SHOREHAM-born Simon Rodger was a boyhood Brighton fan but spent the bulk of his professional playing career with arch rivals Crystal Palace.
It was only at the end of his career he finally got the chance to play for the Seagulls having been rescued from football’s scrapheap by the man who had given him his chance with Palace.
Rodger in fact was on Albion’s books as a youngster and a report appeared in a matchday programme when, as a 14-year-old, he won a Soccer Skills competition run by Bobby Charlton Schools in association with The Trustee Savings Bank.
“Simon has been training with our own youngsters for two years but he is a guest today at Manchester United, where he will be seeing the match between United and Ipswich at Old Trafford,” the programme reported.
He didn’t progress through the levels at Brighton, though, and instead joined non-league Bognor Regis Town as an apprentice in 1989. Palace manager Alan Smith snapped him up from there for £1,000 in 1990.
It was Smith’s successor in the managerial chair, Steve Coppell, who gave Rodger his first team debut in 1993 away to Sheffield Wednesday. Although that game ended in a 4-1 defeat, Rodger was part of the side who went on to secure the Division One title in 1994.
Gordon Law on holmesdale.net summed up his Palace contribution thus: “His workrate, professionalism and unsung, gritty, performances in the midfield engine room contributed to Palace’s success in the 1990s. He was never one of the club’s high earners and missed out on lucrative signing-on fees to stay in SE25.”
He did leave Selhurst Park temporarily in the mid 90s, though, having fallen out with Coppell’s successor, Dave Bassett. He went on loan to Manchester City for three months in 1996 and to Stoke for a month in 1997.
When Coppell returned to Palace, so did Rodger and was part of the 1997 promotion-winning squad.
His Palace career came to an end after 11 seasons and 328 games – all in the top two divisions – when manager Trevor Francis released him aged 31 in 2002.
It was a worrying time for a lot of players because the collapse of ITV Digital meant football finance was in a state of flux and clubs didn’t have the money to retain large squads.
Rodger had earned decent money from football and also had the financial cushion of being married to QVC TV presenter Alison Young, but she talked about her husband’s concerns in an interview with football reporter Matt Hughes.
After Brighton’s disastrous run of 11 defeats under Martin Hinshelwood during the early part of the 2002-03 season, ex-Palace boss Coppell was brought in by Dick Knight and Rodger, along with Dean Blackwell from Wimbledon, were among his first recruits to try to salvage the season.
He came off the bench in Coppell’s second game in charge, when Albion were thumped 5-0 at Selhurst Park, but the following week he scored on his home debut against Bradford City on 2 November 2002, a volley which wearebrighton.com described as the best goal of the season.
Later the same month he scored again, along with on-loan Steve Sidwell, away at Preston North End, as the Seagulls clawed back to draw 2-2 having gone 2-0 down.
Rodger talked about the shock of his Palace departure in an interview with The Guardian in January 2003, but said: “I’m just grateful to be back in professional football with Brighton, doing something that I love.”
Rodger had become a regular in the side but, despite a sterling effort in the latter part of the season, relegation was confirmed following a 2-2 draw away to Grimsby Town.
The defensive midfielder began the following season in the third tier but the league cup tie away to Middlesbrough at the Riverside in September 2003 was the last of his 38 games for Brighton.
He was stretchered off early in the second half following a tackle by current England manager Gareth Southgate and never recovered sufficiently to resume his professional career.
He now works as a private hire chauffeur.
Main picture (top) shows Rodger putting in a slide tackle on Ivar Ingimarsson, who later joined Albion on loan from Wolves. Also (above), from the Argus, after scoring away at Preston.