WITH nearly 700 games for Sheffield United etched on to his remarkable footballing CV, little wonder that Alan Hodgkinson MBE, Oxford’s goalkeeping coach, regards Bramall Lane as home.
But this afternoon, when the two teams lock horns in FA Cup competition, the former England international will put those feelings aside in an effort to help Chris Wilder’s side qualify for tomorrow’s second-round draw.
“I owe Sheffield United everything, to be honest,” he told The Star last night. “They gave me the chance to become a professional footballer and that’s something I’ll always be grateful for.
“I’ll never forget it.
“Whenever I come back here I always look out at that pitch and think to myself: ‘Blimey. Did I really play so many times?’
“Sheffield United isn’t just part of my professional life. It’s part of my life fullstop.
“It’s really like coming home.”
Hodgkinson made a grand total of 675 appearances for United after signing in 1953. Eighteen years and five caps later, he hung up his gloves to forge an equally successful career in coaching.
It’s a role he still performs, aged 75, at the Kassam Stadium today.
“People always ask me about longevity,” he said. “And I always tell them that if you enjoy doing something just carry on doing it.
“I get-up in a morning, get out of bed and into the car and all the way to the training ground I’m looking forward to getting out there and going to work.”
Hodgkinson, who was recognised in the New Year’s Honours List three years ago, has worked with a host of modern greats since retiring as a player in 1971.
But despite being able to namecheck both Peter Schmeichel and David Seaman as former students, he added: “Whenever I’m asked what my greatest memory is, I always say it’s the people I’ve met in the game.
“At United back in those days we went on tours all over the place, South America, New Zealand and elsewhere, and that was my education.
“We became a family. That’s exactly what we were.
“But I cherish the supporters just as much too. I still get United fans contacting me now to ask for my autograph and I just can’t tell you how much that means to me.
“It’s things like that that money can’t buy.”
United begin today’s encounter fifth in the League One table. Oxford are seventh in League Two.
“These are two clubs with huge traditions,” Hodgkinson said. “They might not have the money that some of the teams in the Premier League have.
“But you can’t take their tradition or history away.”