Alan Biggs: Hodgy’s memories of Fergie time

editorial image

Timing is everything, whether you are an illustrious football manager announcing your retirement or a legendary goalkeeper publishing your autobiography.

Not only have Sir Alex Ferguson and Alan Hodgkinson got it just about spot-on but, as leaders in their fields, they share a remarkable longevity during this time of homage to the outgoing boss of Manchester United.

“Hodgy”, the former Sheffield United great, is the ONLY man to have completed 60 years working continuously in football. He is perfectly placed to offer a penetrating insight into the mysteries of the man for whom he worked as goalkeeping coach at Old Trafford.

“Tough, dour, uncompassionate” - three words 76-year-old Alan uses to highlight the outsider’s view of Sir Alex. “I never found that - quite the opposite in fact,” he writes.

No, he “doesn’t suffer fools, if at all.” But Hodgy on Fergie runs like this: “Eminently likeable and sociable, a witty man with a caring compassion for mankind, especially those who labour long and hard for little reward.”

To some surprise, you also discover that Ferguson “is as happy discussing politics or history” as football. But it’s Alan’s close-up on the greatest ever British manager that is spell-binding, as is the entire story of his own life up to the present day.

This is a book for all generations bearing in mind Hodgkinson’s continuous work in the game, which puts him in parallel with Fergie, a man he says who has thrived on being able to “move with the times” and whose “ability not only to adapt but innovate is exceptional.”

It was in 1986, right at the start of Ferguson’s Old Trafford reign, that the Scot called for Hodgy, confiding that it would take three years to build a team capable of winning a major trophy. “Uncharacteristically, he had underestimated the task,” Alan recalls.

There follows his account of a “hardened drinking culture” at the club embodied in the likes of Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath and Bryan Robson, who was the only one of the trio spared and re-directed by a manager who recognised his “fierce desire to succeed.”

Fascinatingly, it was Hodgkinson who discovered one of the other great players and characters who shaped an era of unprecedented success - after Ferguson detailed his staff to “find a keeper as good as Gordon Banks.”

Hodgy went to watch a league game in Denmark and was struck by a 6’ 4”, blond giant called Peter Schmeichel. “Within 10 minutes I knew this goalkeeper was special,” writes Alan. He told Ferguson on the phone “he’s the one” and persuaded him that the £500,000 price was the “bargain of the century.”

What may not be known is how Hodgy had to curb the Dane of his tendency to let rip at players. United had some top but tender talent coming through at that time and the keeper coach had to get Schmeichel to “temper his desire to openly castigate players who made an error.”

Alan also recalls a recent Fergie gesture that “sums up the sort of man he is.” Hodgkinson arranged for Oxford to train at the Carrington complex en route for a game at Morecamble in 2011. As the coach was driving through the gates, a large purpose-made banner screamed: “Welcome to the Master - Hodgy - the Goalkeeping Guru.”

* Alan Hodgkinson: Between the Sticks. HarperSport £16.99.

United are keeping it real

Nasty medicine takes some swallowing. For the Blades that means accepting they are a League One club, irrespective of size and support.

Acting like one too. And without any of the pretence of the past. The signs are that United have taken that painful but essential first step towards long-term recovery.

Speculation that United might be awaiting a play-off final loser is hugely ironic. The fact is that you’d struggle to rule out three of the four competing at Wembley this weekend (Brentford’s Uwe Rosler, Yeovil’s Gary Johnson, Northampton’s Aidy Boothroyd - Bradford’s Phil Parkinson signed a new contract yesterday).

Inescapably, too, the Lane job would be more attractive to a loser rather than a winner. But why should that matter? Could it be the lucky option for once?

Then there is Crawley’s Richie Barker and credible candidates with Lane links. Russell Slade packs a lot of relevant experience and is going well with Leyton Orient. Oxford’s Chris Wilder is in the same frame.

A prime contender and my new favourite would be Motherwell’s ex-Blade Stuart McCall, while Chris Morgan is in there too, minus the experience of others including Gareth Southgate and MK’s Karl Robinson.

Julian Winter, back as chief executive, will work day-to-day with the new man, a development welcomed by this column after highlighting the absence of a solid management structure.

JJ must be offered a new deal

Is there a faster attacker in the Championship than Jermaine Johnson? Is there a team that doesn’t fear facing him? If you answered “No” to both those questions then you’ll realise why I, for one, would be astounded if JJ isn’t offered a new deal by Sheffield Wednesday.

Even at 33 next month, the Jamaican is a game changer, as he showed in a 45 minute cameo in the last game of the season, having previously fired the Owls to the brink of safety with a burst of four quick-fire goals.

If there are surprises in Dave Jones’ retained list I’d be surprised. Lewis Buxton looks nailed on for a new offer and Miguel Llera has proved his worth while - albeit with less certainty - midfielders David Prutton and Giles Coke have revived their prospects.

But if I was outside that group I might be worried.