Hodgson and Fulham deserve the acclaim
At Craven Cottage
When Roy Hodgson arrived at his post-match media briefing to be greeted by a warm burst of applause, it was confirmation that Craven Cottage had witnessed something extraordinary.
This impromptu ovation for Hodgson was not the result of misplaced jingoism or partisanship after Fulham's win over SV Hamburg on a magical night by the Thames.
It was delivered out of respect and admiration for the man who has resurrected a proud old club and given Fulham's fans the chance to live out a dream as they prepare to face Atletico Madrid in their first European final on 12 May.
While Jose Mourinho set off on a zig-zagging sprint around the Nou Camp to celebrate Inter Milan's passage into the Champions League final, Hodgson marked his landmark victory in the Europa League semi-finals by calmly navigating a Craven Cottage pitch littered with celebrating Fulham players and staff - many lying prostrate and emotionally drained - with his hand in his pocket.
And he still found time amid the tumult to offer consolation to the beaten Hamburg players. Such a gesture is a mark of the man.
Hodgson shakes hands with the beaten Hamburg boss Ricardo Moniz. Photo: PA
If Hodgson's celebrations, at least in public, were typically measured, Fulham's fans were far from calm and collected. As hundreds of drenched and disappointed Hamburg fans gazed into the Thames on their way home, the sounds of songs paying homage to Hodgson drifted loudly across the river from Putney.
And why not? Fulham's last red letter day was the 1975 FA Cup final, which they lost to West Ham at Wembley. Only the hardest of hearts would not have been touched by the sheer joy witnessed at Craven Cottage on Thursday night, especially among older Fulham fans whose jubilation may well have been tinged with disbelief.
Fulham, by Hodgson's own admission, "have looked into the abyss once or twice". Now they can realistically set their sights on winning the Europa League. Atletico Madrid will hold no terrors.
Hodgson's composed and organised demeanour is mirrored in his Fulham team. They struggled for an hour to seriously threaten Hamburg, with Bobby Zamora short of fitness because of an injured Achilles, but at no stage did Fulham show signs of panic, even though Mladen Petric's vicious, first-half free-kick left them requiring two goals.
As Hodgson watched impassively from his technical area, Fulham prodded and probed, fuelled by the self-belief that has previously taken them past teams of the calibre of Shakhtar Donestsk, Juventus and Wolfsburg on this glorious adventure of discovery.
The door to the final was pushed ajar by Simon Davies after 69 minutes and Zoltan Gera banged it down seven minutes later. Fulham's unbreakable spirit had proved too much for Hamburg, with Ruud van Nistelrooy a pale shadow of the tormentor who used to stalk the Premier League.
Even as Craven Cottage was swamped in celebration, Hodgson was the coolest man in this hothouse. The job was done and 14 minutes later he was taking the acclaim again - this time from the media. Who said we had no soul?
It was recognition of what Hodgson has constructed since he arrived at the club in December 2007, the best Christmas present Fulham has ever had. The transformation has not been remarkable, it has been more besides.
Hodgson has applied sound common sense, dragging Fulham from the edge of relegation to the Championship and into a position where their Premier League status is not in question - and arriving in a major European final simply embellishes all the other superb work.
He has used all the experience gained in a nomadic career to play the markets and fashion a fine side that has showcased all its qualities in this European run. He has proved the master of renewal, breathing new life into the careers of Danny Murphy, Damien Duff and Zoltan Gera.
And his reconstruction of Zamora's game, to such an extent that he was watched by England coach Fabio Capello again on Thursday, has been a masterpiece of man-management and coaching. Zamora's response to the promptings and support of his manager has also done the striker great credit.
Murphy is the brains of the operation on the field, while the dominant figure of Brede Hangeland is further testimony to Hodgson's shrewd movements in the transfer market.
As Hodgson took his leave of the turf with Craven Cottage in a state of chaotic celebration, a rather more flamboyant figure was bringing up the rear in the shape of chairman and owner Mohamed Al Fayed.
Mark Schwarzer celebrates Fulham's famous win. Photo: AP
It may appear, to the untrained eye, to be an unlikely partnership but the pair have dove-tailed perfectly. In his programme notes, Hodgson wrote: "The chairman has been hugely supportive throughout the campaign and it would be magnificent if, by the time the evening is over, we could be taking him to his first cup final."
Consider it done.
Fulham's fans bought into what was required, too, never wavering in their conviction that their side would prevail. "Stand Up If You Still Believe" was sung with gusto at regular intervals while "Stand Up For Roy Hodgson" is now a Craven Cottage standard.
Their belief was rewarded - again - and it was Hodgson who took the standing ovation at the end.
Al Fayed hinted before the game at one small dark cloud hovering over Fulham's glory - namely that Hodgson's achievements have been so impressive that he might attract admiring glances from elsewhere.
Hodgson can be relied on to focus firmly on Fulham, but there is no doubt he will put himself in the frame for big jobs with results like this. Al Fayed is confident he will stay, but all of Fulham will know they possess a much-coveted manager.
He even found space for some timely public relations, designed to soothe Hamburg's disappointment by praising the club, the stadium and the city ahead of the final - which will do Fulham's battle to claim the support of the neutrals no harm.
Fulham's fans streamed away into the night with a growing sense of destiny about this Europa League campaign. A force is with them, whipped up by Hodgson.
Glory awaits in Hamburg in less that a fortnight. Victory there, and the warm applause for Hodgson might just turn into a standing ovation.