Hodg­son’s homecoming For­mer Eng­land coach goes back to his roots

The for­mer Croy­don PE teacher and Crys­tal Palace youth player goes back to his roots to­mor­row when he takes charge of the club for the first time. Jeremy Wil­son meets the lo­cals who re­mem­ber the young Hodg­son grow­ing up down the road from Sel­hurst Park

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page -

It was when Ramzi Musal­lam and his school friends at the Monks Hill Com­pre­hen­sive in Croy­don were gath­er­ing around the lat­est edi­tion of Shoot mag­a­zine in the win­ter of 1976 that they got the shock of their lives. “They would have a team photo across the cen­tre spread and that week was of the Swedish team Halm­stads,” re­calls Musal­lam. “One of my mates saw one of the faces in the mid­dle and just said, ‘That looks like Mr Hodg­son’. We all just laughed, not think­ing it was pos­si­ble. He had just been our English and PE teacher. But then we worked our way through and, in among this list of Swedish names, there it was: Roy Hodg­son. We were stunned. We had no idea.

“He lived around the cor­ner from me in Farn­bor­ough Cres­cent and we would some­times walk home to­gether. I was a Palace fan and the sub­sti­tute in the school team that Mr Hodg­son would coach. We would al­ways just talk about foot­ball.

“He was still play­ing for Car­shal­ton Ath­letic as well as teach­ing at the school. I re­mem­ber that he was al­ways in a track­suit, even when he was tak­ing English lessons, but he was one of the teach­ers you could talk to. He was liked and re­spected by the pupils.”

Monks Hill (now named Quest Acad­emy) was also Wil­fried Zaha’s old school and is just down the road from Sel­hurst Park where, at the age now of 70, English foot­ball’s most trav­elled man­ager has re­turned to what he calls “my boy­hood club”.

Af­ter a coach­ing ca­reer span­ning five decades, eight coun­tries and 19 teams, Hodg­son’s new place of work is just a mile from the Sydenham Road gar­den where he first kicked a foot­ball.

It is not just the hair­styles that have changed. Hodg­son was born only two years af­ter the Sec­ond World War ended and large parts of Croy­don, which was once home to London’s main air­port, had been oblit­er­ated. Hodg­son’s fa­ther, Bill, worked as a bus driver and, liv­ing be­neath them in the same ter­race maisonette, was another young fam­ily. A bus con­duc­tor col­league also had a young boy who was fa­nat­i­cal about foot­ball and their dom­i­nant child­hood mem­ory was of end­less foot­ball games on the shared patch of grass.

“All the lo­cal kids used to come vir­tu­ally every day and we’d have a match,” re­calls Steve Kem­ber. “There were a cou­ple of trees at the back we’d use as goal­posts.”

They both at­tended the John Ruskin Gram­mar School in Croy­don, which also counted two other prom­i­nent fu­ture man­agers – Len­nie Lawrence and Bob Houghton – among its co­hort.

Hodg­son, who

Kem­ber says was

“one of the chaps”, ap­par­ently had an un­usu­ally so­phis­ti­cated taste in mu­sic and lit­er­a­ture. Ac­cord­ing to another school friend, he saw him­self as “a bid of a mod”.

Hodg­son,

Kem­ber and

Lawrence all trained with

Palace but there was never any doubt who would be the star player.

Lawrence de­scribes

Hodg­son as

“pretty use­ful” but Kem­ber, who would be­come

Chelsea’s club record sign­ing, was the out­stand­ing tal­ent. Hodg­son was duly re­leased by Palace with­out play­ing a se­nior match but his glo­be­trot­ting would wait and the next decade of his life was spent teach­ing and play­ing non-league foot­ball for a va­ri­ety of clubs around Kent and South London. Hodg­son’s first match for Ton­bridge An­gels was in front of

‘Down to earth, hon­est, mod­est; there was noth­ing flash about him but he would do ev­ery­thing to the very best of his abil­i­ties’

only 75 sup­port­ers. It was, says cur­rent An­gels chair­man Steve Churcher, a fairly “dire time” and the club fin­ished bot­tom of the South­ern League in Hodg­son’s first sea­son.

One of the club’s fans, Tom Spence, ac­tu­ally wrote to Hodg­son when he was man­ag­ing Switzer­land and re­ceived a per­sonal re­ply say­ing that “he had fond me­mories of meet­ing with his team-mates af­ter train­ing in Fortes Cafe in Ton­bridge High Street”.

Hodg­son’s team-mates in­cluded the cur­rent Arse­nal kit man­ager Vic Ak­ers, Houghton, Colin Toal and Ray Brady, the brother of Liam.

He was versatile if lim­ited and, play­ing pre­dom­i­nantly as a mid­fielder or full-back, soon moved to lo­cal ri­vals Gravesend and North­fleet where he be­came team-mates with Tony Sit­ford.

“Roy was not the great­est player in the world but he was a good player and, more im­por­tant, a very nice per­son,” says Sit­ford, who con­tin­ues to work lo­cally both as grounds­man and di­rec­tor of foot­ball at Corinthian FC.

“I look at him now, 40-odd years on, and you still see the same per­son. What you see is what you get. It was what he was like as a player, too. Down to earth, hon­est, mod­est; there was noth­ing flash about him but he would do ev­ery­thing to the very best of his abil­i­ties. He was not a player who was ag­gres­sive and would go slid­ing into tack­les or kick peo­ple but he was com­fort­able on the ball and had good vi­sion. He was def­i­nitely a player who would be more ap­pre­ci­ated by his team-mates and his man­ager than the

crowd.” That was es­pe­cially ev­i­dent dur­ing an away match at Chel­tenham in the South­ern League. Charles Web­ster, who has been cov­er­ing non-league foot­ball for BBC Ra­dio Kent for more than 40 years, was at the game.

“He was get­ting stick from his own fans while wait­ing for a throw-in,” he re­calls. “He had the ball on his hip and one of the comics shouted, ‘You ------, Hodg­son’. I just re­mem­ber him turn­ing around, look­ing at the fan, and very de­lib­er­ately say­ing, ‘You are not here as well are you?’ He was used to get­ting a bit of stick at home and would have recog­nised all the faces but, in that mo­ment, you could see he had a cer­tain strength of char­ac­ter and a good sense of hu­mour.”

It was, says Web­ster, his main mem­ory of an oth­er­wise eas­ily for­get­table play­ing spell.

“I re­mem­ber he had a hunche­do­ver de­meanour that made him look like he was re­ally con­cen­trat­ing,” says Web­ster. “I don’t think it came nat­u­rally to him. I don’t mean that un­kindly, but he just looked like he had re­ally worked at it. At that level, he was a jour­ney­man, but the sort of player that every club needs; a grafter, al­though not some­one in whom you ob­vi­ously saw lead­er­ship qual­i­ties.”

So, a sort of non-league James Mil­ner then? “Pre­cisely,” says Web­ster. “He was a team player who would do what the man­ager asked. I would love to say I knew that Roy would go on to be a top man­ager, but I didn’t. No one did. Un­til he emerged again as a coach, he was largely for­got­ten about.”

Af­ter Gravesend, spells at Maid­stone United with Houghton and Ash­ford Town fol­lowed be­fore his play­ing days ended in a Car­shal­ton Ath­letic team that was be­ing coached by Lawrence.

“It was Len­nie and Bob Houghton who en­cour­aged him into coach­ing,” says Chris Blan­chard, who is now club chair­man. “He was a good non­league player; he scored a few goals and would some­times take the penal­ties. It was a de­cent pe­riod in our his­tory.”

Hodg­son, him­self, speaks of his “pride” at his Croy­don roots and, while he re­turns to Palace at a mo­ment of some cri­sis, the lo­cal de­sire to see him also re-es­tab­lish his own ca­reer clearly runs deep.

“I’ve al­ways fol­lowed his ca­reer since he left the school,” says Musal­lam, who re­mains a huge Palace fan.

“I still speak to a lot of the old pupils and they are wish­ing him well. We would love to see him suc­ceed. Satur­day will be a homecoming.”

Launch pad: Roy Hodg­son (left) was teach­ing while play­ing for Car­shal­ton Ath­letic in 1975-76 with Len­nie Lawrence (right)

Bit­ter end: Roy Hodg­son, with as­sis­tant Gary Neville, while in charge of Eng­land

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