Why Roy Hodgson's appointment at Crystal Palace is a true football homecoming

Richard Edwards

Roy Hodgson’s appointment at Crystal Palace is a homecoming in every sense. The former England boss grew up in Croydon before heading to Sweden to make his name as a coach thanks to the influence of a school friend, Bob Houghton.

In fact, Hodgson’s old John Ruskin School represented an almost unprecedented centre of managerial excellence, with four members of the then Grammar School going on to manage at the highest level.

Hodgson was joined at the school by Steve Kember, Lennie Lawrence and Bob Houghton, making the class of 1958 one of the more remarkable in the history of the English game.

The South Londoner has drifted well beyond the confines of Croydon during a peripatetic career that has, at times, resembled a Lonely Planet guide.

Ironically, his home country was one of the last to recognise his talents, although his initial career move took at least one former classmate by surprise.

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“I was in the same class as Roy for seven-odd years,” recalls John Walker. “I remember being in Oslo on business in the late 1970s as I was speaking at a conference on the Friday and then stayed at the weekend. I turned on the TV on the Saturday afternoon and Roy was summarising for an English league match on Swedish TV in the studio. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. I had to do a double-take."

Walker himself is a Palace fan who was at Burnley on Sunday and will be cheering on his side in Hodgson’s first match in charge following Frank de Boer’s unceremonious dismissal on Monday morning.

It's Hodgson's first job in 15 months - a break which reflects a career that has been far from ordinary. During his days in long trousers in 1950s Croydon, the odds on him one day managing Inter Milan and England would have been as lengthy as the queues for the exit in the away end at Turf Moor after another miserable afternoon for an Eagles side that has struggled to take flight so far this season.

Walker recalls how Hodgson was far from the most gifted footballer in the school, with that title taken by Jamie Reid, who would go on to design artwork for the Sex Pistols and Kember, who would make almost 300 appearances for Palace in two separate spells at the club.

Hodgson began his playing career at Palace (Getty)

Limited as a footballer, Hodgson was, though, ‘a snappy dresser’. Another revelation that might come as a surprise to those who pigeon-holed him as being straight-laced and lacking in imagination during his time in charge of England.

“I suppose he would have seen himself as being a bit of mod, wearing a Crombie and a Ben Sherman shirt when they were seen as being status symbols for the sartorial conscious,” says Walker. “He enjoyed his music too. He had an eclectic taste in music, while most of us were banging away to the (Rolling) Stones, he would be listening to imported stuff. He had slightly more sophisticated tastes. I don’t know where that came from.

“I also appeared alongside him in a few amateur dramatics productions at the school as well.”

De Boer was sacked after just four games (Getty)

Away from the stage, Hodgson would forge a close friendship with Houghton during their latter years at John Ruskin, and it was this friendship that would eventually led to the former taking his first major job in the relative backwater of Swedish football.

Hodgson would make a brief return to England in the early 80s, not to Croydon but to Bristol City, where he and Houghton presided over a club that was already in financial and footballing freefall when they were handed the keys.

Then he disappeared for almost 20 years before resurfacing at Blackburn in 1997.

By that time, Lawrence was well into a career that would see him preside over 1000 matches from the dugout. Houghton, meanwhile, had become the first manager to take China to a World Cup finals. His other schoolmate, Kember, was Palace’s go-to man whenever a crisis hit – which was hardly an irregular occurrence at a club with a penchant for self-destruction.

“I’ve just had a grandchild and I gave him his first Palace kit a little while ago,” says Walker. “I told him it was his introduction to a life of misery.”

After coming home to Selhurst Park, Hodgson will hope his first memory isn’t relegation from the Premier League.

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