“We played football as Jimmy Hogan taught us. When our football history is told, his name should be written in gold letters.”
Gustav Sebes, Hungary coach 1949-57
Hungary 6 – England 3. We’ve all heard the story of the Mighty Magyars going to London in 1953 and defeating England at Wembley. We’ve all heard of how Puskás, Bozsik and Higegkuti gave Walter Winterbottom’s men a thorough lesson in how the game should be played and yes we’ve all heard of how this defeat forced the English FA to re-evaluate how the game could and should be played. What many of us don’t know however is that it was an Englishman who helped Hungary defeat his own nation. His name was Jimmy Hogan and there’s a reason his biography is entitled ‘Prophet or Traitor’. For the English he was the prodigal son who never returned. For the Continent, he was a revolutionary.
So who was Jimmy Hogan?
Born just north of Burnley in 1882, Jimmy grew up during the birth of the beautiful game in football. Football was being codified during these years. Exciting developments such as FA Cups and domestic leagues were beginning to pop up. It was no surprise that the young Hogan was hooked. By 1902 he had begun his playing career with Rochdale Town, where he earned a reputation as a lively inside forward. Spells soon followed with his home town club Burnley before moves to Fulham (where he reached an FA Cup Semi-Final in 1908), Swindan and finally Bolton Wanderers.
During his playing career, Hogan was known for his commitment to self-improvement. Hogan placed a strong emphasis on fitness and conditioning at a time when formalised training was practically unheard of. Even before the end of his career, Hogan had begun to take an interest in coaching. During a summer tour of the Netherlands in 1910 with Bolton Wanderers Hogan took charge of the Dutch National Side for a game. Whilst his time in Holland was brief, many credit Hogan with kick-starting the professionalisation of Dutch soccer and planting the seeds for the Total Football style that emerged in the 1970s in Holland.
Once Hogan hung up his boots in 1913, it was clear that management was his only course of action. Shortly after beginning his search for full-time coaching work, Hogan was put in touch with Hugo Meisl, the head of the Austrian Football Association. Luckily for Hogan, Meisl was desperate. The Austrian team were floundering and Meisl was frustrated at what he believed to be a good crop of players who were underachieving. Hogan was brought in with one goal in mind, prepare Austria for the 1916 Olympics, which were to be held in Berlin, and give the Austrians the best chance to win a gold medal. Jimmy moved to Austria with the hope of doing something great. Sadly politics got in the way. 1914 to 1918 marked the outbreak of the First World War.
The 1916 Berlin Olympics were cancelled, but more seriously for Hogan, he found himself stuck in what was ‘enemy territory’. Within days of the first shots of the war, Hogan was arrested as a foreign national. Negotiations began to return him to Great Britain. It looked like Jimmy’s stint of the continent would be brief but fate soon intervened.
Hearing of Hogan’s predicament, Baron Dirstay, the British vice-president of MTK, a club based in Budapest club employed Hogan as a coach. It was a win win. Jimmy would avoid the POW Camp and MTK would have a talented man at the helm. Hogan soon found himself enchanted with flowing style of football played at MTK. Rather than change their mode of play, Jimmy made simple changes. Tactical awareness was combined with flowing football. The results were devastating. MTK picked up two titles in quick succession in 1917 and 1918. The Hungarian Club was lauded across Central Europe for their exciting brand of football. When hostilities ended in 1918, Hogan returned to Great Britain brimming with ideas for how to change British football.
Unfortunately for Jimmy, few cared. Hogan was viewed with suspicion. Norman Fox, a biographer of Hogan’s career explained the situation thusly,
‘When the war ended he returned to England and was told that men who had suffered financially as a result of the war could claim £200 from the FA. He was almost destitute but when he went to London the secretary, Francis Wall, opened a cupboard and offered him a pair of khaki socks. “We sent these to the boys at the front and they were grateful.” The unsubtle message was: “Traitor”.’
Unsurprisingly Hogan was furious and left England once more. This time his destination was Switzerland. Once there, Jimmy spent several years working with Young Boys Berne before making his way back to MTK once more. In 1925, he moved across the border to Germany to take up the reigns at SC Dresden. Once there, Hogan became a footballing Guru. He toured the region giving lectures to German clubs, instructing players and coaches alike. Upon Hogan’s death in 1974, his son received an unexpected letter from the German FA describing Hogan as “the father of modern football in Germany.
As the political situation in Germany became increasingly hostile, Hogan returned to Austria to work with Hugo Meisl once more. This was the period of the Austrian Wunderteam, when players like Matthias Sindelar effortlessly commanded games. Similar to his time with MTK, Hogan didn’t attempt to change the Wunderteam, only improve it. Employing a defensive version of the W-M formation, Hogan gave a strong backbone to the flowing Austrian side. The formation’s debut came against England in December 1932 and although Austria lost the game 4-3, the British media was captivated with the Austria’s mesmerizing style of play. As the ‘30s progressed, Austria improved dramatically, thrilling fans with their quick pass and move game. During the 1934 World Cup, the Wunderteam made it to the the semi-final where they lost to eventual winners Italy. For Hogan it was confirmation once more that his style of management worked.
In 1934 Hogan decided to return once more to England. This time he would take up the reigns at Second Division club Fulham. Within a year however, he had left London for Aston Villa. There he stayed for four seasons with mixed results. Relegations and promotions again and again. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Hogan retired from management. Although he remained active in later years as a youth coach, he had withdrawn from the footballing arena.
During his career on the continent, Jimmy Hogan helped revolutionise the game of football in Holland, Hungary, Germany and Austria. He wandered Europe’s Leagues with a desire to improve and revolutionise the game. Whilst his name may not be etched in English footballing folklore, he is fondly remembered elsewhere. Misunderstood by his own nation, Jimmy Hogan came back to haunt the English FA when in 1953, the Mighty Magyars showed what a Hogan style of football could achieve. He may not have won the most silverware but in terms of influence, Jimmy has a rightful claim to be England’s greatest ever manager.
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.