Roy Hodgson is clearly a man of sophistication; despite looking and sounding like a 1960s Ealing gangster, he’s managed in exotic locations like Italy, Sweden and Bristol.
While many prominent English managers have a reputation for parochialism, eschewing continental influences for sausage rolls and 4-4-2, Hodgson has always been willing to expand his horizons.
It’s why the former England boss has built a reputation as the kindly uncle of the Premier League, dragging mid-table sides from the canvas with defensive organisation and a knowing twinkle in his eye.
But don’t get suckered by the myth; Hodgson has a dark side. A side darker Cruella de Vil with a hangover. And his trigger is an unassuming man in a cuddly costume.
Harry the Hornet, Watford’s mascot, is employed to entertain children and make clunky movements to the rhythm of pre-match Europop.
But, during Crystal Palace’s visit to Vicarage Road in December 2016, Harry dived on the pitch after mocking Palace’s star forward Wilfried Zaha over diving allegations.
Zaha was thoroughly rattled, claiming there was an ‘agenda’ against him after being booked for diving at Watford in their next encounter.
“Let’s all laugh together about this,” Watford manager Walter Mazzarri said. “Everything doesn’t have to be a drama.” Oh, Walter. You poor, naive man.
When Watford's mascot Harry the Hornet mocked Wilfried Zaha for allegedly diving
Zaha was not happy 🤣 pic.twitter.com/QenvDNFyb2
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) January 25, 2022
Step forward, Hodgson. After allowing Harry the Hornet to fill his metaphorical hay net with juicy bait, the Palace boss warned the costumed devil not to ‘provoke the crowd’ and reignite diving claims surrounding Zaha before their August 2018 clash.
As the assembled press tried, in vain, to suppress their chuckles, Hodgson claimed that he’d never let a Palace mascot do anything as incendiary as what happened at Watford and that Zaha does not dive. Let’s not take the p*ss here, lads.
“If you’re asking me whether Harry the Hornet, who I presume is the mascot, should dive in that way, I think it’s disgraceful,” the Palace manager said in a delightfully spiteful manner.
“Because that’s not what football matches are about. If it’s provoking the crowd into looking for something that’s not there, it should be stopped.
“Wilf Zaha does not dive for penalties. He gets knocked over sometimes – sometimes he gets knocked over or unbalanced without it being a penalty or a foul – because he runs at such speed and has such agility with the ball. But he certainly doesn’t dive.
“But of course, teams try to take every advantage they can. I would be very disappointed if the Palace mascot was doing something like that to provoke the crowd against an opponent. And if I found out about it, I would stop it.”
Watford’s 2-1 victory passed without any major mascot-related incident, although Harry did launch himself head-first into a sliding dive in front of home fans after the final whistle.
It’s one of life’s big regrets that Hodgson’s inner monologue at that exact moment will forever be inaccessible.
🗣 "If you're asking me whether Harry the Hornet should dive in that way, I think it's disgraceful"
Roy Hodgson's rivalry with Watford mascot Harry the Hornet is one of the most underrated in Premier League history 🤣 pic.twitter.com/xvTm2Lr0KG
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) November 18, 2020
After an eye-staring contest that’d put Big Train to shame, it was Harry who blinked first by leaving his post shortly after Hodgson’s diatribe.
Mournfully taking off his costume and returning to civvies, Gareth Evans said he was ‘proud and “heavy-hearted’ to be leaving his role, perhaps learning that Hodgson had threatened to make him an endangered species.
“I have officially stepped away from being the match day mascot at Watford my decision, proud of what I have achieved, the memories made and the experiences I’ve had – I was privileged and now heavy-hearted,” Evans wrote on Twitter. “Love you Harry!”
Four years passed before an unexpected encore; deep in the relegation quagmire, Watford appointed Hodgson to save their Premier League skins.
But it’d be Hodgson that had the last laugh. Approaching the task with the zero-f*cks-given attitude of a teenage summer job, the pensioner watched serenely while ushering his new club through the trap door.
With delicious irony, Watford’s relegation was confirmed in a 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace.
As the final whistle sounded, Hodgson cheerfully received the acclaim of the Palace support, failing to show a single ounce of sorrow over Watford’s demise. Having just received a CBE for services to football, many argued he deserved a knighthood for his dedication to petty revenge.
It’s one of life’s big regrets that Harry the Hornet’s inner monologue at that exact moment will forever be inaccessible.
By Michael Lee