Ageless ‘Hodgy’ to grace the Lane pitch once more

Then: Alan Hodgkinson in his prime
Then: Alan Hodgkinson in his prime
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ONE legendary figure will be doing his stuff out on the Bramall Lane pitch tomorrow.

And even as one of Sheffield United’s greats, he might just do his work unnoticed by the masses.

Now: Alan Hodgkinson as a coach today

Now: Alan Hodgkinson as a coach today

For sure, a lot of long-time Blades followers will look on wistfully and with fond memories yet most in the ground never saw him play, although they will certainly know of his part in Sheffield United’s history.

Yes, Alan Hodgkinson, a goalkeeping legend with a record unsurpassed in Blades history, will tomorrow be back out on the pitch he graced for so many years, for hundreds of appearances and with as safe a pair of hands as ever caught a ball.

Alan Hodgkinson MBE (royal calling three years ago for services to the game) but known to all around here as ‘Hodgy’, is goalkeeping coach at Oxford United, tomorrow’s FA Cup opponents.

He will be there in the pre-match warm-up, putting the keeper through his paces, and will no doubt have dispensed wise words along the way. Certainly, he could tell him about how he used to do it on this very ground - although it was three-sided then, of course!

A miner’s son of South Yorkshire (he’s from Thurcroft and still has family up here), Alan was a Unitedite from boyhood and recalls ‘bunking off’ school one afternoon to sneak off to an FA Cup replay at the Lane against Wolves.

He was spotted by United when only 15 and was good enough at that tender age to be playing for Worksop Town in the old Midland League.

He was a few days past his 18th birthday when he made his United debut back in 1954. Over 650 games and 17 years later, he made his last appearance at the beginning of 1971, midway through that famous promotion season when manager John Harris decided to bring in a younger goalkeeper.

As anyone who saw him play knows, he was up there with the very best and had five England caps to prove it.

After his playing career ended, he went on United’s coaching staff in the early 70s and subsequently developed into one of Britain’s leading goalkeeping coaches.

He’s worked at the biggest clubs, among them Man United and Rangers, and for 17 years was Scotland’s goalkeeping coach, taking in two World Cups and two European Championships.

Now living in the Midlands, his calling card describes him as Professional Goalkeeping Consultant - Specialist in Training and Coaching’. There will certainly be plenty of knowledge to pass on.

He’s now 75 and football’s elder statesman but ‘Hodgy’ is still happy helping fellow members of the ‘goalkeepers’ union. He still loves pulling on those boots on the Oxford training ground.

The book he’s currently putting together is bound to have lots of stories and anecdotes acquired across nearly 60 years in the game.

This just might be his final season. So, when he gets spotted tomorrow, on his return to the pitch he graced for so long, he will surely get his own special round of applause and appreciation.

It’s a huge day too for Chris Wilder who is as big a Blade as anybody who’ll be in that ground tomorrow. He’ll be proud to be returning as a manager to ‘his’ club where he first pitched up as an eager ball-boy.

Desperate to lead Oxford to a win, he might then end up with mixed feelings - glad his team’s through but unhappy United are out of the cup!