity. The manager swapped his signature suit for a tracksuit, ingeniously creating more room to stash the hefty bundle of notes. What could possibly go wrong, right?
As the game heated up and Portsmouth dominated the scoring with a resounding 5-0 lead, so did the tension on the touchline. Redknapp, known for his animated presence on the sideline, couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. Leaping from his seat like a coiled spring, he was about to deliver a vital message to his players when disaster struck.
“I sprung out of my seat… I could feel Merson’s 30 grand making its way south along my trouser leg,” Redknapp recalls. It was a moment that could have sent the whole operation crumbling into chaos. But Redknapp’s quick thinking saved the day as he nonchalantly edged back into his seat, masking the £30k like a master illusionist.
“I edged back to my seat like a bloke who needed the toilet quickly,” Redknapp chuckles, recounting the moment of his tactical trouser adjustment. His ingenious disguise had his backroom staff raising eyebrows, contemplating whether to summon a doctor for the bewildering scene.
However, fortune favoured the bold that day. Portsmouth’s 5-0 triumph was a testament to their prowess on the pitch and a backdrop to the extraordinary covert operation on the touchline. Merson, the star of the show, dazzled the Portsmouth fans with a virtuoso performance that left even the Millwall fans applauding his genius.
But the day held even more in store for Merson. As it turned out, his gambling debt to the notorious Irish mob amounted to a staggering £100,000. A nerve-wracking proposition for anyone, but Merson’s gamble on Redknapp’s makeshift money belt paid off. With a sigh of relief, Merson settled his debt by parting ways with £30,000, securing his freedom from the mob’s grip.