Monday, 19 July 2010

The Croydon Globetrotters

by Jack McInroy

This article is from 2006 and was prompted by Geoff Robbins' original article for the Hamlet Historian. (See image at the foot of this piece) Much has happened in the intervening years, especially for Roy Hodgson who returned to England and to Fulham one of his former clubs. Having taken them on a wonderful journey to the final of the UEFA Europa Cup he now faces a new challenge as the manager of Liverpool in the Premiership and the Champions League.

Just before last summer’s World Cup match between England and Sweden, Marcus Christenson of The Observer wrote a piece about Lars Lagerback, the Sweden coach (18 June 2006). Midway through the article we read:

"The English influence, however, does not stop with live transmission of Premiership games. The two coaches who started the revolution that led to Swedish clubs doing extremely well in the 1970s and early 1980s were both English. The contribution of Bob Houghton and Roy Hodgson cannot be underestimated. They completely transformed Swedish football in the late 1970s as they brought 4-4-2, pressing and revolutionary training techniques to the country. Houghton came to Sweden in 1973 after spells as assistant coach at Ipswich and head coach at Maidstone and won his first league title in his first year with Malmo FF. In 1975, his mate from Croydon, Hodgson, led Halmstad to their first title.

The success of the two coaches caused an almighty debate in Sweden. Many saw their football as extremely defensive, too organised and consisting of too many long balls (funny then that, 30 years later, the FA decided to employ a Swede heavily influenced by Houghton and Hodgson as the coach to take England forward). The other camp, led by Lars 'Laban' Arneson, was preaching 4-3-3 and free-flowing football. In the end, he was won over by the continued success of 'the English way'. It culminated with Malmo FF reaching the 1979 European Cup final and IFK Gothenburg, under Eriksson, winning the 1982 Uefa Cup.

Lagerback, meanwhile, sat firmly in the English camp. 'I was lucky because I was accepted into this football education at the same time as Bob came to Sweden and I went to the same class as the Malmo player Roland Andersson. So I got my education with the Swedish Football Association and also went around as a little kid to Bob's house at Malmo FF. I was very privileged.

'They introduced a whole new way of playing football. Before that, Swedish teams had been very influenced by German teams and were playing man-to-man marking. But they came with zonal marking and a new way of starting attacks. It was something unique. And I think Bob was 27 years old when he came here and that is fascinating. A young guy coming over to tell us how to play football.' "

Bob Houghton joined Swedish club Malmo in 1974, and immediately showed he meant business by learning the native language in less than two months of night school. In the six years Houghton was at the helm, he steered Malmo to three Swedish champion-ships, runners up position twice, and the Swedish Cup on four occasions. In building a solid and steady team, Houghton chose local players – ten of the side were actually from Malmo and had come up through the youth ranks – which built up an enormous connection with the people of the town. In the fifth year of his leadership his side reached the European Cup Final, but were narrowly beaten by Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, with Trevor Francis scoring his famous diving header in the Munich final. Although Houghton was a well established manager by then, he was actually younger than a number of the players in the final. In fact it didn’t seem that long ago that he was ‘Bobby’ Houghton teenage midfielder flourishing in the Fulham reserves.

He arrived at Craven Cottage from Dulwich Hamlet’s third string, the ‘A’ team, as part of a younger element brought in by new coach Dave Sexton. Yet despite his own failure to break into the first team, and Fulham’s struggles with relegation he was light years from Champion Hill where Dulwich were having a miserable time. One couldn’t think of a better education on a training field, lining up alongside past, present and future England internationals – the maestro Johnny Haynes, Bobby Robson, World Cup winner George Cohen and frontman Alan Clarke. Malcolm MacDonald and John Ryan (future Dulwich manager) were also in the ranks.

Aged just 19, Houghton received his first coaching certificate, and following a short spell at Brighton (1969-70) and Hastings United he gave up playing and took up coaching altogether. He held the record as the youngest ever coach to gain an FA Full Badge ('A' Licence). In 1972 he joined Ipswich Town as an assistant coach under his former colleague and boss, Bobby Robson.
But it was abroad where Houghton was to make his name in the football world. His first expedition took him to a far flung corner of the globe, and South African team Arcadia. Then followed his first spell in Scandinavia where he revolutionised Swedish football and earned himself the coveted ‘Sports Leader of the Year’ award.
The jaunt in the European Cup put Malmo FF firmly on the map, and Sweden’s first Brazilian arrived at the club. However, twenty one year old Monteiro was recruited without Houghton’s knowledge, and showing his disapproval, the manager confined him to the reserves after barely 15 minutes of first team football – and that was only a friendly! “Houghton was insane.” said Monteiro, “When he put me on the bench in the youth side I had had enough. I also couldn’t stand his boring style of football. The goalkeeper would send the ball as far up field as possible in the hope that it would land at the feet of someone who could take it down and score.” Before his return to Brazil, Monteiro was involved in a tennis doubles match against Houghton. “There was only one thing in my mind. I was going to smash the ball in his face.” But he had never played tennis before and was unable to carry out his desire.

As mentioned in the opening piece, another young coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, was keenly attracted by Malmo’s typically English approach, and adopted a similar pattern at Gothenburg, which brought that club success in the 80s, and set Eriksson on the road to becoming the first foreigner, two decades later, to manage the England team.

From Malmo Houghton moved to Greek club side Ethnikos, before returning to England to take over the reins at Bristol City in 1980. However, his homecoming turned out to be disastrous and the club were not only relegated but faced bankruptcy. The Ashton Gate fans have never forgiven him. Wisely, Houghton caught the next plane to Canada, and Toronto based NASL team The Blizzard, which he took to two successive Soccer Bowl finals.

Two separate spells in the Middle East with the Al Ittihad club in the mid 80s and early 90s resulted in victory in the Saudi Arabian Federation Cup in 1993. In between he returned to Sweden with Gothenburg-based club Orgryte (OIS) and later with his old club Malmo. A stint at FC Zurich in Switzerland and then he was back in the USA (Dec 95), where he was named head coach of the newly formed Colorado Rapids FC in Denver for the inaugural season of Major League Soccer. His return to England in 1997 saw him take up the assistant manager’s role at Nottingham Forest under Dave Bassett. Forest played some outstanding football, and although Houghton left midway through the season, Forest topped the Division and won promotion to the Premiership.

In millennium year Bob Houghton was managing China, helping them qualify for the 2002 World Cup Finals. Again, he adapted to a new culture and learned a new language. Within days he had memorised the names of all his players instilling much confidence in the squad. He went on to manage the Uzbekistan national team, then Chinese side Shenyang Ginde before becoming the new India boss on 20 June 2006. (Houghton pictured with Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi in New Delhi.)

Roy Hodgson’s career remarkably echoes his friend Bob Houghton’s in such a way that you would think they were joined at the hip. It’s not just initials that they share; like Houghton, Croydon born Roy Hodgson (along with Lennie Lawrence and Steve Kember) was educated at John Ruskin Grammar School in Shirley. The South London – South of England – South Africa connection (Houghton with Fulham, Hastings, Arcadia) is also present with Hodgson a fringe player at Crystal Palace, Maidstone, Gravesend & Northfleet and Berea Park respectively.

In 1976, in territory already chartered by Houghton, he joined Swedish side Halmstad, as coach and led them to the championship in his first season in charge (below), and again three years later. They eventually formed a duo at Bristol City, with Hodgson as assistant manager. He took over for a while when Houghton left the club.
Hodgson returned to Sweden, this time with Orebro SK and later with Malmo, his friend’s old club, where he also saw a deal of success. In 1990, Swiss club Neuchatel Xamax employed his services, which led directly to the assignment as head coach of the national team. After taking Switzerland to the 1994 World Cup in the USA and gaining qualification to Euro 96, he could not resist the offer made by Milan giants Internazionale. During his supervision he led Inter to the Uefa Cup Final and in the bargain was able to persuade England midfielder Paul Ince to stay at the club,. His next move to Blackburn Rovers brought reasonable success, as he procured the English side a place in Europe. A second brief spell with Inter followed, before the short hop across the border to the Grasshoppers of Zurich.

When the England manager’s job became available in 2000, Hodgson was one of the few men in the frame, but he was pipped at the post, rather ironically, by his protégé Sven Goran Eriksson. His succession of club and national sides continued with Copenhagen (Denmark), Udinese (Italy), United Arab Emirates and Viking FK (Norway). In January of this year Roy Hodgson added another feather to his bow – Finland.
Bob Houghton and Roy Hodgson can truly be regarded as two of football’s top globetrotters. Both multilingual, managing on the continents of Europe, Africa, North America and Asia, they have a combined coaching career of over sixty years and are among the most respected coaches around the world.

However, their style of play does not suit everybody. Former Crystal Palace fringe player Bill Laing, who signed as a schoolboy in 1968, remembers Hodgson and Houghton. “I used to go to Bisham Abbey with Surrey Schoolboys. I think they both turned up there along with the goalkeeper Mick Kelly. They used to coach the youngsters at Waddon, behind the Payne’s Poppets factory. I consider the likes of Hodgson, Houghton and co as the beginning of the end for our football. I just used to nod but never listen, then go out and run at people, take them on and score goals. All they have done is organise it so all the mediocre players can gang up on their 18 yard line and stop the flair players. Forty years on and the trash you are now witnessing is the end product, with the ball in play for just forty minutes, out of the ninety.”

But despite the critics at home and abroad, each one has studied the game of football methodically. Houghton alone, has written extensively on it, and has had at least three books published, ‘Football’, ‘How to Play Soccer,’ and ‘Management and Leadership – A Personal Approach’. In Sweden he had a column in a daily newspaper and hosted a weekly radio show. He has worked for the FA, been a consultant to the Canadian national team and was appointed one of FIFA’s elite coaching instructors.

So, as one prepares his Indian side for a shout at the 2010 World Cup finals, and the other, Finland for Euro 2008 and the World Cup, I wonder if they ever spare a thought for Dulwich Hamlet Football Club and their short sojourn at Champion Hill in the mid sixties. Two teenage boys, in swinging London with the world at their feet – they could not have dreamt where their paths would lead them.

Notes: Trawling through the internet trying to piece together information on Hodgson and Houghton threw up some very odd bits and bobs. A handful of scans of a roneo produced annual schools cricket magazine from 1959 shows smiley faced schoolboy Houghton in a cricket line-up. The team photo is the Croydon Schools Under 13s XI. The following year Houghton is captain and opening bat for the Whitehorse School cricket team. On The same webpage 86.htm we find a memory from a former schoolmate: “[Bobby] was a lad with great confidence and sporting ability. Once, while watching the Primary Schools Football Final in 1958 (Benson versus Shirley Church of England), held at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park football ground, he managed to spit from an upper stand right in the middle of an adult spectator's bowler hat on the level below – without detection!”
Houghton can also be seen in a brief television interview in Sweden in 1975.
Sources: Houghton the new troubleshooter for the Blizzard by Rocky Grimmer. Soccer Illustrated Magazine Feb/Mar1982.,,3258,456834,00.html

Original article from HH16. Copyright: Jack McInroy ©