Roy Hodgson: The wisest, most endearing owl we’ll ever know

Matt Stead
Crystal Palace v Southampton

This week, Johnny’s positive look at our managers and how they perform on telly and radio visits a wise old owl who can still dish out a savaging when absolutely necessary. That’ll be Roy Hodgson, then.


Who Are Ya?
Roy was born in Croydon in 1947. He is currently Crystal Palace manager which is his 22nd management job since he began in 1976. As a player, he started at Crystal Palace but never turned out for them and ended up plying his trade in non-league. When he quit, he took the rather unusual decision to be a manager in a different country and thus started out his coaching career in Sweden at Halmstad. From 1976 to 1980 he won the title with them twice which, to this day, is considered quite the feat.

Amongst other notable successes were five consecutive title wins with Malmo and two Swedish Cups, UEFA Cup finals with both Inter Milan and Fulham, a league and cup double at Copenhagen and a Swiss Super Cup with the excellently named and partly palindromic Neuchâtel Xamax. Also got unfancied Switzerland to the last 16 of the 1994 World Cup and to Euro 96. Had relative success with Finland too. No other living Englishman stands comparison to his cosmopolitan CV.

Over such a long career there have been many more ups than downs. Struggled uncomfortably at Liverpool and in his second season at Blackburn too. Famously, almost tragically, he ran out of ideas with England against Iceland, but still left the national role with a 58% win-rate. And let’s face it, if you’ve done a job since 1976 sometimes you’re going to get things wrong, or run up against the limit of your capabilities. So it is with Roy, as it is with all of us. Some of the more vitriolic critics were unnecessarily unpleasant and remain so.

Occasionally suffers from inappropriate ageist criticism. Indeed, in football media generally, watch how many times the word ‘old’ is used as a derogatory term, even by some of the more supposedly inclusive writers, often as though being old equates to being out of touch or somehow stupid. It doesn’t. Ageism is abuse, plain and simple, but because it is directed at people with experience who grew up in a less sensitive age, they simply tend not to have the time nor inclination to call it out it. As a result, it often slips by without censure. It’s a pernicious, thoughtless trend.

Roy presents as a strong, robust, wavy-haired man who lives in suits that are made from a really nice wool worsted, or a silk and linen mix for the summer. The sort of suits that you’d rub your thumb across the sleeve, feel the quality and say “nice whistle, Roy”. He’d smile in appreciation of your comment but would be self-deprecating, almost shy and look from side to side to avoid catching your eye.

You’d hope he has his own personal tailor with a tape measure around his neck, politely pressing it into the groin to take an inside leg measurement. Indeed, a man of Roy’s vintage deserves a Gentleman’s Gentleman to organise his diary, clothing and toiletry needs. A splash of lavender water when necessary, and quiet advice on table manners at a high-class lunch.


Cunning Linguist?
I’d imagine he’s unique amongst English-born managers in that he speaks five languages. Pronouncing his Rs as Ws was treated by the ever juvenile and amoral tabloid media as a subject for piss-taking. Because it’s so funny to call him Woy, isn’t it? Honestly, it makes you despair. It’s like they’re a 14-year-old bully in the schoolyard picking on the clever boy for what they wrongly perceive as some sort of weakness, unaware that such pathetic bullying makes them look like the stupid ones. Just because Roy isn’t prone to be easily riled by such mistreatment doesn’t excuse it at all.

Always tries to be respectful and well-mannered in his post and pre-match interviews. However, even the mild-mannered Roy can be pushed over the edge. Watch here as he turns from friendly, smiling owl into vicious raptor.

This is clearly a fella who is not prepared to go gentle into that good night. He’s very much on the side of raging against the dying of the light. And rightly so.

He’s not always a linear speaker, by which I mean he’ll start making a point, then go off on a tangent that casts light on the main theme, returning to it with a little wry smile and a nod, his head turning from side to side in full owl mode as he does so. When he looks from side to side in that way, hooked nose like a beak, it really does look like a lovely, tawny, spying field vole preparing to pounce. It is just very, very endearing.

Similarly, if you close your eyes and listen to him, it is very easy to think he’s a member of the public being interviewed by the BBC during the blitz, in that his voice is rooted in what now feels like a distant time. There’s not an ounce of modern pretension to his vocabulary. Probably the man least likely to start a sentence with “So…”, refer to himself in the third person, or indulge in an antipodean-style rising inflection. No, he sounds like an upstanding copper in a 1950s episode of Dixon Of Dock Green and that’s another reason to love him.

Because of his four decades of managerial experience, very little that happens surprises him. He’s seen it all before and I think that helps give him a pragmatic view of a game, even after it has just been played. His years at the coalface have given him great perspective, but that’s not to suggest that he doesn’t have appetite and passion for the game. He must have, or he wouldn’t have gone back in at Crystal Palace at a time when many are only too happy to hang up their tracksuit.


Media Hit or Miss?
Suffered, as many have before and will again, at the hands of the sulphurous tabloids when in charge of England, who were utterly shameless in revisiting the ‘Woy’ theme time and again in ever less amusing ways. But that aside, because he’s such a charming man, so well-read and thoughtful and with such a unique and long career behind him, anyone worth their salt in the media has great respect and affection for him.

The very excellent BT Sport and 5 Live man Des Kelly got in touch to tell me this heart-warming story which superbly illustrates the quality of the man.

“In 1995 I flew out to Milan for, what I thought was, a pre-arranged interview with Roy when he was at Inter for ‘Today’ newspaper. Anyway, the taxi was just passing in through the Inter training ground gates when a limo pulled alongside heading in the opposite direction. Roy was in the back of the car. I waved at him, he opened his window and I yelled ‘Roy.. I’m here to interview you.’

“Roy hadn’t been told. Worse still, he said he was heading to Geneva in the car. Seeing the look of mild dread on my face, he said: ‘What hotel are you in?’

“‘I haven’t booked one,’ I said. I’d planned a day trip – in and straight out again after the interview. Roy said: ‘I’ll tell you what… Go to this hotel (he scribbled down the name of a place I hadn’t heard of before) and I’ll be back tomorrow. We can do the interview then.’

“‘OK,’ I said – and off he went.

“I asked the taxi driver to take me to the address on the paper. Soon enough, he pulled up outside a lavish palace. It was the Hotel Principe di Savoia. I’d never heard of it before and it was well out of a cub reporter’s price bracket. Unsurprisingly, when I turned up at the five-star hotel’s reception, the man behind the desk looked me up and down and said: ‘We are full.’

“‘Oh dear,’ I muttered. ‘Mr Hodgson told me to come here.’ ‘Meester Hodgson? THE Meester Hodgson?’ he cried. Fingers were clicked. Bells rung. Bags whisked away. And with that, I was led to a suite large enough to house an entire family. The Walton Family.

“It had all ‘been arranged’ by one of his staff. I thought it was extraordinarily kind and thoughtful. What a decent man, I thought. And I’ve always thought that about him – a decent man.”

BT Sport’s great presenter Darrell Currie also got in touch to confirm the high regard he’s held in.

“Roy is a gentleman. When you look at his career he’s excelled in so many countries. His ability to adapt to different cultures and learn new languages is remarkable. He deserved his shot at managing England and his longevity even after that experience sums the man up. Class act.”


Proper Football Man Rating:  -10%
The boys know they’ve got to pay lip service to Roy’s qualities as a top, top English manager but let’s face it, they really don’t understand him.

“I thought Malmo was a hotel chain, Jeff. How do you get a hotel chain to win the league? Eh? Halmstad? Halms dad? Whose Halm, Chaz? I’m not being funny but if you managed Switzerland you’d literally be on a glacier in moccasins, like literally, Jeff. Literally I mean, literally Jeff, like literally on a mountain, Jeff. In moccasins. It’d be like a bag of revels every day. Can I have my money now?”

The whole multilingual thing would also puzzle the typical PFM who consider foreign languages to be just noise and also lean towards the point of view that if you just shout English loud enough, foreigners will always understand you, even if they pretend not to.

And of course, Roy got the England job, which every PFM thinks is his birthright and that he only didn’t get it because they wanted someone who had actually achieved something and not someone who hadn’t but just pretended they had. The fact the FA also favoured a man who would represent the country well and not seek to shamelessly exploit the job for financial gain at every turn despite already being a multimillionaire and feel that is also his birthright to unapologetically do so, all of that was just political correctness gone mad knoworraamean? At which Roy would turn his head one way, and then the other, eyes wide, blink a little, swallow but say nothing out of politeness.

Roy just isn’t part of the PFM cabal, doesn’t mix with them beyond what is necessary and thus gets a substantial negative rating.


What The People Say
A lot people are appreciative of Roy and that’s proof that just being a nice person, having good manners, suffering your calamities with good grace and being polite can take you a long way, especially when you couple it with intelligence and perception. Time and again people spoke of loving how he goes about his business and how in a sometimes vulgar world he is something of a bulwark against the worst prevailing trends.

‘My wife is from Halmstad (Sweden) and he is totally loved there and even this summer when he visited with Palace he was interviewed in very passable Swedish which is very impressive.’

‘He’s a clever, rounded individual who I’d like to see properly interviewed one day.’

‘I enjoy referring to him as “Rodgson”, which makes him sound like the eponymous detective inspector in a 90s terrestrial TV crime drama.’

‘Roy’s nickname when he was at Inter was ‘Stan’ because his accent when he spoke Italian was the same as the actor who overdubbed Stan Laurel for Italian TV broadcasts of Laurel and Hardy.’

‘I’m convinced that Roy is a giant squirrel and has a big bushy tail.’

I now can’t look at Roy Hodgson without thinking about Warhammer thanks to @AthleticoMince.’

He is first class. An independent mind – which is so sadly lacking amongst many of the mainstream football press.’

‘I thoroughly enjoyed his tenure as Blackburn manager – easy to forget that in 1997 he had Blackburn in 2nd and challenging for the title, albeit ending with a UEFA Cup place. Bad start to the next season and was probably sacked too soon. Also worth remembering that he was strongly considered for the Germany manager’s position around that time which seems unimaginable now.’

‘I think his press conference in advance of the France v England friendly shortly after a terrorist attack in Paris, conducted entirely in French, bears a mention. I guess England manager is, for better or worse, an ambassadorial job, in part, and he was a fine ambassador that day.’

‘A human being and not afraid to show that which seems rare in football. The sheer class and dignity of his press conference in French after the Paris attacks alone justified his stint as England manager.’

‘When Roy had the Fulham job he used to stop for a coffee every now and again not far from where I lived. He was unfailingly polite to everyone. A genuinely charming man. Good taste in literature too.’

‘Always seems to be a gentleman. Watched the Bobby Robson documentary the other day and I think the football world will remember Roy the same way, if not with as much high-profile success.’

‘Like an avuncular but slightly baffled older neighbour. But I can’t have a go at him, he speaks about six different languages more than me!’

‘His achievements at Fulham were exceptional, not to mention what he’s done in Scandinavia.’

‘For that Europa League run and Zamora’s thunderbastard against Shaktar I will always adore Roy.’

‘Gets a rough ride by the media and unfair treatment in general due to his slight speech impediment (I’d argue it is not an impediment – Johnny). Generally a classy guy barring one outburst which was genuinely entertaining.’

‘The anti-PFM. Went abroad to manage and ended up leaving a fine legacy behind him. He’s still admired in Scandinavia and influenced a generation of coaches. Any other British coaches of his generation that well-liked?’

‘Am 99% certain he has someone at every game scope out the hot Bovril prices and that these *MUST* be reported back to him by 14:55pm at the latest.’

‘Comes across as a thoroughly decent man, proud of his achievements but not boastful of them.’

‘He loves his job. I envy that.’

‘I will always remember his demeanour after Fulham knocked out Juventus in the Europa League, overturning a 4-1 deficit. It was the greatest game I have ever covered. And there he was, serene in the middle of it all, almost chuckling at all the hullabaloo.’

‘He is the definition of a noble patrician, always courteous and fair in his analysis of matches. He deserves to retire gracefully and graciously.’

‘Often forgotten just how good (and hipster) he was at Inter and Switzerland so a class above your Big Sams.’


How Long Has He Got?
Doing a decent if tricky job at Palace. Not always the best football but they seem less likely to get relegated than at least three other teams and all things considered, that’s a pretty decent achievement. Some notable wins this season have confirmed that the fires still burn in Roy’s inner hearth and that he has very much moved with the times. That being said, any manager in the Premier League is pretty much always walking on thin ice, so it’s unlikely he’ll last more than one more season at the Glaziers/Eagles. However, he shows no sign of wanting to pack the management game in, so don’t bet against him taking another job and once again proving that he truly is the wisest of owls.

John Nicholson