My friend Stan Hodgson, who has died aged 86, played his entire rugby union career for Durham City, appeared 11 times for England, and toured with the British Lions in South Africa.
In an era when hookers were selected for their ability to strike for the ball, his mongoose-like reflexes and incredible suppleness made him one of the best. In club and county matches it was not unusual for him to win almost all of the scrums, on one occasion leaving a seasoned Yorkshire hooker in tears.
In 1962 Stan broke his leg in his first match on a tour of South Africa with the Lions, but was asked to remain for the whole tour because of his positive influence. A sinewy 11 stone, he was almost always the smallest forward on the field. His technique was to encourage the props to lower the scrum to the point where only his wiry flexibility allowed him to strike, when necessary, with his head. Mike Western, his Durham and England teammate, remembers Stan doing just this, against the head, against Ireland. Much to the annoyance of the Irish pack, it allowed Richard Sharp to stroll in for a try under the posts.
Stan wanted and had no privileges. He was born in Durham, the only child of George and Mable. His mother died when he was three months old, and he was brought up by his grandmother, aunts and uncles.After leaving Whinny Hill secondary school he learned his rugby simply by playing. He spent his working life at Mackay’s carpet factory, walked the three miles to work every day, and never owned a car.
He did not gain his first England cap until the age of 32. Fearing that his selection chances would be affected, he never allowed his true age to be entered in programme notes, and it was a constant source of speculation. Abhorring elitism or flashiness, he continued to play competitively until he was 60, which meant that eventually he had played in all four of City’s teams, where his skill, modesty and mischievous wit made him unfailingly popular. Never without his kit, he was prepared to travel anywhere. He was a fitness obsessive, drank only tea and never missed a training session.
He was also fastidious about what he saw as the tools of his trade and would spend half an hour in the changing room ensuring that his boots and massive shin pads were in perfect order before putting on a stitch of his other kit. He had no truck with injuries. “It’s all in the mind,” he would say. A second broken leg in his 50s, it was assumed, would end his career, but he was back training and playing the next year.
I once met Stan on Waverley station, Edinburgh, the evening before a Calcutta Cup game. Stan, then in his late 40s, had gone up to play a “golden oldies” match against Scotland. While everyone else was enjoying dinner and the prospect of watching the next day’s match, Stan was returning to Durham to play again.
He is survived by his wife, Doreen (nee Smith), whom he married at the age of 17, and their four children, Jean, Gary, Lynn and Anne.
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