Jimmy Hogan – The Greatest Coach You’ve Never Heard Of

1953 would be English football’s nadir. Having remained unbeaten to foreign teams for 90 years of football at home, the Magical Magyars of Hungary brought the Englishmen’s castle crumbling down. Their downfall was plotted by an Englishman, who had been rejected by the very country he had seen beaten: his name was Jimmy Hogan, and this is his incredible story.

Jimmy Hogan was born in Nelson, Lancashire in 1882. He was a promising young inside forward, and was spotted by the team he’d always wanted to play for: Burnley.

“Jimmy arrived in the Autumn of 1903, when Burnley were just coming to terms with finishing at the very bottom of the league the previous season,” says Ray Simpson, Burnley’s club historian. “He was the first signing of the new secretary-manager, Spencer Whittaker. He was an inside forward, playing opposite Arthur Bell, who was Burnley’s first amateur international.

“He was more or less a regular during his two years at the club, but in 1905 he realised his worth to the club and asked to be paid the maximum wage, which was £4 a week. The club had to refuse, as they simply couldn’t afford to pay him. So he left, to go to Fulham.”

He continued playing at Fulham and Swindon and Bolton, before his true calling became apparent. Dordrecht, of the Netherlands, a club that he had beaten 10-0 while on tour with Bolton, offered him the job as their coach. He accepted, to become the youngest British coach in Europe, aged 28. As he wrote in his diary:

“I was young and foolish to think of going abroad but the urge came over me to teach these foreign lads how to play the proper game”

British football was still preoccupied with physicality rather than technical skill, so after retiring from playing he continued to coach in Europe. He moved to Vienna, where he built his reputation coaching the national side. However, by 1914 war was brewing, and he asked the British Consul in Vienna for advice:

“The Consul assured me that there was no immediate danger and advised me to carry on with my work. Within 48 hours of that interview war was declared”

He was interred as a foreign prisoner of war, but was smuggled to the Hungarian border. He moved to Budapest, where he was allowed out of captivity to coach at MTK, his methods sowing the seeds for the Magical Magyars that swept all before them 30 years later.

He returned to England after the war, but didn’t last long. A lecture tour showcasing his methods began in Germany, but fearful of the rise of the Nazi party, he fled to France. He had to sew his life savings inside his plus fours as German guards searched their bags for smuggled cash.

“The perspiration was running down my back. As we passed over the frontier – sitting safely on our little Bank of England – we gave three hearty British cheers”

While in France, he kept in contact with Hugo Meisl, who he had first met in Vienna. Meisl was the Austrian head coach, and he asked Hogan to help him to prepare the team for a friendly in 1932, against England. England scraped a 4-3 victory at Stamford Bridge. But the real stars were the Austrians. They played a short passing game that was compared to a Viennese Waltz. The Daily Herald opined:

“Definitely and beyond all shadow of doubt, Austria played better football than England did. Making passes along the ground, moving into spaces and in control of the ball, never before has any Continental team succeeded in making England’s best defence look anxious”

Hogan moved back to England to manage Fulham for a season in 1934, but Meisl again wanted his help, and he began to prepare the Austrian team for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The team was in decline, and lost in the final to Italy. He had caught the eye of Aston Villa though, and they brought him back to England as their manager. He got them promoted to the First Division, but the Second World War broke out and football was suspended. Spells at Brentford and Celtic followed, before Villa asked him to return. He was to coach their young players, including Ron Atkinson.

“I can remember every session I did with Jimmy,” says Atkinson. “You never trained without a football, which I thought was great. It was unique. We’d do little passing drills, inside and outside of both feet, doing little turns. All the lads loved playing for him too. We called him Uncle Jimmy, I think we nicked that from the Hungarians!”

1953 proved to be Jimmy’s crowning moment. Hungary visited Wembley for a friendly, with the British press labelling the game ‘The Match of the Century’ – the creators of the game against the best team in the world. Hungary were Olympic champions, with a squad of players who had all been taught in the manner Hogan introduced at MTK. Nándor Hidegkuti opened the scoring within a minute, before Jackie Sewell equalised. Hidegkuti grabbed another, before one of the iconic Wembley goals.

Ferenc Puskás picked up the ball in the penalty area, before sending England captain Billy Wright sprawling in the opposite direction with a sublime dragback. Wright was considered the best defender in the world at the time, but he had been completely fooled. “I think he had to pay to get back in the ground!” chuckles Ron Atkinson.

Puskás and József Bozsik scored two more either side of Stan Mortensen’s final England goal. It wasn’t enough though, as Hidegkuti completed his hat trick at the back post. Future England manager Alf Ramsay salvaged a third for the home team with a penalty, but the damage had been done. England had been mauled 6-3, but the real difference had been far wider.

Only after the Hungary result was Jimmy Hogan given the respect he deserved in England. He carried on coaching at Villa until he was well into his 70s, before emphysema claimed him in 1974, aged 91. Tributes poured in from all over Europe.

Helmut Schön, who he lectured in Germany:

“I greatly admired Jimmy and always regarded him as a shining example of the coaching profession. In my lectures to coaches today I still mention his name frequently.”

Hans Passblack, of the German FA:

“Jimmy’s coaching methods are remembered in our country to this very day. He was one of the founders of modern football.”

Heinz Geroe, the head of the Austrian FA:

“The outstanding services of Jimmy Hogan contributed very much to the development of the game in this country.”

And from Gusztav Sebes, the coach of the Magical Magyars:

“We played football as Jimmy Hogan taught us. When our football history is told, his name should be written in gold letters.”

Having influenced two of the greatest footballing sides in history, Jimmy’s legacy throughout Europe is huge. If this revolutionary had been kept on these shores, who knows where English football would be.

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