Glenn Hoddle: ‘I don’t think I will ever be without football in my life’
Former Tottenham and England playmaker has come through his 2018 cardiac arrest and still loves the ‘beautiful game’
“It’s easy to say it was winning. I was born winning, I wanted to win tiddlywinks against my dad at home, so I had that in me. But I think the thing I enjoyed most about playing football was being able to express myself and be creative. From when I was a kid in the garden with my own imagination to when I was playing at Wembley in a cup final, that was really what I wanted to do, create.”
There aren’t many football players who can be said to have a clear association with an idea, but Glenn Hoddle and creativity is surely one. The Spurs icon played slowly in an era of harum-scarum, he charmed the ball while others attacked it, and he did so not just deliberately but assertively, in a way that Brian Clough said required “moral courage”.
Hoddle is speaking now after coming through another period in his life which required courage: his cardiac arrest of three years ago and the quadruple bypass that followed. But while that life-changing event has led him to reappraise some of his beliefs, others he remains as committed to as ever and the beautiful game is one.
“I don’t think I will ever be without football in my life,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to close the book on football. Some people say: ‘That’s it, I’ve had enough of football and I don’t care if I never see another game.’ I don’t think I could do that; it’s been such a part of my life, such a labour of love in many ways. But some of the perceptions have changed slightly.”
In October 2018, Hoddle collapsed on the set of BT Sport on his 61st birthday. Rapid intervention and CPR by a sound engineer, Simon Daniels, saved his life but a protracted period of complications followed and it was only weeks later that he had the confidence he would recover.
“You’ve got to realise you wake up in a hospital and you don’t know what had gone on,” Hoddle says. “Then the doctors are explaining what had happened and what the procedure was going to be going forward and it was just a shock, a total shock.
“I went through so many different stages. I couldn’t have the operation. I needed a quadruple bypass but I couldn’t do it because I had done something to my lungs. I had a defibrillator put in in my back. The veins in my legs were not healing after the operation. There was a multitude of things that went on over a period of time.
“But I think I knew I would get better when I came around after the bypass, that’s when they went: ‘Everything’s gone OK and your heart muscle is strong.’ They were still a bit baffled actually, by how I didn’t have massive damage to my heart and this and that. So I was very lucky in many more ways than just Simon being there.”
He says he struggles with what he sees as his debt to Daniels, with how to repay someone who saved his life. The pair are now friends and Hoddle has made him a guest at his home and in the directors’ box at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. He has presented a British Heart Foundation ‘hero award’ in Daniels’ honour too, but still there is a frustration. “I can do that a thousand times and it still wouldn’t be enough,” Hoddle says.
Speaking with a sincerity and an intensity about an issue one can only assume does not agitate Daniels in the slightest is perhaps revealing more broadly of Hoddle as a man. He retains the faith he has held since the age of 28 and that proved so controversial during his time as England manager, which ended in February 1999 . But he is someone who thinks about the feelings of others, and who speaks powerfully about what he describes as a collective “forgetting” around the effects and consequences of the pandemic.
“I think we’re forgetting what we went through,” Hoddle says. “I think governments are forgetting too. I do see it now as we’re going back to some sort of normality. We’ve just fragmented again and gone back to how we were. We’ve all been in the same boat whether you’re in Australia, China or America, or in Europe. I think we might have missed an opportunity to just get a bit closer and pull together a bit more.”
Hoddle says he is ambivalent about the role football played in the pandemic, providing an escape for many, but proving less important in the grand scheme of things. He also persuasively rejects the idea that the game now plays a more important role in society, in people’s lives, than previously.
“It’s an easy answer to say yes, but … and I’m going back now … if you really take all the pieces off and look at the actual football match back in the 50s [through to] the 80s when I played, I think it meant as much to the people then as it does now.
“We’re flowering it up now with media and social media and it’s got bigger with so many people paying extortionate money. That’s the way of the world, it’s not just football.
“But you go back then and the actual core of football is very much the same. Your seven-year-old will cry their eyes out when their team loses. That would have happened back in the 60s. Supporters were there for that release and I think still there’s a lot of people who watch football – and love it – but they’re there for a release, to go and lose themselves. It’s the No 1 sport in the world and when it’s played correctly it’s the most beautiful game in the world.”
That word “correctly” is there for a reason and in considering the way the game he watches as a pundit is played, Hoddle expresses a frustration with some of the elements. “The Premier League is the toughest in the world, I think it probably is now technically the best too and the best players are here,” he says. “There are a lot of games though where I think: ‘Oh, that’s going to go back to the centre-back.’ You can read what’s going to happen.”
Ultimately, however, English football has come a long way to matching the vision ‘Hod the God’ always had. “I think there was a bit more of surprise element in some of the games way back,” he says, “But we’ve changed technically and thank God really. We’ve moved on.
“We’re bearing the fruits of the changes in the academies 10, 15 years ago and we’re seeing a crop of footballers who can use the ball and create. It’s taken a long time but back then the long ball had a lot of success. The ball was in the air too much for my liking … and you had to fight against it.”
BT Sport will premiere Glenn Hoddle: Extra Time, on 8 December at 10pm on BT Sport 1.