by Steve Hodge
Orion Books, £18.99
Reviewed by Al Needham
From WSC 290 April 2011
It's not at all surprising that Steve Hodge – who was the prototype for a seemingly unending line of nice, sensible-haircutted players turned up by Brian Clough – should choose to place himself in the role of spear-carrier in his own autobiography. The words "Model Professional" are etched through the book like the lettering in a stick of rock, from the photo of him holding his schoolboy contract in an outfit straight off the rack of C&A's Young Mr Disco collection to being poked in the eye by Eric Cantona at the end of his career.
Despite being a cornerstone of the Forest squad throughout the early 1980s, Hodge was too young for their period of European dominance (one of his first appearances at the City Ground was to wave the Super Cup around, in the days when it was a plaque) and too old to secure a regular place in Leeds United's Championship-winning side of 1991-92. In between those two points, however, was a spell of form which led to an England call-up, two World Cups and a backpass to Peter Shilton. "As I watched, the ball suddenly looped over Shilton… straight away I was thinking: 'Have I made a mistake? Shit, that was my mistake.'" Four years later, his main role in Italia 90 involves getting a distraught Stuart Pearce off the pitch after the penalty miss and telling Rudi Völler to "Fuck off". Hodge was destined to play the role of an outsider, even when he was party to some of the most crucial games of his era – he was often asked by other players if he was gay, when he was actually painfully shy around women – which gives his story an air of detachment and detail that elevates it from the usual biog.
This opens up a huge new vein of Clough stories. Clough accosts Maradona in the tunnel before a pre-season game with Barcelona and shouts "You might be able to play a bit, but I can still grab you by the balls", before doing just that. Clough rings up Graham Taylor at one in the morning while the latter was Watford manager, so he can hassle him for Elton John concert tickets. Thanks to Forest's string of transfer busts in the early 1980s and general financial incompetence in the boardroom, matchday meals on away games consist of soup and a roll. Clough's way of cheering up the troops? Forcing the coach to take a diversion to East Midlands Airport on the way back, and making the team wave at it.
The key moments for the casual reader – Hodge's adventures with the last England squad that were any good whatsoever – provide no less fresh insight, particularly during the run-up and culmination of 1990 World Cup. Gazza turns out to be the dickhead you always imagined he was, as he throws chicken wings out of the window of a hotel in Albania and laughs at the street kids who fight over them. Nigel Kennedy is drafted in to play during a team meal after the draw against Ireland. Gary Lineker bets the England squad that Bobby Robson will mention the war in this speech before the 1990 World Cup semi-final. Bobby Robson mentions the war.
By the end of the book – as Hodge describes how he got said shirt and how it languished in a Nottinghamshire attic for nearly 20 years – you feel like you've been walked through one of the more interesting timelines of 1980s football by someone who knows how to tell the tale. It's a weird mixture of prose, diary entries and testimonials from other players – making it a bit of a Hodge-potch, if you will – but it's one of the better Forest autobiographies and a highly readable record of the pre-Premier League years.