IT’S hard not to warm to Roy Hodgson. Well, unless you’re a Liverpool fan, for whom the very mention of his name conjures up images of home defeats against Blackpool and Wolves which, among a large gathering of like-minded souls, may create enough collective rage to blow a hole in the ozone layer above Albert Dock.
(And on the subject of Albert Dock, will whoever is in charge of planning for that area stop allowing new buildings to be thrown up round there? Last time I visited, there was some horrible angular glass and concrete thing springing up beside the Three Graces buildings, and it looked completely out of place. And the waterfront has become cluttered enough over the last few years with the building of the Echo Arena and the BT Convention Centre. The area is an architectural tragedy waiting to happen.)
I can understand why it didn’t work out for Hodgson at Anfield. The Liverpool fans, after all, expected his team to cross the halfway line a little more often. But he’s restored his reputation at West Brom now, and I’m pleased that he has.
For all his experience coaching abroad, Hodgson seems to me as reassuringly English as cream teas, late trains, whimsical indie bands, Sunday league cricket and supermarket self-service scanning machines that insist there’s an unexpected item in the bagging area when there clearly isn’t. (I have no idea, but I like to think he is an enthusiast when it comes to all of those things. I would certainly be very disappointed if he didn’t own at least two Half Man Half Biscuit albums.)
I like the fact that, tucked inside a smart coaching brain, there’s a wry sense of humour. When he secured West Brom’s Premier League survival with a win over Aston Villa a couple of weeks ago, he was asked if he was pleased to hear a set of supporters chanting his name again after his Liverpool nightmare. “They used to chant my name at Liverpool,” he smiled ruefully. I like the fact that he treats triumph and disaster the same, just as Kipling told him to.
And I like the dignified way he conducts himself. There is, I think, a strong moral compass there. He didn’t go wild with his celebrations when he guided West Brom to victory over Liverpool at the start of last month, when he might have felt entitled to. Instead, there was an understated clenching of the fist, and then an embrace on the touchline for Dirk Kuyt, the nearest opposing player to him.
I’ve spent a lot of time writing about Hodgson since 2007. And that’s almost entirely down to the Gubbometer. It’s four years since I started keeping track of which games were last on Match of the Day. (Four years! I could have written a couple of novels, or completed a Master’s degree, or at least made some kind of effort to get my shambolic life into some kind of order. But no. I chose to faff about writing tangential ramblings about the game that’s last on MOTD each week.)
In those four years, Hodgson has popped up last on Match of the Day more often than any other manager – a grand total of 18 times before this weekend. Look, here’s how the league table stood on Friday night:
Only Steve Bruce and Tony Pulis can touch Hodgson when it comes to being last on MOTD. (Bruce’s record is pretty impressive, actually, as he has appeared last with three different clubs in the last four years – Birmingham, Wigan and Sunderland – a record matched only by Mark Hughes and Avram Grant.)
But Hodgson’s record of 18 appearances did come with a caveat. Because the first time he appeared on the Gubbometer, in December 2007, he technically wasn’t Fulham’s manager. He was there in the stand as they drew 1-1 at Birmingham, ready to take charge the following Monday, but Ray Lewington was still the caretaker-boss following the departure of Lawrie Sanchez. Oh Christ, I’m boring myself with this now.
Anyway, I ended up writing about Hodgson’s impending appointment as Fulham manager that week, and how a lot of people thought he was an odd choice, even though he had apparently been a serious contender for the England job that had just gone to Fabio Capello. Or, as I put it at the time: “Roy Hodgson is named as the new manager of Fulham, and just about everyone with a passing interest in English football reacts as if they’ve just been told that Nick Clegg is the new Prime Minister.”
Yeah, like Clegg would ever get into government. Oh.
Hodgson is now the indisputable leader of the managerial Gubbometer, you’ll be glad to know. That West Brom’s match was on last this weekend was little surprise – certainly not to Match of the Day’s commentator.
MOTD’s final match: West Brom 1 Everton 0
Commentator: John Roder
A nice touch on the BBC Sport website – their Premier League match previews have started including a few thoughts from the MOTD commentator who will be assigned to cover it. John Roder began his preview as follows:
“There are only four Premier League matches this Saturday – and you don’t have to be a genius to work out that the other three all have something to do with the title or relegation. So don’t be surprised if this is the last game on Match of the Day on Saturday night!”
But there was still a surprise, as West Brom kept a clean sheet for the first time since the Renaissance period. (It’s not exactly clear when this last shut-out was, but a recently-discovered Leonardo Da Vinci painting, entitled Fiorentina Founder on the Albion Banks Of Four, would appear to date it around 1498.)
It meant that Youssouf Mulumbu’s early goal was enough to beat an Everton side reduced to 10 men by Diniyar Bilyaletdinov’s second-half sending off.
And in the meantime, Hodgson has gained an extra point on the managerial Gubbometer. Here’s how it stands now:
Hodgson, who guided Fulham to the Gubbometer title in 2009 (and also to seventh in the Premier League, but that’s a side issue), arrived too late to steer Albion into contention this time around. It’s between his former club and Wigan for that honour, which will be decided next Sunday. But I wouldn’t rule out West Brom being last on MOTD most often next season. Then BRMB’s Last on MOTD billboard might actually start to have a ring of truth about it.
1. Fulham: 10 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
2. Wigan: 10 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
3. West Brom: 7 (2L: 7, 3L: 1)
4. Stoke: 6 (2L: 6, 3L: 9)
5. Bolton: 6 (2L: 2, 3L: 6)
6. Everton: 5 (2L: 8, 3L: 4)
7. Blackburn: 4 (2L: 5, 3L: 8)
8. Birmingham: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 7)
9. Newcastle: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
10. Sunderland: 3 (2L: 8, 3L: 2)
11. West Ham: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)
12=. Aston Villa: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
12=. Wolves: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
14. Tottenham: 2 (2L: 5, 3L: 4)
15. Chelsea: 2 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
16. Blackpool: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 5)
17. Manchester City: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
18=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
18=. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
18=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
2L=On second last (Sunderland 1 Wolves 3)
3L=On third last (Blackpool 4 Bolton 3)
(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at a glittering ceremony in Azerbaijan, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Graham Norton, Tony Gubba, Ken Bruce and/or Rob Brydon, with music from Jedward.)