A gentleman from Croydon

September 22, 2020

On Saturday afternoon, there is a top match in the world’s best football league: Crystal Palace F.C. vs. Everton F.C. from Liverpool at Selhurst Park in the south-east of London. There are very few who had predicted a top match between these two clubs after the first two rounds and there are certainly even fewer who believe that the home team – The Eagles – will end up in the league’s best half when the season’s 38 games are over. Yet every time Crystal Palace plays, a new record is set by 73-year-old manager Roy Hodgson – a gentleman from Croydon who proves every day that age is relative and quality can be lifelong.

Roy Hodgson’s Backyard: A run-down, sad and impoverished suburb

I visited shortly after Roy Hodgson’s appointment as manager of Crystal Palace F.C. 3 years ago the dilapidated and sad district of Croydon, where Roy Hodgson was born and raised. Roy’s mother worked in a bakery and his father was a bus driver in one of London’s poorest areas, where apartment blocks, terraced houses, greengrocers, hairdressers, fish-and-chips shops, betting companies and pubs form a cluttered and raw suburban area. In the same way as the many different ethnicities, it forms the pulsating and colorful street scene. It was by no means coincidental that almost 10 years ago, Croydon was the center of a series of riots in which houses and shops were set on fire and confrontations between police and troublemakers became front-page news in the media. As a boy, unlike his father who was a Newcastle United fan, Roy was a happy Crystal Palace supporter and he also tried to break through as a youth player in the favorite club. It never succeeds, however, but the dream of winning football matches, respect and recognition with Crystal Palace F.C. remained unchanged at Hodgson throughout his lifelong career as manager of 16 different clubs and national teams in 8 different countries.

Great sporting success in Sweden: Four Championships and two cup titles

Roy Hodgson was educated as a P.E. teacher, but already at the age of 23, Hodgson began his coaching career in English amateur clubs. However, it was not until he was appointed head coach of Halmstad BK in the mid-1970s that his impressive coaching career really took off. Halmstad BK was at that time bottom team and threatened with relegation in Sweden’s best football league – Allsvenskan – but in record time Hodgson introduced a new style of play with great success: Halmstad BK sensationally won the Swedish championship in Hodgson’s first season at the club, which was repeated three years later. Also in Malmö FF, which has always been one of Sweden’s top clubs, Hodgson achieved great sporting success with two Championships and two Cup titles in four seasons (1985-1989). Because of these achievements, Hodgson was highly regarded and he had a great influence on the development of Swedish football throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Hodgson, along with his good friend and coaching colleague Bob Houghton, introduced zone coverage with a high offside line of the four defenders as well as high pressure on the opponents’ ball carrier of the midfield and forwards.

The cornerstone of FCK’s dominance in Danish football

Roy Hodgson also laid the foundation for FCK’s sporting success in recent decades, even though he was only associated with the club for a single season: 2000-2001. Hodgson is, in my opinion, by far the greatest coaching capacity that has worked in the Super League. In record time, the experienced Englishman, who at the time had also been coach of the Milan club Inter in Serie A and national coach in Switzerland, succeeds with a classic British 4-4-2 game concept and a strong discipline on the team exemplified through the two leadership types : Jacob Laursen as central defender and Ståle Solbakken as back midfielder to achieve great sporting success: FCK lost only four matches in the season 2000-2001 and became supreme Danish champion. In many ways, Hodgson has put together his game concept according to simple principles – unlike many “modern” coaches and managers. Hodgson has e.g. always believed that the farther the ball is from one’s own goal, the fewer goals the opponents score. Hodgson also became known in FCK for his raw – but also familiar – tone with players, staff, chairman and board. FCK has of course developed and nuanced Hogdson’s 4-4-2 game concept, but in my opinion there is no doubt that it was primarily Hodgson who changed FCK from being a mediocre team to a champion team.

“England Manager”: The hottest seat in football

Of course, this is far from the only success that can be attributed to Roy Hodgson’s career as a manager for more than four decades. Among his more “dark” chapters is a very short period in the autumn of 2010 as manager of one of the big clubs in British football: Liverpool F.C. Despite a 3-year contract, the relationship between Hodgson and the players, staff, board and not least fans of the LFC never worked well – the chemistry simply fit. Nor did Roy Hodgson’s work as manager of the English national team in the period 2012-2016 become a real success. For any English manager, the dream job is “England Manager”, but the pressure from the media in particular on this position is relentless and at times very painful. It seems that several of the English media are still living “in the shadow of” the World Cup triumph at Wembley in 1966. During Hodgson’s 4-year appointment as manager, England achieved its best position so far as No. 2 in the FIFA World Ranking (autumn 2013). Hodgson also manages to qualify England for both the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the European Championship 2016 in France, but both Cups were sporting failures. Expectations for the English national team were towering ahead of the 2014 World Cup, but defeats to both Italy (1-2) and Uruguay (1-2) as well as a goalless match against Costa Rica sent the nation’s pride – “The Three Lions” – humiliated return after that initial group stage. The results put Hodgson under tremendous pressure in the British media and among the enthusiastic – or more precisely fanatical – English fans. And with the absolute low point – the traumatic defeat of 1-2 to the “mini-put nation” Iceland in the round of 16 at the European Championships 2016 – Hodgson’s time as manager of the English national team was over.

Home to the street of childhood and the playground of youth

Due to the lack of results with the English national team, there were also many who doubted Roy Hodgson’s quality as manager of the childhood club Crystal Palace F.C. when he was offered the job in September 2017. And the start as Crystal Palace manager was also anything but flashy: 7 lost matches and a goal score of 0-17. However, Hodgson had a strong belief, both in his game concept and in rock-hard work, which has always been a part of Hodgson’s everyday life. Slowly – but surely – the team and Hodgson found each other. And with 44 points in the remaining 31 matches, the club achieved a form 11th place in the Premier League. It has never happened before in the history of the Premier League that a team has avoided relegation after losing the first 7 matches of the season. Hodgson’s second season (2018-2019) was also a success with a 12th place and 49 points – the highest number of points the club has ever achieved. Also not in Hodgson’s third season (2019-2020) was Crystal Palace with a 14th place and 43 points near relegation, which meant that Hogdson’s contract with the childhood club was extended to the summer of 2021.

On Saturday afternoon, the post-war and working-class boy from Croydon will once again sit at the sidelines at Selhurst Park and follow every detail “on the pitch” – a gentleman is back in the street of childhood and on the playground of youth.

You can read more about here:

  • Richard Allen: Roy Hodgson: A football Life: The first biography of England’s manager (2014).
  • Mike Carson: The Manager – Inside the Minds of Football’s Leaders (Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., 2013).