Writer Rob Mason speaks to former Sky Blues winger Peter Bodak about his career, his time with City and what he is up to now...
Signed: July 1980 - Youth Product
Left: July 1982
Peter Bodak once scored the BBC Goal of the Month while playing for Coventry. Whereas once he’d fly up the wing like an express train, now if you take a tram from Birmingham from Wolverhampton you might find he’s the driver, “I’m training to be a tram driver,” he says. “I’ve got my final test to start driving trams between Birmingham and Wolverhampton.”
Now 59, Peter still enjoys his football, “I love it and come to Coventry quite a lot. I’ve got a good friend who has a box at the ground and sponsored the away kit. Last year they played some nice football when they went up. It’s a shame the fans can’t come at the moment. Playing football without fans is like strawberries without cream.”
Life was a case of strawberries without the cream when Peter’s form for Coventry saw Big Ron Atkinson sign him for Manchester United in the summer of 1982.
“Not getting a chance at Old Trafford is the biggest regret of my career. I was flying at the time and as fit as I could be. I think we played about 13 or 14 pre-season games and I played in all but one of them. We won every single one. We won a tournament in Spain and played in Iceland and Ireland. All the papers were saying this kid’s gonna make his debut in the first game of the season and then Steve Coppell got fit, so they played him.
"They had a long unbeaten run. We were also doing well in the reserves where as well as me we had Peter Beardsley and Paul McGrath playing. I remember Jimmy Greaves doing something in ‘Shoot’ where he said ‘Never mind the first team, Man United’s second team would make the top six’ - I believed that. I didn’t get my chance and I just wish that I had. I know I wouldn’t have let them down as I was flying at the time but that’s life. I got one game on the bench and that was against Valencia in the UEFA Cup.”
While the thrill of signing for Manchester United was lost by never actually playing a competitive game for the club, Bodak’s next step was across the city to join Manchester City. Signing for City in December 1982 they had good cause to remember him. In the opening month of that calendar year he had scored Match of the Day’s ‘Goal of the Month’ for Coventry at City’s Maine Road ground.
On the sort of a muddy pitch that is alien to top class football now, substitute Ian Butterworth released Bodak. Picking up the ball inside his own half Peter took just three touches to reach the edge of the home box before delightfully beating giant keeper Joe Corrigan with an exquisite chip unbecoming of the surface. It was Coventry’s final goal in 3-1 win. Bodak having already supplied the assist for the second scored by Mark Hateley. “Whenever I go out someone will ask me about that goal. It was a cracking goal but I must have been the only person who never got interviewed after scoring the goal of the month,” Peter ponders.
Having started 1982 with that wonder-goal against Manchester City, he debuted for them a week before Christmas against Brighton and would go on to play 17 times, his only goal coming here at St. Andrew’s against Blues on New Year’s Day 1983. He would also play back at Highfield Road the following month on a day when the home side trounced his new club 4-0.
Following his experiences on both sides of Manchester, Bodak’s next move was to the other side of the world, playing for Seiko in Hong Kong for a year from the summer of 1983 before returning the Europe to try life in Belgium with Royal Antwerp. After two and a half years on the continent he came back to England to join Crewe for whom he would net seven times in 53 games before switching to Swansea shortly before the old transfer deadline in March 1988, “Swansea was fantastic” he says. “I’d done well at Crewe where I’d set up a few goals for David Platt. I was playing in midfield and enjoying it. We were middle of the table but Swansea had a chance of getting promoted so I signed for them. I loved living down there, the people were great. Luckily enough we did get promoted so it was a good little spell.”
At Swansea Bodak played for former Sky Blue Terry Yorath who had Tommy Hutchison as player-coach. Debuting in a defeat at Leyton Orient, Bodak played in the last nine league games as the Swans pipped Peterborough to a play-off place on goal difference. He then appeared in both legs of the semi-final against Rotherham and the first leg of the old two-legged final as the Swans overcame the Gulls of Torquay United to win promotion from division four.
After helping Swansea consolidate in the higher division with four goals in 22 outings Peter returned to Hong Kong, this time with Happy Valley for a season before a final return to England where he played for Walsall, Sutton Coldfield Town and Atherstone United before retiring from playing.
It had been a well-travelled and eventful career for Birmingham-born Bodak who had come through a particularly productive Sky Blues youth system. “We had such a fantastic youth team from which about five of us progressed into the first team” he recalls. “As well as myself there was Andy Blair, Mark Hateley, Danny Thomas and Steve Jacobs. To get so many players coming through into the first team was unbelievable and we’re friends still. They’re great lads and we had an exciting time, getting to a semi-final and the quarter-final of the FA Cup as well as playing in the first division so they were happy days.”
Peter scored in a 5-0 whipping of Watford that took City into the 1981 League Cup semi-final with West Ham, while that Goal of the Month at Manchester was part of the cup run that took Coventry to the FA Cup quarter-final the following season. That tie at West Brom proved to be Peter’s last outing for his first club. In all he scored seven goals in 44 games for the Sky Blues, a run that began with a debut against Palace in September 1980 followed by the winner at Wolves second time out – Wolves having been one of the clubs interested in signing him before he joined Coventry as a schoolboy in 1977.
That first season also saw Bodak bag a winner against Leeds and score in a 2-2 at Arsenal. Peter didn’t score many goals but had a knack of notching important ones against big clubs. Manchester United didn’t give Peter a chance after signing him but Bodak had scored the winner against them on the opening day of the 1981-82 season. “They had some fantastic players at the time, people like Gordon McQueen, Martin Buchan, Ray Wilkins, Frank Stapleton – the list is endless. We were the first game of the season and were supposed to be the pushovers but from being kids we weren’t scared of anyone, especially at home because we were a talented young side. We beat them 2-1. Steve Whitton scored a good goal and then Lou Macari equalised with a header. I think it was just after half time I tapped one in, it was only from a few yards out after a scramble from a corner. We went on to win 2-1 and it caused a bit of uproar.”
Always capable of causing a bit of an uproar, Peter Bodak will be fondly remembered by fans of all his former clubs.
This article first featured in our Matchday Programme PUSB - to get your copy of PUSB, click here.
Our thanks to Sarah Morris and the Coventry City Former Players Association for their assistance with this feature.