“Highs and lows” that’s how Jamie Redknapp describes his life and the last few weeks have been something of a microcosm. Last month he ascended the host’s chair in the hit series A League Of Their Own and won warm reviews, another high in a media career that has helped him survive being a former football star.
In the same few weeks it was announced that his ex-wife, Louise Redknapp, is bringing out a book. The pair had been married for eighteen years but were divorced in January 2017. Jamie has refused to discuss the divorce publicly. His co-stars on A League of Their Own, including James Corden, Freddie Flintoff and Jack Whitehall, relentlessly teased him about the so-called Strictly ‘curse’ - Louise had appeared on the show before their marriage ended.
Relaxing at his home in Surrey Redknapp says that he took it all in his stride however. The banter and wit of A League of Their Own has been what’s made it a hit with viewers and Jamie says he understands that taking some stick is part of the game. “Of course Freddie and I get some stick but there’s nobody who gives it and can’t take it. I’ve never really felt uncomfortable with a joke. I’ve been in football dressing rooms since I was eleven years of age and there was always a lot of slagging. I was in the Liverpool dressing room with Ray Houghton,John Barnes and Ronnie Whelan. If you can handle that, you can handle A League of Their Own.”
Jamie and Louise share equal parenting duties and he recently revealed his sons have been split up amid the Covid-19 lockdown with the footballer home-schooling Beau, 11, while Charley, 16, self-isolates with Louise.
Redknapp says that he was glad to return to some normality after some of the Covid restrictions were relaxed in England and schools reopened. "I have to be honest. I'm so glad that they went back to school this week. It was one of the greatest days of my life," he says. "They need the structure. It's unprecedented times, we never had to go through anything like what they're going through. I have a 16-year-old starting sixth form and an 11-year-old starting a new school and for them to be off for six months, that's tough."
He says that, while he takes the press attention in his stride, it's been difficult for his sons.
"It's been part and parcel of my life since I was a teenager, so for me it's OK. What I find difficult is the way it affects the kids. They're impressionable, they're young and you want to protect them. Anyone in the public eye would say that about their kids but I suppose, at the same time, we use the press and do photoshoots and so on, so it works both ways."
Jamie has his own book coming out in October and it deals with his upbringing and the influence of his dad, Harry, on his life.
Harry Redknapp made more than 100 appearances for West Ham United before going into management, and it was at Bournemouth, with dad in charge, that Jamie began his career, doing well enough in his first 13 league games as a professional to be snapped up by Liverpool for £350,000 when he was only 17.
In a sense, he was lucky to have an inbuilt patron and mentor, but you imagine that also came with its own pressures. "My dad was a really great footballer when he was young but, in a way, maybe he was a bit of a wasted talent because he messed around a bit and didn't really do what he should have been doing," Jamie says.
"I didn't really feel that I had to live up to his expectations because he was never competitive with me. He just wanted me to be as good as I could be. Of course he pushed me, I'd be lying if I said he didn't. But, in another way, I didn't need a lot of pushing because football was my life.
"If you look at the top players of my era, like Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard, they were all pushed and they all pushed themselves; there are no short cuts."
As a young player, Jamie was a stalwart for the Liverpool and England teams, but he was also one of the crossover football stars of the 1990s: when he and several other young players, including Robbie Fowler and Jason McAteer, were pictured in matching white Armani suits before the 1996 FA Cup final the press dubbed them 'The Spice Boys' of football.
In a way it wasn't a surprising phenomenon. A huge television deal had pumped hundreds of millions into the Premier League and footballers' salaries exploded. The more rugged and gnarled stars of the '80s began one by one to enter retirement and the new crop of players, of whom Redknapp was one of the leading lights, became celebrities and tabloid quarries.
Jamie says that the celebrity that came with this period was something that he took in his stride. "I was used to it all. You have to understand I grew up in an environment where the likes of Bobby Moore and George Best used to come around the house. I had a really good upbringing. I learned to conduct myself in the right way. It's difficult because I had people question my integrity sometimes if I was injured and I hate that feeling of having to explain myself."
Toward the end of his career, he seemed to deal with fairly constant injuries. He was frequently taking painkillers and began to associate football with pain. Constant injury problems finally ended Jamie's career in 2005. "The day I retired was the day that Liverpool won the Champions League final so it was the most incredible range of emotions," he recalls.
He cried when his career ended. "It was painful. Once the adulation is gone it's very difficult to adjust to that. Nobody cares about you when you're finished. There's always a new superstar. I went through so many things in my life, highs and lows. That was definitely a low. But at the same time it started a new chapter in my life."
A study done a few years ago showed that a huge proportion of former footballers end up divorced, bankrupt or both. Redknapp may be a part of the first part of that statistic but he's estimated to be worth around €18m and has been a success since he hung up his boots.
He established himself as a football pundit and it was his ease on camera and facility for banter that saw him become a panellist on Sky's A League Of Their Own. The sports-themed panel show relies on a mixture of writing and the unscripted banter of the contestants.
"There are writers, let's not kid ourselves. But I find the best stuff that is done is done off the bat when we're just riffing. Everyone who comes on the show has a laugh and throws themselves into the format. It gets a little competitive but then we kiss and cuddle and make up. It's not meant to be intense and nobody is meant to be the butt of the joke always."
Recently, due to Covid-related reasons, Jamie has replaced James Corden as host, but he says he's taking the responsibility in his stride. "Corden is one of the biggest stars on the planet right now so I would be embarrassed to compare myself to him. I'm never going to try to be James but because of various reasons he wasn't able to come back. The sort of running joke was that I'm not allowed to host a show"
Redknapp recently made headlines after he and Patrice Evra didn't wear their usual Black Lives Matter badges on Sky Sports after the movement's controversial statements criticising Israel. It was a dramatic gesture, one that could easily have been taken out of context for the controversy-shy Redknapp. But he says that doing it was an effort to give nuance to the debate as well as a testament to the freedom that pundits are given by Sky Sports.
"I think it's important that we have a view that we are free to express that. Of course there's going to be uncomfortable conversations but it's a case of education," he says. "I think the most important thing is that we speak about these issues. There are changes that need to be made."
Despite the difficult moments of the last few months he says that he takes solace in his home life. "My kids make me emotional. Watching them grow up and be such good kids, that's everything to me. It makes everything worthwhile."
A League Of Their Own airs Thursdays at 9pm on Sky One and streaming service NOW TV
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