Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Alan Hodgkinson - 'Between the Sticks'

If your only reason for reading Alan Hodgkinson's new autobiography, Between the Sticks, is to get a glimpse into life behind the scenes at Oxford United in the past few seasons then prepare to be disappointed. Hodgkinson's spell at United merits little more than a brief mention at the back of the book. In fact, his entire coaching career seems to be brushed over somewhat, with the last couple of chapters serving to document his last 40 years as a coach, which is something I found a little disappointing because, as the world's first goalkeeping coach, it's this that really marks Hodgkinson as an exceptional figure in the development of the game.

Where this book does excel, however, is as a fascinating insight into the mind of a pioneering figure and his opinions on the development of the game over the last sixty years. Frequently throughout the book as Hodgkinson reminisces he draws comparisons between then and now, highlighting the progress (and sometimes its lack) over the intervening decades.

A few of the highlights include his recollections of joining Sheffield United from Worksop Town (Hodgkinson only accepted a contract from the Blades because of the promise of a new suit!), his thoughts on the revolutionary managerial methods of Joe Mercer, an interesting insight into England's 1962 World Cup campaign in Chile and his tale of a fiery clash between a young Brian Clough and the infamous Sir Stanley Rous (which possibly explains why the former was never selected as England manager!).

Having read his intelligent observations of the game, it only enforces the impression that Oxford have been incredibly lucky to have had Hodgkinson on board to impart his vast wealth of knowledge and experience on our keepers for the last few years. A simple glimpse at the quite ridiculous list of tributes in the front pages of the book from football's great and good really serves to reinforce just how well-respected Hodgkinson is in football, including the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and the great Jim Smith.

In fact, probably my favourite of Hodgkinson's anecdotes is one of his most recent. In 2011, he arranged for Oxford to train at Manchester United's Carrington base on the way to an away game at Morecambe. When they arrived, they were greeted by a banner organised by Alex Ferguson himself which read: 'Welcome to the Master – Hodgey – the Goalkeeping Guru'.

And if that isn't enough to convince you that this book is worth buying, nothing is.

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Just finished reading the book - Fascinating, funny in places and enjoyable - I am a Sheffield United supporter and first saw Alan play in 1963. - And was coached by him on what was his first goalkeeping course in 1970, along with about 50 other 15/16 year old boys on 4 Wednesday evenings in Sheffield - there were players from United, Wednesday and Barnsley helping out.

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