Ashley Hyne, author of Jimmy Hogan: The Greatest Football Coach Ever? discusses his latest book, his thoughts on a coaching legend, and the myths that surround Hogan’s lengthy career in the limelight…

This biography challenges the understanding of what we know of Hogan and examines him afresh. It seeks to present Hogan not from the prism of positive bias but to objectively assess his faults, failures and successes and leaves open the question as to whether Jimmy Hogan really was the Greatest Coach Ever?

The Mystery of Jimmy Hogan

I am not sure whether the lecture I am due to give the International Football Conference to be held in Edinburgh this July is going to go ahead what with the current flu outbreak.

I have a plan in mind as to what to talk about. I don’t suffer stage fright: I won’t need notes. But even so my fear is that it won’t be sexy enough for the audience and so may revert to a tried and trusted talk about a peculiarity about George Raynor.

The talk I was going to give was about Jimmy Hogan. He was a famous football coach who worked in Europe between 1910 and 1936 and thereafter in England. I was going to talk about his relationship with the press. And then I suddenly realised that in this there was a definite link between Hogan and Raynor.

Hogan is a fascinating character. But after four years of studying him, I can’t say that I’m as impressed as some others are. Or rather I should qualify that. I’m not impressed by Hogan in the way others are.

You see, Jimmy Hogan cannot be categorised as one of the great successful managers in football history and neither can he be said to have introduced some innovative tactical plan. As a coach he was not considered brilliant by all. There was dispute about his methods in Austria in 1912, in Dresden in 1926, at Fulham in 1934 and Stanley Rous was famously dismissive of him in his autobiography when referring to Hogan’s work in 1935.

His coaching methods were certainly aided by the quality of the players he trained. It’s easy to coach great players; for the role of the coach is feed a hunger. If the hunger is not there, no matter how great the coach, the players won’t respond.

Which raises the questions: Why is Hogan famous, why study him?

And they are important questions. Bill Bryson once talked about Truman Capote in hilariously dismissive terms. ‘If you tell enough people, enough times how great you are, in the end, they will believe you’. And so it can be said to be the case with Jimmy Hogan. Hogan is famous because Hogan wrote his own history. He placed himself in history.

Hogan was the first footballer to realise how he could manage the press. During his playing career (c. 1900-1910) there were footballers who flirted with publishers but yet they were very straight-laced in their relationship with them. I can easily reel off four Victorian players whose autobiographies are all entitled Association Football.

And they’re pretty standard text books. The lion share of them is made up of describing positional responsibilities and the latter section devoted to a few personal recollections from their career. They’re not the autobiographies that we have come to understand by the word (Paul Merson’s How Not to Be a Professional Footballer lay far off into an unknown future): these are manuals for students of the game.

What the early players were getting out of their relationships with the publishers was nothing more than a fee prior to publication. There does not appear to be the realisation that the press could offer you more than money. That is where Hogan diverges from his contemporaries.

In 1908 he was playing for Swindon Town. He had only been there five games or so before he realised that his contract was going to be cancelled. The club had just chanced upon Harold Fleming, a player who would become a legend at the County Ground; the greatest inside right in their history.

Hogan had read an article in Athletic News which wrongly stated how many goals he had scored at Swindon. And he wrote to the News to correct the story, using the opportunity to raise his profile in order to find work up in his home county of Lancashire.

The plan worked: he secured a contract with Bolton. And from that moment on there is an alignment between Hogan and the press. Hogan being more than willing to voice his opinions to achieve one aim or other; always to his advantage. And this served him incredibly well as he secured well-contract after well-paid contract in Europe.

When he went overseas (first getting a contract in Holland in 1910) he did so ambivalently. The money and the work was there, but his primary aim was always to work in England. The problem was that there wasn’t a coaching ‘industry’ in England. So Hogan went about creating one.

Prior to this ex-professionals, paid about a quid per week by the clubs to act solely as a bucket man, undertook the role of a ‘trainer’. Their role was more than wiping a gashed knee with a rag and some dirty water during the game or offering some advice to the younger players during the week but it wasn’t infinitely more than that.

What Hogan (and a lot of ex-players) had discovered was that in Europe two factors were apparent. First, clubs were willing to pay quite handsomely to have a British professional come and teach them how to kick the football. And second, Europeans were happy to be taught. This threw into relief the prevailing and sustained attitudinal difference between Continentals and the British. Continentals learn by tuition, British learn by exercise.

When Hogan went to Budapest in the mid-1920s to renew his association with the MTK club. He had lived an up and down existence in Switzerland before this and within weeks of his arrival at MTK, the club’s star player, Gyorgy Orth would suffer a career-ending injury in a pre-season game against a Viennese side. That injury would put the kybosh on Hogan’s managerial reign in Hungary.

It was a tenuous existence for Hogan. Professionalism was sweeping across Europe as the American loans began to convert the economies of the old Empires. New owners wanted immediate success based on their outlays; they were not schooled in the deliberate approach English owners had adopted in England.

In those years, British clubs on close-season tours would travel across Europe; exhausted players emerging from Second Class train compartments to play the locals, and were sometimes given the run around by their hosts.

It wasn’t surprising that British players would adopt a lackadaisical nature in such surroundings; benefitting from a paid holiday and having minds more on buying gifts for the wife than committing time and thought to beating Johnny Foreigner.

But the truth did not serve Hogan’s purpose. Instead he used an interview from ‘Hodgson’ which appeared in the Liverpool Echo in September 1925 to set out how coaching; the type he was renown for, was the real reason why English sides were facing defeats so regularly.

He demonstrated to the writer a particular activity that was proving fruitful with his charges. Placing chairs in the middle of the pitch and having the players circumvent a course laid out whilst controlling the ball in a dribble. This at a time when British players were instructed to not train with the ball at all.

The English won’t believe it until it’s seen and so it was when Austria in 1932 appeared at Stamford Bridge to lose a titanic struggle against England 4-3. What the crowd and press had seen that day was an Austrian performance that was the result of coaching and training.

Hogan’s letters from overseas and the Austrian performance proved persuasive. He had, through, repetition become a household name: the go to man for anyone thinking of introducing coaching in England. Not from the basis that he was good at coaching but because he was the most widely known. Within 18 months of the Austrian defeat, Hogan was signing forms as Fulham’s trainer / manager. The first position of its kind in England.

One would have felt that Hogan was satisfied with his lot. A comfortable job in West London. Housed in a bankside suburb; his commute? A gentle stroll across Putney Bridge. But Hogan, by that stage, was convinced as to the benefits of broadcasting his opinions. Fulham were hardly world-beaters in those days, early in the 1934-35 season finding themselves in 10th spot; but Hogan chose to go on a speaking tour even so. Giving talks and interviews to the press about how ‘thick’ Second Division footballers were.

It wasn’t the most erudite of plans. Within two months, there was open mutiny at Fulham – the players weren’t impressed with Hogan’s methods – and while Hogan was recuperating from appendicitis the club sacked him. But the foundations had already been laid.

After getting the sack; the Football Association came calling and in the Summer of 1935 Jimmy Hogan was employed as the Chief Instructor at the FAs Coaching Course. This suited him down to the ground. In the mid-1930s, Europeans of all nations seemed to veer toward having men lead these social and sporting programmes: Hogan had picked up the ideology after spending 6 years in Germany.

So Hogan was able to cement a position in British football history that is almost unquestioned. Today’s football bloggers care little for in-depth research and more for their cheap opinions, promoting themselves by way of their scant knowledge and Hogan has been washed up in the tide, eulogised by people who have no idea what he did, only that whatever it was must have been good.

And all this comes from Hogan constantly promoting himself to earn his crust. But when it came to that he was a genius and decades ahead of his time.

Ashley Hyne is the author of Jimmy Hogan, the Greatest Football Coach ever? Published by Electric Blue, 2019.
978-0995539655