Football Euro 2000: Keeping an eye on Scotland's net profits

PLAY-OFF SHOWDOWN English coach Alan Hodgkinson is working hard to improve reputation of goalkeeping north of the border

IMAGINE THE following scenario before today's first leg of the Euro 2000 play-off at a heaving Hampden Park. Not only does Kevin Keegan dispense with the experience of David Seaman, but he also overlooks the in-form Nigel Martyn. Instead he opts to play a 20-year-old goalkeeper from the lower divisions, who stands 5ft 9in and has fewer than 30 senior games to his name, barely half of them in the Premiership.

It sounds like a fanciful plot from sporting fiction. Yet when he was plucked from Sheffield United's promotion push to represent England against Scotland at Wembley in 1957, Alan Hodgkinson fitted the above profile exactly.

Hodgkinson won a further four caps and went to the 1962 World Cup in Chile as the back-up to another Sheffield custodian, Wednesday's Ron Springett. He was born in Rotherham - as was Seaman, whose story intersects with his own - but in the impending battles his loyalties are with the Scots.

To be precise, they will be with the player between the posts for Scotland. Confusing matters further, that man will be the Surrey-born Neil Sullivan, with a native of Paddington, Jonathan Gould, on the bench. The man both know as "Hodgy" has been goalkeeping coach to the Scottish squad for 13 years. During that time this maligned breed has, with the occasional blip, done much to banish the stigma created by a handful of hapless Caledonian custodians beneath the twin towers.

Now 63 and dividing his time between the national team and Rangers, Hodgkinson has never subscribed to the stereotype of the butter-fingered "Jocko" buffoon pedalled by his old England colleague Jimmy Greaves. For one thing, he has worked with some fine Scottish goalkeepers, notably Andy Goram. For another, his experience of the oldest international rivalry provided an early lesson in humility.

Hodgkinson, who had been a gymnast as a boy, made 15 top-flight appearances in his late teens. However, United were in the old Second Division when he was called up from the reserves for the Christmas Day fixture in 1956. Ten weeks and as many games later, arriving to play at Port Vale, a reporter told him he had been chosen to face Scotland.

"We went out and beat Vale 6-0 and it was only later that it sank in and the nerves started jangling," he recalls. "I'd never met Stanley Matthews or Tom Finney, or even played against them, but suddenly they were going to be my team-mates. Stan was 42 by then and didn't train with us at Highbury. He just loosened up so I met him for the first time in the bath."

His impression of Matthews as a "smashing bloke" has endured in spite of the master winger's part in his ill-starred introduction to the international scene. With 100,000 inside Wembley (most of them, he remembers, wearing tartan), Hodgkinson's proudest day swiftly turned sour.

"The very first time I touched the ball was to pick it out of the net. Inside a minute, Matthews lost the ball and John Hewie, a South African who played for Scotland, fed it to Tommy Ring. He hit it well and I had no chance. I was thinking: `Oh my goodness.' My nerves started going and I missed a few crosses. But we came back to win 2-1 and it was a great day."

Hodgkinson never had a specialist coach in his 20 years at Bramall Lane, which the Blades shared with Yorkshire's cricketers. To improve his agility he spent hours hurling balls at their giant roller and springing to catch them as they rebounded at varying angles. The word which is central to his professional ethos today was already burned into his mind.

"It's technique," he explains. "I went with the school when Hungary beat England 6-3 at Wembley in 1953. [Guyula] Grosics was in goal for them, all in black, and when he made a save he seemed to handle the ball better than our keepers did. He was more supple, too. I thought then: `That's what I want to be.'

"The reports next day were all about their superior technique. They still say that every time a European team beats a British one. I find that ridiculous, so the emphasis in my work is on the technical side - handling, getting the angles right, distribution - and on achieving consistency. I like to think I've been reasonably successful."

Sir Alex Ferguson is one of numerous leading managers who could confirm as much. Hodgkinson advised him that a little-known Danish goalkeeper "will help you win the championship" and later worked hard to iron out Peter Schmeichel's idiosyncrasies.

Bobby Robson is another. When Hodgkinson was assisting England's Under- 21s, both keepers withdrew before a semi-final with Italy. One of the replacements he nominated was "this promising kid" he had noticed at Peterborough in the Fourth Division.

"Dave Sexton [the England Under-21s manager] rang Bobby and he wasn't too keen to bring someone from that level into the national set-up. He took a bit of convincing, but we got him in." When the kid met Hodgkinson again at a Buckingham Palace reception for the England and Scotland World Cup squads last December, they chuckled about how hard he had worked him. His name was Seaman.

It was Craig Brown's predecessor, Andy Roxburgh, who invited Hodgkinson to become a tartan Tyke, allowing him to test his methods at the highest level and enabling the Scots to become acquainted with the concept of clean sheets.

For most of his time with Scotland, Goram and Jim Leighton vied for the No 1 jersey. He worked with the former at Oldham and cites him as a player who has top-class skills and a "presence" which does not depend on stature.

Sullivan is a strapping six-footer with "good hands", not to mention a kick, befitting a Crazy Gang stalwart, that could drop the ball deep in English territory. "The time was right for Neil," Hodgkinson asserts. "He has conceded a lot of goals for Wimbledon but, with respect, they're not a great team and they're coming to terms with a new system. All that concerns me is what he does when I'm working with him, and he's a beast for work.

"He didn't give up a goal in his last two games for Scotland or in Germany [a 1-0 win], and he played well in the Czech Republic even though he finished on the losing side. So the consistency's coming. And Neil won't be fazed by facing England. He's a strong character, totally unflappable, who comes up against the Shearers and Owens every week."

One of the sights of France 98 was of Sullivan and his fellow Anglos strolling round the stadium in kilts before Scotland met Brazil. They were joined in their sartorial stance by Hodgkinson, whose allegiance has not wavered simply because the opposition wear the three lions to which he once aspired.

"Though I'm proud of my caps, my only feelings now are to beat England," says Hodgkinson, laughing off the possibility of being labelled a traitor. "But my real loyalty is to my keepers. That's my industry. No matter where they are, at home or abroad, my job is to get the best out of the guys I work with."

Suggested Topics
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
'Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows' by John Constable
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
musicYou'll have to ask Taylor Swift first
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Arts and Entertainment
Master of ceremony: Jeremy Paxman
tvReview: Victory for Jeremy Paxman in this absorbing, revealing tale
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Communications Executive

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - London, £60k

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - Central London, £60,000...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Agent / QA Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an est...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness