|Out of Africa: Roy Hodgson, front row centre, in 1973|
ROY HODGSON’S Wikipedia entry claims: “Hodgson started his managerial career in 1976 at the Swedish top division side Halmstad.”
No doubt everyone will be picking that up and using it tomorrow as the world debates the pros and cons of the 64-year-old West Brom boss being made England manager ahead of the people's choice, Harry Redknapp.
And they’d be wrong.
I can exclusively reveal Woy (as he is known, for obvious reasons to anyone who has heard him talk) actually started his coaching career in Pretoria, South Africa. I should know. I was one of his earliest products in 1974.
Hodgson (note, appointed England manager at 4pm on May 1) arrived a year earlier at my local club in what was then the whites-only National Football League. Berea Park were a very average team in a league dominated at the time by foreign players unwelcome in FIFA-sanctioned countries.
Though Roy was billed as a Crystal Palace star, he had actually been released by the club and came to Berea as a fairly ordinary player from non-League Ashton Town after stints at Gravesend and Maidstone United, then the best non-League side in England.
Still, with Bobby Houghton and Colin Toal, he was one of three cut-price English footballers who arrived in Pretoria despite the Apartheid Sports Boycott in 1973. Apart from playing football for Berea professionally, Roy also tried his hand as a physical education teacher at the local Hillview High School.
He’d coach our Under 14s occasionally at Berea Park and in 1974 I spent three months training with him twice a week at Brooklyn Primary as part of a Northern Transvaal Under 13 representative team which included Roy Wegerle – who went on to play for the United States, Blackburn, Coventry and QPR – and Noel Cousins – who went on to become South Africa’s most expensive player when he moved from Arcadia Shepherds to Moroka Swallows in 1984.
Hodgson was a superb youth coach. He taught us to bend our passes with both feet “like Norman Hunter” and emphasised movement off the ball. He wasn’t too good at dealing with angry parents – soccer mums, as every coach knows, are the nemesis of all youth coaches – but he certainly enhanced our skills on those long afternoons in Brooklyn.
My parting words with Roy? “Sorry son, I don’t think you’re going to make it as a footballer. Nice long throw though.” Tough, but true. We’ve talked about it a few times over the years since.
Hodgson and Houghton went on to coach Berea to relegation that year. The club never really recovered. Then, as a duo, they went to Sweden. Houghton took Malmo to the European Cup final in 1979, the first – and last - Swedish side ever to compete in the continental showdown. They lost 1-0 to Nottingham Forest in Munich.
Hodgson, while helping Houghton, coached nearby Halmstad to unprecedented heights. Years later, when I interviewed Sven Goran Eriksson after he got the England job, he admitted Houghton and Hodgson had played a major role in his coaching career. Sven recalled going to watch both Englishmen coaching in Sweden in the late 70s and borrowing from their training regimes.
After leaving Sweden in 1980, Hodgson started coaching in England with Bristol City, then came the many ferries to Scandinavia, with Oddevold and Orebro before a return to Malmo where he won two league titles and two cups.
After that came Switzerland, where a job with club side Neuchâtel Xamax – and a European victory over Real Madrid - was followed by a successful stint with the Swiss national side.
Inter Milan offered a glimpse of the big time but Hodgson’s two years there were far from comfortable despite reaching a UEFA Cup final, as was his stint at Blackburn Rovers as they slumped from title-winners in 1995 to also-rans under Hodgson by the time he left the club in 1998.
He returned to Inter without great success in 1999, then was off back to Switzerland’s Grasshoppers Zurich in 2000, followed by a title-winning season with FC Copenhagen in Denmark.
Italy called again in 2001, a brief “never should have taken the job” stint with Udinese was followed by international management with the United Arab Emirates. Then, in 2004, it was off to Scandianivian obscurity with Viking and Finland before the second coming.
Mohammed Al Fayed, scouring the world for a Fulham boss, plumped for Hodgson and three strong seasons there saw him move to Liverpool. Average results and an impatient Kenny Dalglish ended that reign and last year he moved to West Brom.
Having kept them up, England came calling over the weekend. The Baggies agreed to let him talk to the FA and Harry Redkapp – the popular choice – said yesterday: “Good luck to the lad. I’m not one to hold grudges. He’s a fabulous fellow, Roy. I hope he does well.”
But the truth is of course, Hodgson is a safe pair of hands. Redknapp, with his tax problems and wheeler-dealer image on top of Tottenham’s recent slump – Sunday saw their first win since early April – became too much for the conservative old farts in the FA.
Out of contract in June, Hodgson, though never successful at the bigger clubs, will do the job quietly and competently. But dear old ‘Arry would have got the nation roaring before Euro 2012 and caretaker Stuart Pearce migh have been a better choice.
Hodgson is the easy option. And, given Tottenham’s reported demands for compensation, a cheaper option.
Personally, I hope Roy succeeds with England where bigger, better names have failed. And not just because I was there when his coaching career began 38 years ago.
But I’m not holding my breath.