Ode to Roy
Off the back of what may well have been his final ever match as a manager, Raph Boyd provides an in depth look at a man who doesn’t get the credit he deserves; the Croydon Cowboy himself, Roy Hodgson.
Born and raised in Croydon, Roy Hodgson began his career as a schoolboy for the club he supported, Crystal Palace. Hodgson never played for Palace’s senior team and subsequently spent his eleven-year playing career moving between lower and non-league clubs in England, as well as a short stint playing in apartheid-era South Africa. During these years, Hodgson also trained for his coaching badges, which he received at only 23, and worked under Bob Houghton, an old school mate, as a player and assistant.
Whilst playing, Hodgson was unable to make a living purely from football and supplemented his income by teaching. After playing his final game at the age of 29 for Sutton based outfit Carshalton Athletic F.C, Hodgson retired with his future unclear.
The Sweden (and Bristol) years
Having ended his playing career ending before he reached 30, Hodgson found himself in a limbo, only being able to make ends meet through another job as a teacher. He was given a lifeline, however, by Houghton, who was the then coach of Swedish giants Malmö. Houghton recommended Hodgson for the role of manager at Halmstads BK, a smaller side in Sweden’s Allsvenskan division. What may have then been seen simply as a friend helping a friend by getting him work that was unlikely to last was, inadvertently, the beginning of a career spanning nearly half a decade which included relegation scraps, league titles, European finals and appearances in the World Cup. Though they were candidates for relegation when he took over, Hodgson had an immediate and enormous impact at Halmstads, winning the Allsvenskan title in his first season with the club, and again in 1979. When he left Halmstads in 1980, the 33-year-old Hodgson had performed a miracle, turning a club battling to remain in the league into its most dominant side, something that the man himself would later compare to turning “water into wine”.
In 1982, Hodgson returned to England, where he took up the position of Bristol Rovers manager. His time in the south west was far less successful than his time in Sweden however, and Hodgson was sacked after just 21 games. Following this, Hodgson retreated back to Scandinavia and would not dip his toes back into the English management pool for another 15 years.
Once back in Sweden, Hodgson spent 18 months with Örebro SK, whom he would lead to promotion from Sweden’s fourth division, grabbing the Division 2 Norra title as he did so, before he was finally offered the biggest job in the country; Malmö FF. Under Hodgson, Malmö dominated the Allsvenskan, winning five consecutive titles between 1985 and 1989, as well as two Swedish cups. After winning his fifth title, Malmö offered Hodgson a lifetime contract, an offer which he turned down, due in part to his thirst for new experiences, as well as his dissatisfaction with Swedish tax rates. To this day, he remains their most successful coach in terms of titles won, and is adored by their fans, who have unofficially named a section of their stadium in his honour.
The Switzerland and Inter years
Desiring a new adventure and wanting to pay less tax, Hodgson found his promised land in the form of Switzerland, where he spent five years. Initially managing club side Neuchâtel Xamax, he would later gain his first job as an international manager, spending nearly four years at the helm of the Swiss national team. As with his time at Halmstads, Switzerland went through a rejuvenation under Hodgson. Their qualification for the 1994 World Cup became their first appearance at the tournament since 1966 and reaching the round of 16, where they were beaten by Spain, meant they progressed past the group stage for the first time since 1954. Hodgson continued to manage Switzerland following the tournament, leading them to qualification for the 1996 European Championships, their first ever appearance at the tournament, before resigning to focus full time on his new job as Inter Milan coach, a role he’d began a month prior. To date, Switzerland achieved their highest ever placement in the FIFA World Rankings under Hodgson, when they placed third in August of 1993 and, through his work with Switzerland, he remains one of only three England managers, alongside George Raynor with Sweden and Jack Charlton with Ireland, to take a foreign team past the first round of fixtures at the World Cup.
At Inter, Hodgson experienced his first taste of managing an elite club. He inherited a side that were floundering near the bottom of the Serie A table, having managed just two wins in their initial six games. During his first season, Hodgson guided Inter out of the danger zone and into an eventual seventh place finish, where they were lucky to gain a place in the following season’s UEFA Cup, due to a Juventus victory in that season’s Champions League. The following season, Inter were far better domestically, finishing a respectable third in Serie A, and reaching the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia. It was in the UEFA Cup, however, that Hodgson’s future in Milan was rendered untenable. Having proceeded into the final, Inter drew 1-1 with Schalke 04 over two legs, before being beaten 4-1 by the Germans on penalties. Immediately following the loss, Hodgson was pelted with coins, lighters and other missiles by the Italian crowd, and resigned soon after. Despite this bitter ending to his time in Milan, Hodgson is still appreciated by many for his contribution to Inter’s survival and the subsequent success they enjoyed because of it.
Blackburn and the wilderness years
Following his departure from Italy, Hodgson returned to England in 1997, where he managed Blackburn Rovers. In his first season, he managed to take the club to a sixth place finish and a UEFA Cup spot. His second season, marred by behind-the-scenes problems and consistent injuries to important players, was far more underwhelming. Following a string of horrible results, Blackburn sat bottom of the Premier League table, and Hodgson was removed from the position in November of 1998, less than halfway through the season.
After leaving Blackburn, Hodgson drifted rather aimlessly from job to job for the best part of the decade, gallivanting around the world looking for a new quest, like a nameless hero in a western. He initially returned to Inter in a caretaker capacity, managing them for six games, before leaving for a run of six jobs in the space of eight years, spending no more than eighteen months at any of them. First, Grasshoppers in Switzerland, then FC Copenhagen in Denmark, where he won the Superliga, then Udinese in Italy, then the United Arab Emirates, managing the national team for over two years but only actually taking charge for two games, and then Viking in Norway. The final stop in his globetrotting odyssey saw him completing a Nordic quadruple by taking charge of the Finnish national team, whom he stayed with between 2006 and 2007.
The Fulham years
In December 2007, Fulham were in the mud. Sitting in 18th place after as many games, the south London club called out for a saviour. Fresh from his eight years of messing about abroad, a cowboy born half an hour from Craven Cottage answered the call. Roy arrived at a club in deep trouble and, despite a point from his first game in charge, temporarily taking them out of the drop zone, the club would spend the subsequent eighteen games in the bottom three. Four wins in their final five games, including victories over relegation rivals Reading and Birmingham, kept Fulham up by the barest of margins. Roy had done it again, but he wasn’t finished. Not satisfied with simply surviving, Hodgson improved Fulham’s position in next season’s table by an astonishing 10 places, finishing seventh, the club’s highest ever finish in England’s top flight, and securing them a place next season’s Europa League. Was Roy done? Was he fuck. Whilst Fulham couldn’t quite manage to maintain their success in the league during the 2009/10 season, still finishing a respectable 12th, Hodgson only had eyes for European gold.
Taking them all the way from the third qualifying round of the 2010 Europa League to the last two in the entire competition, Hodgson delivered Fulham their first and only European final in the club’s history, felling sides like Juventus, Hamburger SV and Wolfsburg as they did so. Despite a heroic display, Roy’s boys were narrowly beaten at the last hurdle by an Atlético Madrid side that featured the likes of David de Gea, Jose Antonio Reyes, Sergio Agüero and Diego Forlan, with the latter scoring the winner in extra time. Though the result was bitterly disappointing for Hodgson and his team, it also served as a positive parallel to his defeat with Inter 13 years previously. Yes, he had lost in his final game with a club once again, but this time he was showered with praise and applause by fans. After saving a club from relegation and taking them to a final, the 2010 Europa League final saw Roy finally receive the praise he deserved, with his efforts rewarded by winning that years League Managers Association Manager of the Year.
The Liverpool and West Brom years
Hodgson’s time as Fulham manager ended in the summer of 2010 when he was appointed as Liverpool manager. Far from the gegenpressing monsters they have become in recent years, the Liverpool of 2010 were an absolute shambles. The club was up for sale and were still reeling from the dismissal of their Champions League winning manager, Rafa Benítez, that summer. The job ahead of him was immense and paired with a squad that never truly believed in him, and a board unwilling to back him, Hodgson lasted only half a year before being replaced by Kenny Dalgleish.
Not one to allow himself to be down and out, Roy returned to management little over a month later, taking over as West Brom manager in February 2011. Walking into another relegation dogfight, Roy worked his magic and, by the end of the 2010/11 season, had helped West Brom to 11th place, their highest finish for over 30 years. The season after, Hodgson and West Brom went one better, finishing 10th. His post-Merseyside reputation in England now repaired, Hodgson left West Brom a fan favourite, having been handpicked to take over as the new England manager.
The England years
Though never easy for anyone who dares to accept it, the role as manager of England was perhaps at its least desirable when Roy was given it in 2012. The so called ‘Golden Generation’ comprising the likes of Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, was already beginning to disintegrate by the time Roy’s tenure started, and the new generation that Gareth Southgate has been gifted with, was the best part of a decade away. The squad at Hodgson’s disposal for the upcoming Euro 2012 tournament may still have contained in their prime stars such as Wayne Rooney and older but capable players like Cole, Terry and Gerrard, but also included the likes of Martin Kelly, Stewart Downing and Scott Parker. Not bad players, but players who would have been nowhere near the squads of yester or later years. Despite the tools he was given, Hodgson pulled the Three Lions to a commendable quarter final finish, where they were put to the sword by eventual runners up Italy via a penalty shoot-out. To cap off a respectable display, England rose to third in the FIFA World Rankings, their highest ranking to date.
Sadly, 2012 proved to be the best of Roy’s five years in charge. Though England proceeded to qualify unbeaten for the 2014 World Cup, they were eliminated from their group for the first time since 1958, being beaten by Italy and Uruguay and only managing to gain a solitary point from a goalless draw against Costa Rica. After disappointment came humiliation, as England were knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland in the round of 16 and immediately after, Hodgson resigned as England manager. He was succeeded by Sam Allardyce, who managed just one game before resigning after being caught up in an investigation into corruption in English football.
The Palace years
Over a year after his departure as England manager, Hodgson was handed what may have been his final challenge, and likely the one which meant more to him than any before him: to save the club he grew up supporting. As Crystal Palace lay bottom of the table after their first four games, Hodgson’s final job in management began as his first did. The turnaround was slow but by Christmas, Palace were out of the relegation zone and following four wins in their final five games, finished in 11th place with 44 points. The following season, Palace finished in 12th but with 49 points, their joint-best haul in the Premier League era. The next two campaigns saw Palace finish 14th back-to-back, not progressing into a top half finish but also avoiding any relegation battles. His job done and his leave very well earned, Hodgson announced prior to the last few games of the 2020/21 season that he would walk away from Palace, and most likely football as a whole, at the end of the campaign. During his time with Palace, Hodgson broke the record for oldest ever manager in the Premier League, formerly held by Sir Bobby Robson.
So, Roy Hodgson will retire a divisive figure. To many who don’t know his history, he embodies everything that is wrong with management in the United Kingdom – a dinosaur from a bygone era that blocks the way for young, unique managers from abroad and the lower leagues. But that’s not who Roy Hodgson is. Roy Hodgson is a man who came from a humble background and, without pedigree from a prestigious playing career, grafted for nearly half a century to forge a respectable career as a manager. From winning the Swedish first division in 1976, to securing the longest run in the top flight that Palace, the team he supported as a young boy, have had since the 1910s, Roy Hodgson is a legend of the game. Having managed fifteen different clubs in eight countries as well as four national teams, Hodgson has won eight League titles, two domestic cups and has gotten to two European finals.
Roy is often conflated with the eternal carousel of mediocre British managers who never seem to be out of a job in England’s top flight, but these comparisons are unfair. In a world of little Englanders, Hodgson was a prime example of someone willing to explore the world beyond the shores he knew during the early parts of his life, advocating that any British manager who goes abroad should learn the language of the country he was working in, saying that doing so “proves to the people that you want to be there, that you’re not on loan from another country, that you’re there because you want to do your work.”
Yes, at times he failed. But Roy Hodgson is more than his failures. He is a man who is seen by fans of not just multiple clubs, but multiple countries, as responsible for delivering performances, results and accolades that remain some of the finest they’ve ever achieved. Three of the four nations he managed; Switzerland, Finland and England, managed their highest ever places in the FIFA World Rankings under him. Roy Hodgson is not some journeyman, fecklessly jumping from job to job without having made a difference where he was before. On top of the recent announcement that he is to be given an MBE, he has been also made a knight – not in Britain, but in Finland, for his service to their national team. He is highly valued, if not adored, in respected footballing countries such as Sweden, Italy and Switzerland. He has as many Premier League Manager of the Month awards as José Mourinho or Mauricio Pochettino, reached as many European finals as Arsène Wenger and has won as many LMA Manager of the Year awards, an award voted for by his peers, as Jürgen Klopp.
On the surface, Roy Hodgson looks like any old manager, but he is not. He is a legend who, as bizarre as it is to hear, will be missed. 15 club jobs. Four national team jobs. 13 domestic hours. Five personal honours. A 46 year career. One Roy Hodgson.