A name that has unfortunately been lost in the mists of time, regularly overshadowed by those who followed in his footsteps, Jack Reynolds is arguably one of the most important figures in the history of twentieth century European football.
The Englishman – who enjoyed 27 golden years as the coach of Ajax – began his career in rather more modest surrounds, hopping between lower league clubs such as Burton United, Grimsby Town and New Brompton at the turn of the century but never being considered as anything more than a mediocre player.
Following the conclusion of his playing career in 1911, Reynolds took up his first managerial position a year later with the Swiss club St Gallen. Unfortunately information as to how St Gallen got on under Reynolds’ stewardship was hard to come by, but from looking at a history of the Swiss league it’s clear that they neither won the league nor were relegated. In any case, Reynolds must have done fairly well as, in 1914, he was invited to coach the German national team, an offer he accepted with relish only to have to be prevented from taking up the role following the outbreak of the First World War.
Having put his international management ambitions on hold, Reynolds moved to the Netherlands where he was appointed by Ajax a year later in 1915. During his first spell in Amsterdam – which lasted a full ten years – the relatively inexperienced coach began to build his reputation as he put in place the infrastructure that was required to found Ajax’s now world-renowned youth academy. Demonstrating a philosophy and a set of methods radical for the time, Reynolds ensured that all age group teams at the club were coached in the same tactics and style of play, a continuity for which Amsterdam’s biggest club would become famed.
Having left Ajax to coach city rivals Blauw-Wit in 1925, Reynolds returned to de Godenzonen three years later and won five league titles in twelve years before the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1940. During those years before the invasion Reynolds had begun to instigate in his team a style and an ethos that would later come to be recognised as the forerunner to the “Total Football” of Michels and Cruyff, the most notable feature of which being Reynolds’ introduction of wingers, a position that had never before been seen in Dutch football. As David Winner points out in his book Brilliant Orange, Reynolds’ Ajax were constantly praised for their “technically controlled game, ball skills and tactics”, the team playing with a style, elegance and efficiency far superior to any other club in the country.
Unfortunately the progress Ajax were making under Reynolds was interrupted by the war, the Englishman being taken as a POW by the Germans and incarcerated in an internment camp in Upper Silesia between 1940 and 1945.
However, following the conclusion of the war the coach returned to Amsterdam for his third spell with his adopted club, winning another title in 1947 before calling time on his footballing career.
He may not be a particularly widely known figure outside Amsterdam, but Reynolds’ influence on Dutch football and the history of Ajax cannot be overstated. His ultra-modern approach to management in an age still dominated by nineteenth century attitudes to football put in place the mechanisms and philosophies which would lead to Ajax’s domestic and continental dominance of the late sixties and early seventies.
Coaches that came later in the club’s history, most notably Vic Buckingham and Rinus Michels (who Reynolds coached briefly during the 1940s), may get more credit for the establishment of “Total Football”, but it is Jack Reynolds who deserves to be recognised as the true father of football’s most lauded of tactical and ideological systems.