From Halmstad to Palace: Hodgson's life in football

By Alex Keble 22 Feb 2024
Roy Hodgson 2

Alex Keble recounts an incredible journey that has lasted 48 years across 22 clubs around the world

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Alex Keble looks back at the managerial journey of one of football's longest-serving figures, Roy Hodgson.

Hodgson’s final decade or so in the English game has left Premier League fans with the impression of an old-fashioned British manager and survival specialist.

But there is so much more to Hodgson, a truly unique figure in football.

Colourful and varied, with ground-breaking highs and infamous lows, Hodgson’s extraordinary 48-year career has included league titles in Denmark and Sweden, UEFA Cup finals at Fulham and Inter Milan, international adventures spanning three decades, and perhaps more stories to tell than anyone else in football.

Roy Hodgson 1

Hodgson speaks five languages fluently. He has managed 22 teams in eight countries. And, incredibly, he won his first league title all the way back in 1976 aged only 29.

That means Hodgson was already a manager when Franz Beckenbauer was winning European Cups with Bayern Munich; when Bob Paisley was just getting started at Liverpool; and before eight of the current Premier League managers had even been born.

That he is still around - still relevant enough to have managed in the most popular division in the world in 2023/24 - is astonishing.

At 76 years and 187 days Hodgson is the oldest manager in Premier League history. He also ranks eighth in the all-time list of Premier League matches managed, with 416.

Yet Hodgson did so much outside of England, too.

From a Europa League final at Fulham to losing to Iceland at Euro 2016, from managing Roberto Carlos at Inter Milan to revolutionising Swedish football, here’s a look back at Hodgson’s life in football.

Revolutionising Scandinavian football and titles galore

When Hodgson took charge of Swedish club Halmstad in 1976 at the age of 29 every journalist in the country thought they would go down. Instead, they won the title.

It remains one of the greatest upsets in Swedish football history, and one that Hodgson followed up with a second league title at Halmstad two years later.

Five years after that Hodgson joined Malmo FF, where he ended an eight-year title drought spectacularly, winning five in a row between 1985 and 1989.

How did he do it? It might sound strange to some Premier League fans today, but Hodgson was a tactical revolutionary in Sweden, radically modernising the culture by introducing the 4-4-2 and zonal marking.

In 2001 he also won the league title with Copenhagen, their first championship in eight years, plus he took Switzerland to the 1994 World Cup, their first major tournament since the 1960s.


Switzerland rose to third in the FIFA rankings under his management, to date their highest place, and similarly with Finland in the mid-2000s, he achieved a record-high 33rd rank.

It adds up to a remarkable legacy abroad, all of it predating his time in the Premier League.

Great escape and a European final at Fulham

The Premier League first got to know Hodgson when he joined Blackburn Rovers in 1997 after taking Inter Milan to the UEFA Cup final, but after initial success, finishing sixth, he left Blackburn bottom of the table in 1997/98 and didn’t return to England for some time.

Then came the Fulham years. The club were 18th when he took charge in December 2007 and with three fixtures left they remained five points adrift.

But Hodgson won all three matches to survive on goal difference, launching a remarkable story that would end in a Europa League final two years later.

That winning sequence, and the greatest of great escapes, began with an unforgettable 3-2 win at Manchester City in late April 2008, when Fulham were 2-0 down with just 21 minutes on the clock.

Diomansy Kamara and Danny Murphy turned the contest around, Fulham stayed up, and the adventure began.

Twelve months later Hodgson’s Fulham had finished seventh, qualifying for the Europa League with cult heroes such as Clint Dempsey, Bobby Zamora, and Mark Schwarzer in their ranks.

Craven Cottage will always remember those European nights. Fulham didn’t lose a single home match in the Europa League, beating teams including Hamburg, Wolfsburg, and Shakhtar Donetsk on the way to the final.

But one particular match sticks out as one of the greatest performances by an English side in Europe.

Fulham lost 3-1 in Turin in the first leg of their quarter-final against Juventus. They didn’t stand a chance of turning things around, and when Juve took a second-minute lead at Craven Cottage, well, the dream was over.

But goals from Zamora and Zoltan Gera put Fulham back in the contest before half-time. Then Gera scored a penalty to level the tie before Dempsey, with 10 minutes to go, scored one of the all-time great goals: a delicate chip from the edge of the box to send Fulham through.

Clint Dempsey v Juventus

Sadly, there was no fairy-tale ending. Diego Forlan’s 116th-minute goal saw Atletico Madrid lift the trophy after extra-time. Nevertheless Hodgson’s time at Fulham is the stuff of Premier League legend.

Liverpool, England, & a tactical step too far

Although revolutionary in Sweden, Hodgson’s fairly rigid 4-4-2 – with precise positional instructions, a safe mid-block off the ball, and direct football through the thirds – worked better at mid-ranking English clubs than it did at the top.

Save for a difficult short spell at Watford in 2022, Hodgson’s win percentage is remarkably consistent, highlighting the strengths of his tactical setup - and its ceiling.

Roy Hodgson's Premier League record
Club Matches Won Drawn Lost Goals for Goals against Win %
Blackburn  52 18 13 21 71 74 34.6
Fulham 94 32 24 38 95 105 34.0
Liverpool 20 7 4 9 24 27 35.0
West Brom 50 18 13 19 67 72 36.0
Crystal Palace (1st spell) 148 48 36 64 168 217 32.4
Watford 18 2 3 13 11 37 11.1
Crystal Palace (2nd spell) 34 11 9 14 45 54 32.4
Crystal Palace (total) 182 59 45 78 213 271 32.4
Total 416 136 102 178 481 586 32.7

That might explain why things went pear-shaped after the Fulham story catapulted Hodgson towards the top of the English game.

Landing the Liverpool job was the pinnacle for Hodgson, but the likes of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt, Joe Cole, and Lucas Leiva never quite took to Hodgson’s methods.


He was gone within six months, winning only seven of his 20 Premier League matches, sticking once again to that mid-30s win percentage.

The England story was similar, although during Hodgson’s time – when England crashed out of the 2014 World Cup without winning a group game and were knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland – a toxic culture made the “impossible job” harder than ever.

West Brom, Crystal Palace, and late-stage Hodgson specialism

Hodgson’s reputation was restored by two successful spells at Crystal Palace and by an excellent year at West Bromwich Albion that landed him the England job.

Parachuted into the Hawthorns midseason, Hodgson won 20 points from the final 12 matches of the 2010/11 season to not only avoid relegation, but bring West Brom their highest league finish for three decades.

Hodgson West Brom

He went one better the following year, coming 10th, the highlight of which was either the 1-0 victory at Anfield or the 5-1 win against rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers in February.

And then came Palace, where it all started for Croydon-born Hodgson, who was in the club’s youth system back in 1965, the year Liverpool won their first FA Cup and Sir Matt Busby won his fourth league title with Manchester United.

At Palace, as at West Brom, a more reactive and conservative tactical setup – built, as ever, on direct counter-attacks and a stolid 4-4-2 – made sense for Premier League survival and a push towards the top 10.

History will look kindly on Hodgson

Perhaps it would have been better had Hodgson left Palace at the end of last season, when a mad flurry of goals bucked the Hodgson trend and assured the club’s Premier League status.

That way he would have avoided the banners, the calls for him to go.

But as Hodgson’s long, varied, and illustrious career suggests, that just isn’t the way he thinks.

“Unfortunately, a long time ago someone injected the drug called football into my veins and I have never been able to shake it off,” Hodgson said on his return to Palace. “I am still an addict.”

That being the case, we might not have seen the last of Hodgson.

Even if we have the disappointing ending hardly matters, because once the dust settles Palace supporters will fondly remember the long-term stability Hodgson gave them across five solid, if unspectacular, years.

And that is how most Premier League fans - the younger ones, at least - will remember him - solid, stable, and a throwback to the days of 4-4-2.

Looking back over a half-century of management, that description isn’t even close to accurate.

Hodgson’s career, for better and for worse, was about as eccentric and spectacular as it gets.

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