Glyn Hodges reckons AFC Wimbledon turned him into a man – and this summer will mark four decades since he signed as an apprentice for the original Dons.
The 55-year-old, born in Streatham and raised in Mitcham, had spells as a junior with Fulham, Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Chelsea – spending four years with the latter before joining Wimbledon at 16.
Dario Gradi, who worked with Hodges at Chelsea, brought him to the South London outfit when he landed the manager’s job.
“I knew that whatever club he was at he was going to take me and offer me a scholarship,” recalls Hodges, who played over 600 matches in a professional career spanning just under 20 years.
“I was 16 and a year later I made my first-team debut – Halifax away. The rest is history.
“In my year was Mark Morris, who got into the first team and had a good career, Paul Fishenden, Wally [Downes] was the year above and Kevin Gage the year below – we had a real good squad.”
Hodges was part of Dave Bassett’s barnstorming Dons side which went from the old Fourth Division to the top flight in the space of six years.
“The first year was promotion, then we got relegated [in 1982],” recalls Hodges. “We were young and I don’t think we were ready for it.
“But it was probably the best thing that ever happened because after that we went back-to-back promotions to Division Two, which is now the Championship. We had one year consolidating and then we went up again.
“Three promotions in four years was unbelievable, going through the leagues.
“We were a solid group, that’s for sure. We were all young, we never really had an experienced pro. We were young kids being led and moulded by Dave Bassett. We stuck together, socialised together.
“We were like a pub team, we used to all go out and enjoy ourselves. We were really close.
“In saying that, we had a certain playing style and system that everyone knows about but the higher you got, you couldn’t play like that. You had to be that little bit different and possess something special.
“To get through the leagues it wasn’t just long ball. We could actually play. The team that stayed up that first year [in what is now the Premier League], that was an excellent team.
Unfortunately it couldn’t stick together but they won the FA Cup after that, so they had success anyway.
“We were well-drilled and hungry for success.
“You’ve got to be fearless. In this day and age the players are probably looking on Twitter and Instagram, reading all this social media.
“It’s a bit more of a goldfish bowl. We played with no fear.
“Yeah, you’re going to make mistakes but that is where you learn. What have you got to lose? That was the attitude we had.
“We didn’t respect anyone. If you wanted our respect you had to earn it.
We were playing against someone like Bryan Robson in the First Division – it didn’t matter who you were, we weren’t in awe of anyone.
“They might have a reputation, but show us why that is. We never went in with any doubts.
“He [Bassett] taught you the game. Wimbledon made me the person I am today, not only on the pitch but off it. It brought your personality out and made you mentally strong. He gave us all his attributes.
“I always had self-belief in my ability but he made me understand my game and how I could hurt the opposition.
“He was a good mentor. I spoke to him all through my career and I still speak to him now.
“He’s been great for me.”
Now Hodges is back at the newer incarnation of the Dons.
Working as assistant manager to Wally Downes. Both were part of The Crazy Gang – the nickname handed to a group of players who were a handful on the pitch and off it.
He doesn’t pick out any one story, instead recommending that people buy the 2015 book written by Dave Bassett and Downes which has contributions from Vinnie Jones, Lawrie Sanchez and Dave Beasant.
“Really I should have kept a diary,” said Hodges. “It would have been a best-seller and gone in fiction – no-one would have believed what you were reading.
“The main instigator was the manager now, Wally Downes.
There was never a dull moment.
“There are too many moments. I’m not on royalties – but all I’d say is buy the book!”
Hodges had three years at Watford and was voted Player of the Year before joining Palace in 1990. He played just seven matches for the Eagles.
“That was a bit of a shame,” he said. “To be fair I probably wasn’t in a good place. I messed that up. I liked Palace – having been brought up in the area it was my closest team.
“I had eight years at Wimbledon and then had three months at Newcastle. You get a feel for a place. It didn’t quite work out at Newcastle, it didn’t quite work out at Palace.
“You’ve got no regrets. You go somewhere else. I went to Sheffield United and in terms of football had the best five years of my career.”
Downes is a Wimbledon legend. So are both he and Hodges putting their high stock at stake by taking on a job that looks highly challenging.
Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Rochdale leaves them six points adrift of League One safety.
Hodges said: “I go back to what I mentioned earlier as a player – we have no fear. We have firm belief.
“We aren’t going in there thinking ‘we might go down, I’ll not go’. We’re up for the challenge.
“We’re asking the players to do certain things. They’ve got to be on board and buy into it – see that it’s working. We had some chances second half and I thought we should have got a penalty.
“When you’re down the bottom you need a bit of luck. If we’d have got the win, it would have been well deserved. But you take the point and you go into the next one.
“We’ve got a longer week to prepare and hopefully we can see a progression going forward.”
TOP IMAGE BY PAUL EDWARDS
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.
Everyone at the South London Press thanks you for your continued support.