John Hodge was born in Ormskirk on April 1st, 1969. The family moved down to Cornwall and the little tricky winger takes up the story of how he reached the Football League, "After playing in local Cornish football I was given a trial at Manchester United at 18 that lasted around five and a half months! Andy Rammell was there at the same time as me. We didn't make it there but other clubs were interested in us. However Mike Radford, who looked after the reserves at Exeter City, was another and I signed for them. Alan Ball was their manager and he was brilliant. I loved him." Whilst playing his South Western Football, he used to combine this with working as a waiter and there would be many a time when Alan Ball used to rib him in training if things were not going too well by saying , "You'll go back to being a waiter!" Ball was a fan of 'Hodgy' and brought the best out of him.
"We played Plymouth Argyle, our deadly rivals and we beat them at Home Park in front of about 19,000 fans which was the biggest 'derby' win between those clubs. Plymouth had invested heavily in their players having spent around £1.4 million. Peter Shilton was their manager. We had some older players coming to the end of their careers like Steve Moran and Steve Williams. I scored two goals that day." John was a firm favourite of the Cowshed faithful at St James' Park and it was they who hijacked the 'Robin Hood, Robin Hood' song and created a special version of it.. 'Johnny Hodge, Johnny Hodge Running Down The Wing!
After his stint at Exeter came a move to Swansea City, signed by Frank Burrows.. "There was competition for players in attacking positions, there were always three or four options so there was fight for places and they had Jason Bowen. There was a great day out at Wembley in the Autoglas Trophy against Huddersfield Town, it was fantastic to play in. We won thanks to a penalty shoot out. We played 66 games in total that season including the Welsh Cup and I was named in the PFA team of the division. We weren't far off from the play offs the following season either."
There was a succession of managers at The Vetch in his time there. Bobby Smith, Kevin Cullis and Jan Molby. One got a special mention - Kevin Cullis! "He was crazy, a joke, who looked like Rockefeller! In his broad Black County accent ( with a brilliant mimic by Hodgy) his line was "I know Kenny Dalglish!"
Cullis was a strange appointment - plucked from Cradley Town where he was their Youth Coach and had no other experience in football. He only lasted a game and a half as in his second game at half time the players collectively took over the team talk!
John's mind was made up to leave Swansea as he felt he had been hard done by. "Jan Molby wanted me to stay. There was an offer but I told him I didn't want to stay here for another two years. I want to be appreciated but I'm not greedy." There was an indication he was let down in wage deals and certain players were on a lot more money there. Swansea were playing games with him by inflating their valuation of him but in the end they let him go on a free.
In October 1996, Walsall expressed an interest. John takes up what happened next, "I met Paul Taylor he took me to the Royal Hotel. I thought it was Single's Night Tuesday in there! He said have a few training sessions and see how it goes. I had a couple of reserve games and I liked it. I said yeah I'd like to sign. It was a one year deal with a one year's option. I met Chris Nichol - you've got to love him. He's larger than life. He was fantastic - even though he did scare the shit out you! It was a no-brainer. Little Bescot - but what a place. You may have bigger neighbours like Villa , Wolves, Albion etc but I used to love it when you walked into the place. I had two amazing years."
He mentioned some of the players from his time here with affection. Darren Bradley - Bradders! He was that slow he didn't move at all! Derek Mountfield - you just have to respect him. Killer and Kev Wilson up top - what a duo. Happy Larry - Ade Viveash - used to give him a lift in my car to training. He may have muttered five words. He even smiled once! Charlie Ntmark - Tuck it in. Tuck your shirt in you lazy bastard! Wacka - I scored a goal against him once for Swansea. I lobbed him. Its not hard to lob Wacka though is it?! Dean Keates - my right hand man! He loved to tackle but I've seen milk turn quicker!
John then turned his attention of micky taking to manager Jan Sorenson… Ah Big Jan! What a laugh training was under him. Four cones and a pack of Woodbines! I don't think he liked the fact that Liverpool beat his club Brugge in the 1978 European Cup Final. When he walked past me he used to mutter, 'F'king Scousers!" He recalled Jan's team talk in the dressing room just before the start of the FA Cup game at Old Trafford. Again he mimics his boss (in a Danish accent ) by reading out their team "They may have Peter Schmeichel , they may have Phil Neville, they may have Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, they may have Andy Cole etc...but I tell you they are shitting themselves!"
"Wacka , Marshy and myself - the three amigos - thought we'd have a bit of fun should we manage to score a goal in the match and we had a meeting and decided we'd all faint on the turf. We put it to the lads and we agreed - even the subs on the bench. If we scored we'd all do it. Anyone who didn't would be fined a week's wages. So what happens? Roger Boli scores - but he starts racing towards the Walsall fans to celebrate and like a fool I chase after him! We were the only two not to do the agreed celebration so we had to be fined!
"Jan lost his job at the end of that season and in stepped Ray Graydon. My contact was up. West Brom, Plymouth and Gillingham were after me and I settled on Gillingham. There was a 3 year contract waiting for me to become Gills highest paid player ever." On my first day driving down there though I pulled up on the M25 and it broke my heart. I said to a family member what the f'ck have I done coming here?"
"Their manager, Tony Pulis told me I was his crown in the jewel. He put me on the bench and a system I didn't like so I went in to see him. Me being on the bench and you playing wing backs, it's a f'king joke. He replied, 'You see its like this - them outside they're the infantry who win the battle. You win the war. My special forces.' He was sacked after that first season and Peter Taylor was appointed . He was great however he said regarding the system I'm not going to change much. There was a great day out at Wembley in the 1999 Play Off Final. We were 2-0 up with just a few minutes left with Paul Dickov equalising so late on. We lost on penalties but at least I scored mine."
" I eventually left and signed for Kevin Wilson at Northampton. It was great to play with Marshy again with all his step overs etc - he had great ability as a player . Kev lost his job and they gave it to Kev Broadhurst. I had a couple of offers but I was about 34 and I thought I can't be arsed with this anymore and I packed in playing." After finishing as a player John did coaching work including a link up with Arsenal and Aston Villa with soccer schools. He is now involved with a local business called Kernow Sport and Leisure . Link below.....
It was good to see John back at Walsall recently for the Mick Kearns night and he attended a pre-match experience at the Railway Club the following day with ISSA and the supporters. Both occasions were very boozy affairs for the winger who will always be in Walsall's fans hearts for those exciting couple of years of terrific wing play that he gave us.