There are certain words in football that stir specific emotions. Amongst them, for a certain vintage of football fan at least, is the name ‘Hoddle’.
Glenn Hoddle was a genius tied into a Faustian pact to ply his trade at the worst possible time. At the peak of his powers he was playing in the dystopian minefield of 1980s English football. While violence raged in and around the grounds and technique remained secondary to ‘graft’, Hoddle looked at times like a world-class pianist forced to earn a living in the back room of the Dog & Duck.
An escape to Monaco in 1987 meant some recognition on the continent and birthed a great “if he hadn’t been English” narrative, but he returned four years later with a knee injury and time against him. A decade later he would have been at home in the sleek new Premier League, today he would be revered as one of the great playmakers of the modern era. An artisan making a living in a world of Luddites, Glenn Hoddle the player remains one of football’s biggest ‘if onlys’.
For a small group though the word conjures up a different footballing image. The DNA remains the same, the tall midfielder treating the ball like an old friend and capable of moments that seemed beyond his surroundings - but the stage is very different. Whereas Glenn could call White Hart Lane, the Stade Louis II and Stamford Bridge home, younger brother Carl took a different route, most notably at Underhill with Barnet, but still earned a small part of the footballing legacy of the Hoddle name.
Born ten years apart from Glenn, Carl Hoddle was destined to follow in his brother’s footsteps but always feel like somewhat of a tribute act. Signed by Spurs as a schoolboy in 1983, he made his way through the youth and reserve teams but struggled with a weight of expectation. He never made a first-team appearance for the club where his brother made nearly 500.
Carl’s initial failure to break through impacted his older brother greatly. Speaking in an interview in 1997 Glenn talked about the day Spurs told Carl he wasn’t good enough, blaming himself for not helping enough and breaking down in tears. Carl left Tottenham, played in Singapore briefly and then signed to non-league Barnet.
He admits at the time he “wasn’t too interested in the game” and turned up for training only when he felt like it. Inheriting the proto-Berbatov lazy playing style from his brother and coupling it with a growing waistline and a poor attitude meant that manager Barry Fry released him, encouraged by the glimpses of talent but ultimately frustrated by the reality.
Carl dropped even further down the leagues but found home enough with Bishop’s Stortford to start enjoying his football again thanks to a manager who struck a balance between the carrot and the stick. The hunger returned and a regular place bought the form that saw him given another chance in professional football with Leyton Orient.
There was a feeling that the surname had earned the move more than Carl Hoddle the footballer. He admitted in later life that being Glenn’s younger brother “opened a few doors for him” but his attitude hadn’t been good enough early in his career to truly capitalise. A ten-year age gap meant the shadow may not have been has big as it could have been but if ever a quote summed up the situation Carl was faced with, it was when during an interview with the Daily Mirror he admitted “there haven’t been that many players as good as him in the whole world, let alone the same family!”
Over two years with Orient he struggled to hold down a first team place. The pattern was now familiar, occasionally there would be a moment of raw inspiration that promised the world but the reality was something altogether more inconsistent. He had improved his physique and attitude and now wanted to play, prompting in 1991 a return to the good ship Barry Fry at Barnet which had, by now, sailed into the Fourth Division for the first time in the club’s history.
Over the next four years Carl’s football career hit its relative peaks. He made over a 100 first team appearances and scored a couple of memorable goals from distance, one still available here on the football history leviathan that is YouTube. He may never have been able to dine at the sort of sporting tables Glenn enjoyed, but he found a career and even during Barnet’s tumultuous Flashman years where he missed wages for months at a time, he was happy.
Perhaps the pinnacle was a performance in an FA Cup third round tie in 1994. Barnet were drawn away to Premier League Chelsea, reason enough to raise his game perhaps but this Chelsea side was being managed by brother Glenn. Carl was excellent on the day as Barnet fought their way to goalless draw, even coming within inches of winning in the last minute. Carl passed well, held his own among his brother’s charges and yet again gave a glimpse of what might have been.
After leaving Barnet in 1995 his football career became a journey through the amateur leagues although he did briefly shine for Woking in the Conference. In truth it was also now that his life began to slowly unravel, a drink-driving conviction followed by a traumatic divorce as an affair with a ’22-year old blonde’ came to light. Just two days after Glenn was appointed England national team manager in 1996, Carl was rushed to hospital having taken an overdose of painkillers. He was suffering from depression and finding it difficult to hold a job down having turned his hand to everything from selling used cars to delivering post.
Glenn and Carl had remained close throughout their respective careers, speaking to each other “several times a week”. After surviving the overdose he then flirted with trying to resurrect his playing career with non-league Aylesbury, still only 30 at the time. Unfortunately he had begun drinking heavily and his attitude and lifestyle were not conducive to being given a final chance to make it in the game, once again missing training and generally only making any sort of effort when the mood took. He faded into the background with rumours of dole fraud, potential jail sentences and more infidelity swirling around, never to make any sort of mark as a player ever again.
Away from the industry baggage that came with the surname, he began to put his life in order, eventually re-emerging by his brother’s side as a coach and scout at Wolves whilst Glenn was manager. Photos from the time sharply mark the family likeness as nearly all have the two brothers together, usually deep in conversation. While he may have put on some weight and embraced football again, there was none of the old troubles that had seemed to perpetually rumble just under the surface. Happily remarried and father to a stepdaughter to add to his two from his first marriage, he seemed finally to have found some consistency.
Tragically, Carl died suddenly of a brain aneurysm on March 1st 2008 having collapsed at home in the bathroom. He had parted company with Wolves when Glenn left the club in 2006 and was back working in the motor trade selling cars at a Mercedes dealership close to his home in Hertfordshire. The loss was devastating to his family and he’d remained as close to Glenn right up until the day he died.
Some speculated the loss was a big part of Glenn immersing himself totally into his academy in Spain but in truth, plans had been in place long before his brother’s death. It did however provide an impetus to press on and establish the GHA (the Glenn Hoddle Academy) in memory of Carl, and the level of personal investment remains just as apparent to this day.
Carl Hoddle may never have hit the heights of his older brother but he still ended his career closing in on 150 professional appearances in league football and many more at Conference and other national levels. He was and still is well thought of by those who worked with him, acknowledging that while there was an element of application missing that may have taken him on to the next level, the natural talent was beyond dispute. There will be very few who hear the name Hoddle and don’t immediately think of his eldest brother, but each graduate from the GHA will be very grateful for Carl’s legacy.
Dave is one of the IBWM editorial team and is on Twitter here.
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