Words & Images: Mark Leech from Well Offside
Interview: Seb White
I first encountered a boy called Glenn Hoddle in the Harlow Primary Schools Cup in the 1967–68 season. He was captain of St Alban’s Primary School, and I was captain of Spinney Primary. We had a very good side, although, in reality, it was eleven against him. We had to have a replay to beat them.
The basis of my school team would go on to form a club called Spinney Dynamos. We played less than half a mile from where Glenn lived. Our coach pestered him to come and play with us, so that summer we turned up for training and there he was. I remember going in for a slide tackle on him, and I just slid. There was no Hoddle, and there was no ball, and I looked round, and he was halfway up the pitch. I thought I might be out of shape after my summer holidays, but then he did it again, and I realised he was really good.
We had all been doing keepy-ups over summer—the highest I got was 37. Someone said "How many can you do Glenn?" and he went left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot... 50! And then he just gave it to someone else. It wasn't like he was going to keep going to 150 or whatever and piss you off; he was humble even at a young age.
The team photo was taken on my dad's bloody Kodak Instamatic with a 12 exposure colour film we’d bought for our August holiday. We all kept nagging him to get it to Boots to develop it. He realised there was one frame left, so he ended up taking a picture of us in our new kit, and it’s an incredible photo.
We obviously did really well with him in our team, and we were winning one game 10–0. After the tenth goal, he said to me, "Have you scored yet this morning, Mark?" I went, "Nah, I'm at the back chatting to the goalie" and he went, "Come on then!" He got the ball and went, "there", and he pointed, and he went round this guy and went, "no, there!" and dropped it on a sixpence for me and I stuck it in the net. He then said, "Okay, has Steve scored one yet?" He wanted to make sure everyone scored. When you are that good, he could’ve easily just scored ten himself, and gone “I’m the best”. But that wasn’t Glenn. He was a great player and also a great person.
I'll never forget the night we won the league and we had to win to clinch the title. We went one up, and then the ball came back to me at the edge of the box. I thought I’d just aim for the far post for someone to knock in, but it went straight into the top corner. And I'll never forget Hoddle running at me celebrating as if that's it, the game was done, and we were going to win the league. I just couldn’t stop thinking that I hadn’t really meant it...
While Glenn was at Tottenham, I'd left school, and I was out of work looking for something because I failed all my exams. One day I was watching Glenn play for his school with the local tough guy who said, "Oh here's that Hoddle. He's a flash fucker, ain’t he? Look at him, wanker." Ping, goalie beaten from 30 yards. Did the same thing again five minutes later.
This guy was just slagging Hoddle off the whole time, but I'm watching it with this reality sinking in thinking, that he's gonna make it, he’s actually going to make it.
And as the cogs turn in my head, I know I can’t be like this local idiot standing next to me, and realise I’ve got a job. I started going up to recruitment places in London, and they asked what I was interested in. I just said “football”—what else was I gonna say? Fortunately for me, there was a vacancy for a trainee sports photographer.
I was out in Harlow one Friday night, this nightclub called Tiffany's. They put a slow one on. All of a sudden, I got a tap on my shoulder “Alright Mark, wanna drink?” I turn and look round, and it’s Glenn. “Hang on—what are you doing here? Aren’t you playing for Spurs tomorrow?” “Keith [Burkinshaw] has dropped me. He’s dropped me!”
So there he was with his mates, in Tiffany's and its plastic palm trees. But within a year, he was making his debut for England, and he scored in that game too. I ended up being the wrong side of the pitch for his debut goal. I was blocked, and I just didn't get the picture. I was gutted professionally, but also very proud that someone I’d grown up with had scored at Wembley for England.
After 12 years with Tottenham, he ended up signing for Monaco. Shoot magazine was really pretty big then and paid decent money. I asked them if they fancied a feature on Glenn Hoddle in France, they agreed, and I just called him up and ended up driving to the South of France in a Golf GTI. Turns out it’s a lot further away than you think.
Glenn and I went for a walk around the harbour. I noticed that Glenn was walking at a painfully slow pace, and it took him forever to get up a set of stairs. I assumed he was injured and asked if he was okay. “Mark, we've got this manager, and he says to us all the time about looking after your body, and to be really careful. He's got people out all the time, and if he sees us running or like jumping over a fence or anything like that, he'll go mad. He’s really different, makes us eat all different stuff as well...” It sounded all a bit too much, to be honest. That manager was Arsène Wenger. I didn’t appreciate the significance of it at the time.
We went out for a meal, and because he paid, I said, “I'll get a round in at the next place then", and Glenn, laughed. “It's not Harlow, Mark—we’re going to Jimmy’s Bar; it's really expensive and where all the celebs hang out and that.” And he was right; it was bloody ridiculous. There we were on the French Riviera, just two boys from Harlow—it was a step up from Tiffany’s, I’ll admit. The next day, Glenn asked if I minded taking his Christmas presents for his family back with me and dropping them off at his mum’s. It just didn't seem like anything at all: just a normal guy who was incredibly good at football...
I was very surprised when he became a manager. Looking back at what he experienced and learnt under Wenger must’ve had a huge impact. He saw that Wenger was succeeding in Japan, but nobody was doing that in England.
He started playing the ball out from the back, relatively unheard of in English football at the time. I remember I was at a Chelsea game where they were playing this lovely football, and this Japanese photographer came up to me, jabbing his finger saying, “What's happened to your football? Where did your crazy football go? I've come here for your crazy football!”
I didn't do every single England game, but when Hoddle became manager that changed. I felt something personal and wanted to document it. It's a bit awkward sometimes if you know someone and they just happen to be England manager. However, it was handy when they qualified for the World Cup in Italy and he did that gesture straight at me.
I headed to the World Cup, genuinely believing that we had a chance and that the kid who I played football with all those years ago might just lead us to World Cup glory. I was in Saint-Etienne for the Argentina game. The stands were packed, I was looking over at the England fans and I saw Glenn's wife, the kids, and his uncle Dave, and during the national anthem they were wiping a tear from their eyes. I very nearly lost it myself.
Obviously it was an incredible game full of emotion, but when it went to penalties, I knew that it was over. I was there in Turin in ‘90, at Wembley in ‘96, and I just thought I've seen this one before. I couldn’t even muster a “Come On, England!” I just wanted to get it over and done with. I had the perfect vantage point in the stands rather than pitch side and got a great but emotional shot as Glenn faced the cameras. And it was all too much, to be honest. L'Équipe had given me a mobile phone to use for the month, so I decided to ring home to cheer myself up; I needed to hear an English voice. So I phoned my wife, and my six-year-old daughter picked the phone up and said, “Does that mean we're out the World Cup, Dad?” I was absolutely gutted.
The last time I had a real chat with him was at the Euros—I got lost in the press area and found a door thinking it was a way out. I walked right into a room where there were cameras and loads of television people and in the middle of it was Glenn. He comes bombing over "Hello Mark! I was just thinking the other day about playing over on the pitch at the Spinney. Getting changed in Fred's garage, coming out, running through the woods onto the pitch... Happy days. Happy days...” And they're calling him, “Glenn, Glenn—over here, come and speak." He's saying, “Mate... Mate... Happy days. I'll never forget those days!" And I'm just going, “Wow.” In that moment I thought back to those muddy pitches in Harlow too, when I played football with a boy called Glenn Hoddle.
This piece originally featured in issue 21 of MUNDIAL. You can order that to your house by clicking here.