Roy Hodgson: The former Croydon teacher who led two footballing nations to a World Cup

By - Wednesday 16th July, 2014

Roy Hodgson has spent many years learning his trade in the footballing world, but it was in Croydon where his successes began with a failure. Matt Woosnam looks at his Croydon roots and rise to England manager

England manager Roy Hodgson takes training in Krakow, Poland, November 2013.
Photo by world_pictures77, used under Creative Commons.

66 years ago, a legend was born. Roy Hodgson, manager of England’s football team, was born and grew up in Croydon, but despite many successes, he has been the subject of ridicule (notably for his lisp) and criticism for his coaching style. However, he will always be a respected former Croydon resident.

In March, I ventured to South West London to watch Chelsea’s youth team face London rivals Arsenal in the first leg of the FA Youth Cup semi-finals. The match itself was rather uneventful, and apart from some overzealous stewarding, I quite enjoyed it. I digress; this is not about the match, but instead about the journey home. As I walked down the Kings Road, I took a side road to Imperial Wharf station.

In the distance I noticed a couple walking slowly hand in hand towards me, but as we both continued our journeys, I realised that this was no ordinary couple; it was in fact, the England manager and his wife. I stood inches from the man who was charged with leading the nation to glory in the World Cup. It was one of the more unexpected meetings of my life but led me to examine the career of the stranger I bumped into on the street.

The current England boss is one of Croydon’s most famous former residents

Roy Hodgson and I have something in common. When I say we have something in common, what I really mean is that I am looking for the most tenuous of links between us. What links us is a local football club – Crystal Palace. Whilst I have grown up supporting Palace, Hodgson grew up as a player in the Premier League side’s academy. The current England boss is one of Croydon’s most famous former residents; but what is the story behind his early life and career from then on?

It all began at John Ruskin Grammar School. Hodgson’s intelligence enabled his smooth passage into the next stage of his education, and set the seeds for an incredible career within football. Notably, the 66-year-old happened to be in the same school football team as former Crystal Palace player, manager and scout Steve Kember and former Eagles assistant manager Lennie Lawrence. Quite how one school produced such a wealth of coaching talent is not clear; perhaps there was something in the water.

After a path including Internazionale, Fulham and Liverpool, Hodgson was appointed as England manager in 2012

The Croydon boy’s playing career began at Crystal Palace – his local side – but he was released before he could reach the dizzying heights of the first team. A career in non-league football beckoned, and he joined Tonbridge Angels in 1966. After leaving in 1969, he moved on numerous times to other clubs, and began teaching PE in Monks Hill Comprehensive (now the Quest Academy) at the age of 28. Little did he know that this would be the start of something special.

Fellow manager Bob Houghton was another man to come out of John Ruskin, and it was he who provided Hodgson with an opportunity to manage at a professional level. As manager of Malmo FF in Sweden, he recommended his former schoolmate to Halmstads BK, when they approached him and asked for his opinion on whom to appoint. They took the chance on Hodgson and gave him the job. Five years later, he had transformed the club, winning the League Championship in 1976 and 1979, with a team written off as favourites for relegation.

Roy Hodgson achieved great success as Fulham manager in 2009.
Photo by nicksarebi, used under Creative Commons.

Houghton would then appoint him as assistant manager at Bristol City in 1980, before he spent a four month stint as manager in 1982, only for the club to suffer serious financial problems and then sack him.

Eighteen jobs later, after a path including Internazionale, Fulham and Liverpool, Hodgson was appointed as England manager in 2012. At Liverpool, he could do nothing but fail because he was not Kenny Dalglish – one of Anfield’s heroes – but at Fulham his unprecedented success showed why he was becoming so highly regarded within the game.

Taking a look at Hodgson’s coaching career brings out some impressive stats. The League Manager’s Association awarded him the Manager of the Year award in 2010 for a sterling job in charge of Fulham, during which they reached the Europa League final, whilst his work in Finland earned him the equivalent of a knighthood.

Hodgson does not deserve the ridicule, the barbs fired at him by some following England’s dismal showing at the World Cup

Hodgson does not deserve the ridicule, the barbs fired at him by some following England’s dismal showing at the World Cup, but such is the expectation, even such a dignified man as Hodgson could not be exempted from the pack of wolves that surrounds the fortunes of England’s football team, searching for something to celebrate or scorn. His demeanour in interviews and whilst speaking to the press shows him to be a thoroughly decent man, with the self restraint not to be drawn into arguments with journalists or pundits alike; nor does he appear the type to barrack a player unless truly deserving of it.

Hodgson’s success on the international scene is not simply limited to the England team, however, as he took an unfancied Switzerland side to the last 16 of the 1994 World Cup where they were defeated 3-0 by Spain; and latterly to qualification for Euro 1996. His replacement at club Neuchâtel Xamax happened to be the man whom he took over the reins of the national side from in January 1992 – Uli Stielike.

England’s failure in Brazil was partly down to Hodgson, as any manager must take some blame; but with such a severe lack of quality in defence, and a small pool of players at the top level to choose from, England’s problems are far deeper than anything that can be resolved by the manager.

Regardless of his success or lack of success as England’s manager, Roy Hodgson will always be a part of Croydon’s history.

Matt Woosnam

Matt Woosnam

Matt Woosnam is a Kingston University student in his final year as a Politics & International Relations undergraduate. A campaigner on mental health he is the founder of @Talk_Out, as well as part of the TalkEasyTrust, and seeks to break down stigma by encouraging talking out. Matt is also an avid Crystal Palace fan and the online editor of Five Year Plan Fanzine, as well as a regular contributor to the Croydon Guardian.

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