Martin Smith column: Hodgy and other heroes

Hodgy. Goalkeeper, coach, good bloke.

Former Sheffield United keeper Alan Hodgkinson died last week after a long and successful career as a goalkeeper, coach and scout and was the man who ‘discovered’ Peter Schmeichel for Alex Ferguson.

I never met Alan but, like any football fan who grew up in the 1960s, I knew him intimately.

I knew the arch of his back as he dived for the cameras for those black and white football annual shots.

Knew how high he wore his socks, what boots he wore, whether he wore gloves (only in the rain in those days), could recognize him by his hairstyle and the way he stood.

Images of Hodgkinson, Ron and Peter Springett, Peter Grummitt, Gordon Banks, Peter Bonetti, Alex Stepney and the rest, all filed away in our Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly memories.

Hodgy and his contemporaries were more likely to get to a game on the bus alongside fans than arrive in a flash car.

It sounds fanciful, but it’s true.

Superstars were different then.

Some wore cardigans and smoked a pipe - not on the pitch obviously.

For football fans fortunate enough to have grown up in the 1960s certain players - especially every man in the 1966 England World Cup squad - will stay in the memory for ever.

Hodgy was one of them. Short, brave and with an incredible ability to leap he exuded the off-field demeanour of a bloke your dad might have had a pint with on holiday.

News of his death brought back memories of those skilled working men from humble origins that grew up in the war years with a natural modesty that couldn’t quite believe how well their lives had turned out.

So it was equally sad to hear that the greatest of them all Gordon Banks is unwell again.

Another man typical of the best of his time, unassuming, modest and brilliant at his job Banks will always be remembered for his save from Pele in the 1970 World Cup.

But he did stuff like that most weeks and had been doing since he played for Rawmarsh Welfare in 1953.

His was indeed a special talent.

There were great goalkeepers in that era but Banks could anticipate better, stretch further and cling on to the unsaveable more often than the rest.

Another lovely but driven man from that indomitable wartime generation.

Best of luck Gordon, we’re all thinking about you.