Insights and anecdotes -- but shirt tales keep the real Hodge under wraps

A review by Jeremy Culley

The infamous role of Diego Maradona in Argentina’s 1986 World Cup quarter-final with England has become one of football’s greatest paradoxes.

The performance, defined equally by the genius of his bewitching second goal as it was by the despicability of his controversial first, propelled his standing in the eyes of the English public from that of a world class player to an all-time great, albeit a flawed one.  

But, for England’s embittered fan base, the memories of this match, which provided possibly the greatest goal and the biggest injustice in modern football history, extend to many of Maradona’s supporting act as well. Who could forget a furious Peter Shilton charging at the referee after the diminutive Maradona had miraculously leapt above him to score Argentina’s first? Or John Barnes bringing some flair to the occasion from a white shirt? Or Gary Linekar heading in to give England hope, and himself a sixth goal of the tournament?

Strange then that the defining contribution from an Englishman to proceedings has not become quite so legendary. Without Steve Hodge slicing a volleyed clearance early in the second half, the ’Hand of God’ would never have happened. Hodge, from Gedling, on the outskirts of Nottingham, has a particularly interesting take on the day, having swapped shirts with Maradona before discovering the extent of his cheating. This tale is told in Hodge’s autobiography, 
The Man With Maradona's Shirt, so called because the famous Number 10 jersey resided in Hodge’s loft until he allowed the National Football Museum in Preston house it in 2002.

That day in Mexico City would turn out to be Hodge’s last World Cup finals appearance, as selection decisions and injury would conspire against him in Italy four years later. A measure of Steve Hodge as a man is the lack of ill-feeling he holds towards Maradona, for cheating him out of his only World Cup, or to Sir Bobby Robson, who denied him the chance to play in a second. Indeed he remembers with great sadness playing in an England legends team against their German counterparts at St James’ Park, a match held in Sir Bobby’s honour, just days before his death.

His experience of the management of Robson, Terry Venables at Tottenham and Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest has given Hodge more right than most to convey opinions on the game, as well as a multitude of hilarious anecdotes to recount as well. He spent the best part of his career with the inimitable Clough, having been signed by Forest as a schoolboy, before returning for a second spell after periods at Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur.

His book is inevitably filled with priceless Clough moments but also contains more sobering aspects of his time at Forest. He provides a fascinating insight into the effects the Hillsborough disaster had on Clough and the Forest squad, an area generally overlooked when reprising the tragedy, and offers some opinions on Clough’s health problems later in life.

Football is the predominant subject of the book -- no bad thing for fans who buy it, admittedly -- but the balance is probably too heavily weighted towards Hodge’s career. His personal life and activities away from the game are rarely mentioned, something which would give the book an extra dimension. Professional problems are explored in detail, such as his feeling of homesickness when living in London during his time with Spurs and his despair at being left out of the 1991 FA Cup final by Brian Clough. But his experiences away from the game, those of a single bachelor for the majority of his career and subsequently of a married man with three children, are mentioned only in passing, which is to the detriment of an otherwise excellent recount of a football career which, for 17 years, was spent with the best players and at the highest level.

The Man With Maradona's Shirt.

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