Football: Hodgson Accepts the Accolades Blackburn Rovers' Ebullient Manager Is Proud of His Roots in Football's Twilight Zone Yet Remains Eager to Learn New Skills

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AS ROY HODGSON took the stage, a wave of applause swept Birmingham's International Conference Centre. Loud and prolonged, it was not simply a polite expression of welcome, nor a result of his fame as manager of Blackburn Rovers. For the delegates to Thursday's Football Association Coaches Association annual conference, it was an opportunity to pay their respects to one of their own, a coach who had shown you do not need to have been a leading footballer to mix it with the Viallis, the O'Learys and the Robsons.

While the audience included the likes of David Platt and Sammy Lee, the bulk of the 900 listeners had been, like Hodgson, journeymen footballers.

Some had made a living from the game, some supplemented incomes from more prosaic jobs, some had never got beyond paying to play. All were now trying to make a mark teaching rather than playing. For them Hodgson, a reserve player at Crystal Palace and a part- timer with clubs like Gravesend, Maidstone and Carshalton, had shown what could be achieved. A coaching career in four countries has featured seven Swedish league titles, a World Cup campaign with Switzerland, a Uefa Cup final with Internazionale of Milan and, now, a leading role in the Premiership soap opera - including being the bookies' choice as England coach-in-waiting. Hodgson, whose Blackburn team host Arsenal at Ewood Park tomorrow, gave a stimulating and thoughtful lecture on "effective teamwork". He began, with reference to Blackburn's early-season struggles, by suggesting that he was "glad it was not about `the winning way' as I'd have to leave the stage immediately." He then added that the last time he gave the speech was in Swedish. This contradictory mixture of self-depreciation and mild showing- off is indicative of someone who has raised himself to a more elevated level than he and his contemporaries might have thought possible. However, Hodgson, a bus-drivers' son from Croydon, does not appear to be much troubled by the concomitant feelings of self-doubt and arrogance. He has a sense of self-worth, but not to the extent that he feels he has all the answers. His mere presence at the conference underlined his belief in the value of learning and he is clearly widely read. His speech quoted sources from Churchill to Vince Lombardi, the legendary American football coach, and also included saying from US basketball and Swedish ice hockey coaches. "It is all about exchanging views and, more importantly, hearing views," he said of the learning process when we met in a small room off the main hall. "I began by attending meetings of the Surrey Coaches Association and doing the FA courses. Then, if you can get a start, you learn on the job. "It was my love of the game that led me into coaching. I wanted to stay involved. It was more that than the pedagogic reasons of wanting to teach people. "There is this `show us your caps' mentality in the game, but it would have been more of a problem to me if I had started in England rather than in Sweden. When I first came back to Bristol City {for an ill-fated spell at the then-bankrupt club around 1980} my reputation was established. If I had gone straight into a league job as soon as I had my first bad spell it would have been a case of `who has he ever played for? …