Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Mr Hodgson Goes To Sweden- Honed At Halmstad, Made At Malmo

Roy Hodgson managing at Halmstads BK

Now that Roy Hodgson's recent health worries have hastened his retirement from the day to day in the dugout, inevitably talk has turned to his contribution to the game over such a long career. But, depending on the point of view, could it be said that his stock is higher in Europe than at home? Alan Smith, one of his predecessors in the Crystal Palace dugout, retrospectively believed it would have been the sensible choice at the time-


“Going abroad was Roy’s best option. Domestically, it would have been more difficult to find a role as there were limited openings in the English game for those without a playing pedigree.”

Indeed, when asked for his own view on his biggest achievement Roy opted for one of his earliest successes, having taken a punt and ended a lower league playing career by swapping the left-back position at Carshalton Athletic for the Swedish Allsvenskan and the first of many stamps on his passport at Halmstad. This after having been personally recommended for the job by friend and former colleague Bob Houghton, then in charge at Malmo.

It was his success with the Himmelsblått- Sky Blues- which prompted HBK to seek his advice in the first place. Hodgson's predecessor Sven-Agne Larsson had reportedly declared to club chairman Stig Nilsson that “I have nothing more to give this lot” before leaving. Houghton arrived at, what is now, Eleda Stadion in time for the start of the 1974/75 season and promptly won the league having introduced previously resolutely English preserves like zonal marking to his players. A gospel his old mate Hodgson would preach to his own dressing room at Örjans Vall and which would reap arguably more surprising and greater reward, its fruits helping to turn Halmstad from relegation candidates to league champions in just one season!

‘I’ newspaper probably put it best in their introduction to a piece previewing a first meeting on English soil between Hodgson's Palace and a Brighton then led by Graham Potter, who of course cut his managerial teeth from a similar position many years later at Ostersunds...

“In 1976, back when shorts were baggy, perms were tight and dugouts were thick with cigar smoke, a trailblazing English coach went to Sweden and pulled off one of the country’s all-time great football feats, taking a tiny provincial club to their first major title.”

Little wonder then that the man behind the turnaround hailed it as a real water into wine job. And in pulling it off, according to one of the players who bought into his methods, centre-half Bengt Sjöholm, who arrived from Trelleborgs the summer after the momentous title win- “He changed the culture of Swedish football. When the Swedish FA held meetings of all the trainers [managers] of the clubs it would be Roy and Bob who would do all the talking.

They were so competent it was embarrassing for those from the Swedish FA. They didn't have the same knowledge as Roy and he could explain his ideas easily.”

As another former player, striker Rutger Backe, recalled of the early months of that first pre-season-

“In the first month of training there was very little football. It was: ‘Stand here, look here, move over here.’ He brought a very new style of play. There was a high press on the ball, the back line was very high up. And he put in place a back four. In Sweden we were used to playing with a libero, so it was a big difference.”

His overall philosophy was remarkably simple- not picking the best eleven players, but the eleven who best worked together out there on the pitch come game-time, which has gone on to quietly underpin much of Swedish club and indeed international football since his and Houghton's arrival in the country. 

In the first of his four seasons with Halmstad, a first ever league title was celebrated in rather understated fashion according to Backe, who finished as Allsvenskan top scorer to boot. “We won the league at Norrköping. But the journey home was long. In the coach on the way back, we stopped in a small village looking for somewhere with the sports channel. We ended up in a stranger’s house, watching the highlights in their living room.” 


This was followed with successive eighth-place finishes before a 2nd league title in 1979. Hodgson then opted to return home in the summer of 1980 to become Houghton's assistant at Bristol City. A brief spell as his successor at Ashton Gate followed after Bob's departure for the Toronto Blizzard of the NASL.

It would seem that it was quite the comedown from success in Scandinavia!

“Bristol City was nothing short of a disaster in that we had only been there for a matter of weeks before the banks started to pull the rug from underneath the club. My job when I eventually took over, as caretaker manager, was quite simply to carry on in the aftermath of all the players leaving the club and just fulfilling the fixtures.”

Perhaps fortuitously, he would be offered a route back by second division Oddevold, where he stayed just one season having proved unable to save them from the drop before a move across to Orebro. He led them to third in Sweden's Division Two in his first season before heartbreak in his second, as they won the league but then lost a promotion play-off to Mjallby!

Which was enough to convince Malmo to hand him his old mucker Houghton's former position, replacing the man who would later become Sven-Goran Eriksson's assistant with Lazio and England, Tord Grip, in time for the start of the 1985/86 season. It proved something of an inspired choice, an unprecedented five consecutive Allsvenskan titles came between '85 and his big finale in 1989, before upping sticks to Switzerland with Neuchatel Xamax for the simple reason that "moving to another place seemed exciting.”

And so he passed up the offer of a potential lifetime contract, which he feared he might not see as much of the earnings from as he might've liked, thanks to what he saw as an overly zealous tax system. Up to 65 per cent of his earnings ending up in the Swedish system's pockets!

Regardless of his monetary concerns, though, the man still known as Royson by Malmo supporters left quite the legacy. His former captain, and now the club's sporting director, Per Ågren remembered another important facet of his English export in that “the players knew how to play. If we had a bad start we would go back to 'Route One'. The players would know what that meant.”

Mostly success, of the sort he was arguably unable to replicate on his many post-Malmo ventures around the world...

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