A labour of love for Hodges

Glyn Hodges used to mow the grass of Wimbledon’s old Plough Lane ground as a teenager.

So history comes full circle on Tuesday night when he sits in the dugout against Doncaster, a matter of yards from where he cut those sacred blades of grass.

It’s been a long journey for the Dons – and an equally long one for Hodges.

The memories have been flooding back.

He wistfully recalls buying sweets in the corner shop on Durnsford Road after winning the players’ Grand National sweepstake.

Or having his wages deducted when he broke a window during the kickabouts.

Then there was painting the stanchions and cleaning the dressing room.

“When I was a scholar I had jobs to do,” he said. “We did everything – apart from cleaning players’ boots.

“The discipline was tough. [Manager] Dave Bassett would come in after we thought we had cleaned the dressing room and wipe the surfaces for dust. If there was any on his tips, we would have to run for cover – and then do it again.

“He is one of those people who should be at the game on Tuesday – but I don’t know who is going to be able to come. There are so many who have helped us get back – you want to see them all.

“Coming through, I never took it for granted being able to play for the club.

“I spent 18 months getting a bus from Pollards Hill, where I was born and raised, to Streatham and then the train to Haydons Road. So I will be able to find my way around.

“I used to go to the Greyhounds and the banger racing at the old Wimbledon Stadium. I know on Tuesday that the memories will come flooding back. I have been past and it’s the same – apart from the flats on the corner where the old ground was.”

Hodges was part of the team which climbed to the old First division from the Fourth in four years.

They also knocked Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest out of the FA Cup and Milk Cup, and Spurs out of the former.

He said: “Forest had won the European Cup not long before so we started to think ‘Maybe we belong on the pitch with these people.’ Then in our first year in the top division we won at Anfield and Old Trafford and that was terrific.”

But the ground was not big enough and after the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989, Plough Lane was declared unfit for that level of football.

Hodges, who signed for Newcastle in 1987 but later played more than 150 games for Sheffield United, said: “There were rumblings and also talk of a ground share or even a merger with Palace.

“I am a converted Northerner now but I did hear snippets about the saga from friends and family in the years I was away.

“Even while we were at Kingsmeadow, there were a lot of familiar faces in the stands from when I was a player.

“I’m very proud to have represented a borough of Merton in my school years – so managing this team going to this new ground is a great privilege.

“It won’t be properly open until the fans can come into the ground. But it does already feel like home – it has an aura and a soul which some of these grounds in retail parks just don’t.”


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