Back in 1998-99, during Rovers’ first season in non-league the matchday programme was put together by a group of very committed supporters, and an excellent job they did of it too. Among them was long-serving popular STAND contributor John Coyle, with one of his contributions a series looking at the men who have managed the club since re-entering the Football League in 1923. John has very kindly let us reproduce this series here on the popular STAND website, and today we reach the sixth incumbents; Syd Bycroft and Jack Hodgson.
Before we consider the brief managerial reign of Syd Bycroft and Jack Hodgson, we should look back at the chain of events that saw the two men appointed to the Belle Vue “Hot Seat.” In January 1958 the local press reported that there was a dispute behind the scenes at the Rovers. The principal actors were the manager, Peter Doherty and Hubert Bates, a director. Doherty was apparently upset that he had been forced, for financial reasons, to sell his outstanding goalkeeper, Harry Gregg. In addition, it was said that Bates had made comments of a sectarian nature about Doherty, who was a Roman Catholic. Bates had allegedly claimed that Doherty would only sign players who were Catholics, an inference that Doherty regarded as an assault on his professional integrity.
On Wednesday 8th January 1958 the Rovers’ chairman, H.A. Butler, who had asked Bates to resign from the board, announced that a shareholders’ meeting would be convened. Such a meeting was the only way in which the composition of the board could be changed. That meeting never took place, because on Monday 20th January Doherty announced his resignation. His statement made it clear that Bates’ refusal to back down had been the trigger for his decision. Further proof of internal problems was provided by the resignations of the Rovers secretary, Geoff Dickinson, and the club’s surgeon, J.P. Semple, who was also a director. They were soon followed out by the chairman, Mr Butler, and by another director, Stanley Dixon, who claimed that there had been a “shadow cabinet” within the Rovers board.
It was a tragedy for Rovers that a great manager (Doherty), a wise and supportive chairman (Butler) and an able administrator (Dickinson) had been forced out by boardroom politics. The club went into decline over the next few years and it was perhaps no surprise that the men who presided over that decline were the new chairman, Jack Garnham, and his main ally, Hubert Bates.
The immediate task of reviving Rovers’ fortunes fell to two members of Doherty’s backroom staff, Syd Bycroft and Jack Hodgson. Bycroft served Rovers in various capacities over 25 years, starting when he joined the playing staff from Newark in 1936. He made over 300 League appearances for Rovers before being appointed coach, with responsibility for the reserve side. Hodgson, a north-easterner from Seaham, had joined Rovers in January 1948 after playing for 16 years for Grimsby Town. He had appeared alongside Bycroft in the 1949-50 Third Division (North) championship side and was first team trainer at the time of Doherty’s departure.
The duo’s first match in charge came against Doherty’s new club, Bristol City, in February 1958. Against the odds, Rovers won 2-1, but they only managed one further league victory, a 5-0 win at Notts. County who were relegated along with Rovers at the end of the season. In May 1958 Garnham announced that Rovers would be looking for a new manager, although he was at pains to point out that neither Bycroft nor Hodgson was to blame for the club’s relegation. Perhaps Garnham realised that the blame lay in the boardroom.
Despite Garnham’s assertion that Bycroft and Hodgson would be “looked after,” neither man remained long at the club. Wally Ardron had been hired as first team trainer after Doherty’s departure and in the autumn of 1958 Hodgson was released as an “economy measure.” Bycroft followed at the end of the 1958-59 season. Jack Hodgson died in 1970, aged 56, but Syd Bycroft lived until 2004, and the age of 92, and attended matches at Belle Vue whenever possible until his very last few years.
BYCROFT & HODGSON’S RECORD
First match: 1st February 1958 v Bristol City (home) won 2-1.
Last match: 26th April 1958 v Ipswich Town (home) drew 1-1.
Football League Record.
Played 15, Won 2, Drew 3, Lost 10, Winning percentage: 13.3%.
by John Coyle