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A football pioneer
on 27 December 2013
Even when I first got interested in football in 1968, Sheffield United's goalkeeper Alan Hodgkinson was regarded as a veteran so it came as something of a surprise to learn that it was only last year, 2012, when he finally retired. Granted, he had not played since 1971, but in the ensuing years Hodgkinson established himself as not only the first but probably the most highly respected goalkeeping coach in the business. Because his playing career ended over forty years ago it is highly likely that most modern day supporters will have never heard of Alan Hodgkinson (excepting those of Sheffield United, where he remains a legendary figure) and would therefore not consider reading his book. This is their loss though, because as football autobiographies go, Between the Sticks is a gem.
Because most of the events in this book occurred back in the fifties and sixties this is largely a nostalgic look back at a time when football was an entirely different game than the one played today. Hodgkinson was a one club man, and because the one club was the highly unfashionable Sheffield United, you could be forgiven for assuming that his autobiography would be on the dull side. In actual fact though, Between the Sticks is anything but dull; although the style of writing is often overly descriptive and therefore a little dated, this is still a hugely entertaining read.
Alan Hodgkinson had a good playing career. Picked up from non league Worksop Town, he fashioned himself into being one of the best goalkeepers in the country, unlucky to play only five times for England, although he was a squad member at both the 1958 and 1962 World Cups. Some of the stories from his seventeen years at Sheffield United are belters which serve to illustrate how different football was in those days. I particularly enjoyed reading about when, after winning promotion to the then Division One, the players were told they would be rewarded with something for "a rainy day". Expecting a nice financial bonus, some of the players discussed which cars they would buy only to find that their reward was a raincoat and a barometer! As he approached the end of his playing days Hodgkinson realised that whilst being a goalkeeper was a specialist role there were no specialised goalkeeping coaches, a gap in the market that he went on to fill after he was released by Sheffield United. It was therefore he who invented the role of goalkeeping coach and went on to introduce many of the guidelines followed in world football.
This is a book that would be enjoyed by all football enthusiasts and loved by Sheffield United followers in particular.