About Me

My photo
Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #21 - Bob Houghton

The aim of this series was to shine a light on some unknown or forgotten characters from the history of football that have had a significant impact on its development as a sport. Originally I planned twenty five articles but the early start to the season and a lack of home cup ties mean I have only got to twenty one. Those who didn’t make the final cut were: Vincente Feola who along with Mario Zagallo created the magical Brazilian World Cup winning teams from 1958-70, English innovator Jesse Carver who enjoyed success at Juventus and many other top Italian clubs in the 1950s, and finally two Yugoslavs Miljan Miljanic and Tomislav Ivic. Miljanic is best known for restoring the fortunes of Real Madrid in the mid-70s having had great success in his home city of Belgrade with Crvena Zvezda, whilst Ivic grew his reputation in the 70s at Hajduk Split before going onto manage a whole raft of top European clubs, winning titles in six different countries.
For my last subject I have chosen to return to the enduring theme of my series, that of the coach who leaves his homeland to transform fortunes elsewhere, and in doing so I will end up in the summer of 2016 when I started writing about the first one.
I suspect many of you could name one Englishman who took his club to the European Cup Final in the 1970s (Clough - Nottingham Forest), probably a second (Paisley - Liverpool), maybe even a third (Armfield - Leeds), but how about a fourth? Then for a supplementary question connect him to the last Englishman to take his club to a European Final of any description, who also shares his initials.
Working in ten different countries over a forty year career Bob Houghton sparked a football revolution in Sweden which set up the careers of two future England managers.
Following an undistinguished professional playing career with Fulham and Brighton, Houghton studied with FA Technical Director Allen Wade alongside Roy Hodgson who had been his contemporary at John Ruskin Grammar School in Croydon. He became the youngest ever coach to gain an FA Full Badge ('A' Licence) and became player manager at Hastings United aged 23. He was reunited with Hodgson at Maidstone United with both trying to further their careers through junior coaching positions at professional clubs. However they were to get their break as a consequence of the longstanding European tradition of looking for an English “Mister” to disseminate his knowledge overseas.
In 1973 Sweden’s biggest club Malmo wanted a coach to revive their fortunes having lost their best players to richer clubs in central Europe. The country’s greatest footballing moment had come when they had reached the 1958 World Cup Final under the guidance of Englishman (and another great quiz question) GeorgeRaynor. So the Malmo chairman contacted Allen Wade for a recommendation. Wade suggested his star pupil Houghton whose application was supported by references from top English division managers Gordon Jago and Bobby Robson.
Still only 26, Houghton assuaged fears about his young age with a comprehensive analysis of the state of the Malmo squad and what he could achieve with them, thus securing his appointment for the start of the 1974 season (Swedish seasons running from March to November).
Learning the language in two months he chose a squad of local players, with ten of the side coming from Malmo itself. He set about introducing them to the 4-4-2 formation, zonal marking, rigorous use of the offside trap, a high pressing game, and swift direct counter attacks. This contrasted with a Swedish preference for deep lying sweepers and a more amateur style individual ethos.
With a team that was steady rather than spectacular, but quickly taken to the hearts of the supporters due to their local connection, Houghton led Malmo to back to back league and cup doubles.
This led the chairman of struggling Halmstads to ask Houghton if he could recommend another Englishman to coach his team. Inevitably Houghton suggested Hodgson who promptly led his new team to the next league title (Allsvenskan) in 1976.

Houghton reclaimed the title the following season, a win which led to qualification into the 1978/79 European Cup. Houghton took Malmo further than any Swedish club has been before or since, meeting Nottingham Forest in the final. Brian Clough’s Forest won with a solitary goal from Trevor Francis, Houghton responding to the defeat by saying that “Clough was lucky in one respect – that the difference between the teams which played in the quarter-final and final was six players”, with Houghton’s injury hit squad all coming from a sixty kilometre radius of Malmo.

Hodgson won one more Allsvenskan in 1979 before the pair was recruited to revive the fortunes of Bristol City. By now known as English Bobby and English Roy their impact on Swedish football had been incendiary, having a formative influence on coaches such as Sven Goran-Ericsson and Lars Lagerback.
Ericsson, who went onto win Sweden’s first European honour with Gothenburg in the 1982 UEFA Cup, and of course became the first foreign national to manage England, summed up their impact thus: “They introduced a whole new way of playing football. Before that, Swedish teams had been very influenced by German teams and were playing man-to-man marking. But they came with zonal marking and a new way of starting attacks. It was something unique. And I think Bob was 27 years old when he came here and that is fascinating. A young guy coming over to tell us how to play football."
However Houghton and Hodgson’s time at Ashton Gate was doomed by catastrophic financial decisions made before their arrival which had seen several players signed up on ten year contracts, and they presided over the clubs tailspin from the top to the bottom of the Football League which ended up in liquidation.
The experience left Houghton preferring to work abroad because: “There the coach is the most important man at the club. When I worked at Bristol, I would've been better off being a bank manager; such was the time I had to spend on financial issues.”
He became a globe trotter taking jobs with clubs in Greece, Canada, USA, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, and coaching the national teams of China, Uzbekistan and India.
Hodgson returned to Malmo in the 80s to win five Allsvenskans in a row as he continued a distinguished managerial career with other notable spells in charge of Switzerland, Inter Milan and Fulham. I personally witnessed his dramatic run to the 2010 Europa League final with the Cottagers, which led to him finally being regarded in the top rank of managers in his native country and the opportunity to manage England.
This makes Hodgson something of a unique character in this series, at least in terms of the Englishman under review, in that his talent was eventually recognised by those which developed it, despite his ultimate failure to fully capitalise on the opportunity to manage his country. More pertinently the lack of a native successor to his final post is rather a damning indictment on the short term future of English coaching.
I hope this series has been as much a pleasure to read as it has been to write. My inspiration for it and indeed initial source for most of the subjects was the Blizzard quarterly, which I wholeheartedly recommend if you want to find out about more of the men who made modern football.

No comments: