Friday, 30 April 2010

Woy Hodgson, Fulham Miracle Worker, Future England Boss, My Hero

THE Roy Hodgson story is a simple one. One of those tales which make football the uplifting, addictive substance which grips millions, which brings us here, which sends us out with a lump of leather in the frost, which sends us off to a World Cup in darkest Africa.

At 62, after a lifetime of wandering from England to South Africa, Sweden to Italy, Roy has finally reached a point where he can turn around and say: "I think we've made a major piece of history here today."

This statement was uttered after last night's come-from-behind 2-1 win over Hamburg had put the quaint Cottagers into the Europa League final against Atletico Madrid.

While mighty Liverpool stumbled against the Spaniards at once-impregnable Anfield, Woy's boys came back at creaking Craven Cottage with goals from Simon Davies and Zoltan Gera to cap a campaign which has seen them play 18 games and travel 25,876 miles.

Along the way they have disposed of Italian giants Juventus, the holders Shakhtar Donetsk, German champions Wolfsburg and, semi-finally, Hamburg, who must host the final at their Nordbank Arena on May 12.

While his nation endures a particularly irritating General Election campaign, there can be no doubt that "Woy" (he tends to pronounce his Rs as Ws) would garner more votes than the three bland, public school party leaders between them if he were to stand for Prime Minister on May 5. Tomorrow I'm on Sky News at 11.30am, where I will try to tell a little of the Hodgson story - if the election doesn't intervene as it did last week.

I will tell how this modest left-back from Croydon, born in 1947, has inspired generations in dozens of countries. His full history in management is listed as:

1976–1980 Halmstads (Sweden)

1982 Bristol City (England)

1983–1985 Örebro (Sweden)

1985–1990 Malmö (Sweden)

1990–1992 Neuchâtel Xamax (Switzerland)

1992–1995 Switzerland

1995–1997 Inter Milan (Italy)

1997–1998 Blackburn Rovers (England)

1999 Inter Milan (Italy)

1999–2000 Grasshopper (Switzerland)

2000–2001 Copenhagen (Denmark)

2001 Udinese (Italy)

2002–2004 United Arab Emirates

2004–2005 Viking (Denmark)

2006–2007 Finland

2007–present Fulham

But that doesn't tell the whole story. This helps: Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson this morning revealed Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand are fit for the weekend but had time to add of Hodgson: "It's probably one of the best British performances of all time. I hope they win it now. It's fantastic. I don't know how you place it... one of the best."

And at Wolves, boss Mick McCarthy says simply: "Roy gets my vote as manager of the season. Without any shadow of a doubt."

Then we have former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, now boss of World Cup-bound Ivory Coast, saying: "Will Roy be England manager in the future? Why not? He has done well this season and the last. I think he could be manager of England, but first I hope they win the final!"

What Sven didn't mention is that, as a young Swedish coach in the 70s, he would go down to Malmo to learn from a British duo who miraculously lifted an anonymous club to the European Cup final in 1979, where they lost to Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in 1-0 in Munich. Their names? Manager Bobby Houghton and assistant Roy Hodgson. And they managed it within a year of coaching my first club, Berea Park in Pretoria, South Africa.

And that was where Roy took his first steps on the coaching trail. Signed as a youngster at Crystal Palace, Hodgson never quite made it as a professional and after a journey that included non-league Tonbridge, Gravestone and Maidstone, he turned up to play in the old National Football League in South Africa with his old pal Houghton, who is currently manager of India's national football team.

There, amongst Hodgon's duties as a diligent full-back and sports teacher at Hillview High School, he coached me. Though bullied by the football mums as a quiet, unassuming Englishman, he produced a Northern Transvaal Under 13 side that boxed well above their weight. In a rugby-dominated city, he quietly handed out the skills that make top footballers.

He didn't just teach you to pass, he taught you to bend the ball, both ways. He didn't just teach you to head, he taught you where and when to head. He took a small band of boys out of the hum-drum and made us dream of playing at the top level.

And among their number? Winger Roy Wegerle, who went on to play for Chelsea, QPR, Blackburn, Coventry and the USA. And centre-back Gavin Nebbeling, who turned out for Crystal Palace, Fulham and Preston. And striker Noel Cousins, who went on to become South Africa's most expensive signing when he moved from Arcadia to Moroka Swallows a decade later.

All this means little now, as Hodgson heads for a final knowing the pressure is off, his reputation is finally secure. But even now, he remains modest, refusing to bow to the hype.

As the season ticket holders scramble for one of the 12,650 allocated tickets, he says: "The atmosphere here at Craven Cottage last night was something I think we'll remember for a long time.

"This is what memories are about. When your team produces better football and a better result than we are entitled to ask for. They constantly surprise me.

"To reach a European final is an amazing achievement. We have played 59 games this season, we will end up playing 63 and it would have been easy to lose our heads when they scored.

"It has been a wonderful journey. When I look back on my career, and I hope that won't be soon, I know I will remember my time at Fulham, this night, and many more like it."

So will we Roy. So will we. Now about the Prime Minister's job...

No comments:

Post a Comment