Roy Hodgson: My love for the game is as strong as ever

Friday 28 Aug 2015
England manager Roy Hodgson and his assistant Ray Lewington

After almost 40 years as a coach Roy Hodgson says his passion for the game burns as brightly as ever, and shows no sign of fading.

The year was 1976. Bjorn Borg was winning his first Wimbledon title, James Hunt was pipping Nikki Lauda to the F1 title and the now England manager was taking up his first managerial post – at Swedish club Halmstads.

In the five years he spent there he guided the rank outsiders to two league titles – to this day considered by many to be one of the biggest surprises in the history of Swedish football.

Today, of course, he is in charge of the country of his birth. And if, as expected, his England side pick up the points they need to qualify for Euro 2016 in the remaining four qualifiers, he will lead them to France with four decades of managerial experience behind him.

Pictured in 1993, Roy Hodgson during his time as Switzerland manager

But whether it is on the fields of Scandinavia, the cauldron of the San Siro or under the arch at Wembley, his love of the game that has dominated his life remains strong. 

And in a candid interview with Sport magazine, Hodgson says his desire to win has not dwindled over time – far from it.

“I have exactly the same passion for the game now I had when I started,” he said. “Two of the qualities I prize most in people who coach or manage are energy and enthusiasm. 

“Football players need inspiring like anyone else, and the way to inspire anyone is through energy, enthusiasm, passion. 

“While I retain those qualities, I hope to be connected to the game in some way.”

Roy Hodgson with England and Inter Milan midfielder Paul Ince in 1996

As well as his 39 years as a manager, Hodgson also played the game for over a decade.  After starting out at the books of Crystal Palace he played non-league football for ten years. 

Sandwiched between a short spell playing in South Africa, he turned out for Tonbridge Angels, Gravesend & Northfleet, Maidstone United, Ashford Town and Carshalton Ahtletic.

By the age of 23, though, he had completed his coaching qualifications, and at 31 was in charge of his first team. But what drew him to the game that would become his life’s work?

“Football is a game that excites and captivates people, but it is also a game that most people have had some form of contact with,” he continued. 

“Everyone has tried it, played it to some level, because it is such an easy game to play. You have a few friends, a ball and a patch of green – and there you are, we can play. 

“I don’t think the fundamental joy of the sport has changed at all.”

Roy Hodgson talks with Gary Neville

Roy Hodgson on the training pitch at St. George's Park with assistant Gary Neville

So after four decades, 15 club jobs, three national posts and three major international tournaments – Hodgson is again preparing a side to take on the world’s best.

As he puts the finishing touches to his squad to take on San Marino and Switzerland in September, Hodgson admits that with great passion and responsibility, there will always be pressure.

Nothing, he says, he has not handled before.

“The earliest I came across truly enormous pressure was at Inter,” added the England manager. 

“Of course you feel pressure always, every match day, the nervousness, the desire to do well. But I think going to Inter, and realising the size of the expectation on the club to regain the former glories of the 1960s and ’70s, is when I first felt it.

“There’s no doubt, though, that the responsibility of being the manager of England is the one I have felt most. 

“I have always felt very proud, very gratified to have been given the opportunity – honoured to have been selected for what I consider the best job any Englishman in football could want. 

Roy Hodgson was talking to Sport magazine

“But you see the enormous disappointment when results don’t go the way you want them to, and you are very much aware, the players are very much aware, that we must carry this responsibility.”

Hodgson and England responded to the disappointment of the World Cup in resounding fashion. 

They are unbeaten since the 2-1 defeat against Uruguay in Sao Paulo on 19 June 2014 – 11 games in all – and head into the penultimate round of European qualifiers with a 100 per cent record to protect.

Although accepting of the fact it is natural the performances of the national team for the national sport will be placed under the greatest of scrutiny, he sees it as his responsibility to guide his players through.

“Freeing people of the stress and pressure of expectation is a very easy thing to talk about, but very hard to actually then achieve”

Roy Hodgson England manager

And says his age and worldly experience stand him in good stead to do just that.

“I think freeing people of the stress and pressure of expectation is a very easy thing to talk about, but very hard to actually then achieve,” he added. 

“We have to try and make certain, as we go forward with a very young group of England players, that they are capable of accepting this pressure. 

“Age certainly gives you perspective. But not as much, perhaps, as travel – living in different countries, speaking different languages, learning about different cultures. 

“It enables you to see things a little bit less in the goldfish bowl, to lift your head outside it and put things in a better perspective.”

Roy Hodgson was speaking to Sport magazine. Click here to read the full interview.

By Jamie Reid Senior Writer