Obituary: Alan Hodgkinson, footballer and coach

Born: 16 August, 1936, in Laughton Common, Yorkshire. Died: 8 December, 2015, aged 79.

Alan Hodgkinson, England keeper who went on to be Scotlands goalkeeping coach at two World Cups. Picture: Contributed
Alan Hodgkinson, England keeper who went on to be Scotlands goalkeeping coach at two World Cups. Picture: Contributed

Alan Hodgkinson, who was goalkeeping coach to the Scotland national team for more than a decade, liked to recall meeting the Queen when the squad and staff were invited to Buckingham Palace after the 1998 World Cup. “She said ‘But you’re not a Scotchman’,” he said. “I replied ‘No ma’am, I’m English’, and she asked who I supported when the countries met. I told her: ‘Whoever’s paying my wages, ma’am’.”

Far from being a sporting mercenary, Hodgkinson was the consummate professional. Having played for England at the age of 20 and served Sheffield United for 17 years, he went on to pioneer the role of specialist coach in his position. His career in senior football spanned six decades, during which he also worked for Rangers during Walter Smith’s tenure and under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

A South Yorkshireman from a mining community, the man widely known as “Hodgy” cherished his status as an honorary Scot. No-one who saw him leaping around the training ground on a freezing Moscow day in 1995 would have questioned his commitment to Scotland’s cause. Barely a month earlier he had undergone quadruple heart-bypass surgery. A framed photo of him wearing a kilt, strolling on the Stade de France pitch before Scotland played Brazil in the opening match of France 98, adorns a wall in his home. It was a source of anguish to him that a falling-out with Berti Vogts at the start of the German’s tenure as national coach led to the end of the association.

Forty-one years earlier, however, every fibre in his being was directed towards defeating the Scots. Alighting from the team bus at Port Vale before a Second Division fixture, he encountered a reporter from Sheffield seeking his reaction to being selected for England against Scotland. He knew nothing about it.

Hodgkinson was accustomed to being thrown in at the deep end; at 18 he helped his club win 2-1 on his debut at Newcastle, with future Lisbon Lion Ronnie Simpson in the opposite goal. But this one was at Wembley, with 97,520 watching, and among his team-mates were Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney and Billy Wright.

His first touch was to retrieve the ball from the net after Clyde’s Tommy Ring beat him. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness’, but I couldn’t let it get me down,” he remembered. England won 2-1, Duncan Edwards bludgeoning the winner from 25 yards.

It was characteristic of Hodgkinson – and one reason why he worked so well with the meticulous Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown when they respectively coached Scotland – that he later studied Ring’s goal on video, assessing his positioning and the angles. “If I had known then what I know now, I would have saved it,” he said, matter-of-factly rather than boastfully. Hodgkinson, who at 5ft 9in was relatively small for a keeper, would be a non-playing member of England’s squad for the 1958 and 1962 World Cup finals. Yet with Gordon Banks emerging as undisputed first choice he won only a further four caps. He remained a model of consistency for Sheffield United, playing 674 competitive games.

After retiring in 1971 he was assistant manager at Gillingham for six years. When that job ended he wrote to clubs floating the almost unheard-of idea of a goalkeeping coach. He was “inundated” and began to spread the gospel of technique and agility in a profession where recklessness and eccentricity tended to be highly valued.

Among his employers were England under-21s, Rangers, where he mentored Andy Goram (who called him his “guru”), Everton, Aston Villa and Manchester United.

Ferguson sent him to assess a player they had spotted in Denmark. Hodgkinson’s report concluded: “This goalie will win you the championship.” Peter Schmeichel earned multiple medals at Old Trafford, including the Champions League.

His work with Scotland followed an invitation from Roxburgh to lead a Scottish FA coaching course for keepers in the late 1980s. Custodians north of the Border had a poor reputation but the Scots’ presence at two World Cups and two European Championships, predicated on the clean sheets kept by Goram, Jim Leighton and Neil Sullivan, was testament to Hodgkinson’s success.

His sojourn with Scotland came to a sudden and acrimonious end in 2001. After a 5-0 rout by France in Paris, Vogts told the press Hodgkinson had led Rab Douglas to think he was going to replace Sullivan in the second half.

The Celtic man was furious that he had missed the birth of his child to sit on the subs’ bench. “Vogts told him that, not me,” Hodgkinson said. “I wrote and told him it was a disgrace. He never replied.”

In 2008 he was awarded the MBE for services to football which he hailed as “an honour for the goalkeeping industry”. He continued to work at clubs such as Coventry and Oxford, where he finally retired, aged 76, in 2012. Heart problems resurfaced a year ago, but Hodgkinson appeared to recover well before falling ill again. He is survived by his wife Brenda, two daughters and a son.