The 25th November 1953 was English football’s anagnorisis. Amidst the fog that enveloped Wembley Stadium that day, Walter Winterbottom’s England team were taught an emphatic lesson in technique, in style and in tactical proficiency. The sense of superiority the English had harboured throughout the first half of the twentieth century was exposed as unfounded pomposity by the Hungarians who, with goals from Nándor Hidegkuti (3), Ferenc Puskás (2) and József Bozsik, tore England’s rigid W-M formation apart with a mesmerising display of synchronised ability. The game finished 6-3 to the visitors and English sporting narcissism lay ruined on the heavy North London turf.
After the game, as the president of the Hungarian FA, Sandor Barcs, spoke to assorted journalists he made a comment that surprised swathes of the English press, “Jimmy Hogan taught us everything we know about football.” The diminutive Lancastrian may have been labelled a traitor by his own FA for spending the vast majority of his coaching career abroad, but his impact on the continent in terms of tactical and instructive development was unparalleled. It is often said that Brian Clough was the best manager England never had; in reality it was Jimmy Hogan.
Born in Nelson just north of Burnley in 1882, Hogan lived through football’s fastest and most significant period of development and became hooked by the game at a young age. Hogan embarked on a playing career with Rochdale Town in 1902, quickly coming to be known as a talented inside forward of some repute. Spells at Burnley and Nelson followed before he moved south to join Fulham, reaching the FA Cup semi-finals with The Cottagers in 1908 before leaving for Swindon Town and, finally, Bolton Wanderers.
A meticulous, obsessive character, Hogan is reported to have had a consuming desire for self-improvement, his extensive fitness regime and the onus he placed on conditioning being remarkably rare for a time when formalised training was generally frowned upon. This compulsion to achieve excellence at all costs would serve Hogan well during what would become a distinguished coaching career, his drive to succeed feeding and shaping the talent of the players who had the privilege of learning from his studied insight and motivation.
During his time as a player at Bolton, Hogan had already begun his delve into the world of coaching, returning to the Netherlands after a summer tour to the country in 1910 to “teach them how to play”. He may only have spent a short amount of time there, but Hogan impressed sufficiently to be allowed to take charge of the Dutch national team for a game and is credited with sowing the seeds of a greater professionalism and more advanced tactical and technical thinking in Holland. Indeed, the Lancastrian is thought of by some as the true father of Total Football, the inspiration to Jack Reynolds and Rinus Michels who made the style famous with Ajax.
Having eventually hung up his boots in 1913, Hogan set about looking for full-time coaching work and was put in touch with Hugo Meisl, the head of the Austrian Football Association. Meisl, frustrated at what he perceived to be the underachievement of the Austrian national team, had been looking for a coach to raise the level of technical ability amongst the players and it was Hogan who was recommended to him. Hogan moved to Austria and linked up with Meisl ahead of the 1916 Olympics in Berlin, his brief being to give the Austrians the best possible opportunity to win gold in Germany.
However, with the outbreak of the First World War, Hogan’s ambitions of Olympic glory evaporated as the games were cancelled. The cancellation of the Olympics was not the only logistical problem that the start of the conflict caused for Hogan, he also found himself stuck in Austria-Hungary when the violence began, an Englishman in the middle of ‘enemy’ territory. Days later he was arrested as a foreign national, negotiating passage back to the United Kingdom for his wife and children in March 1915 while he was rescued by the intervention of the British vice-president of Budapest club MTK, Baron Dirstay, who took Hogan on as coach in order to prevent him being taken to a prisoner of war camp.
Enchanted with the stylish, flowing way in which football was played in Central Europe, Hogan didn’t attempt to change the philosophy of his players at MTK, but rather made gradual improvements to their tactical understanding and technical proficiency. Hogan’s methodology reaped great rewards, MTK winning the 1917 and 1918 titles playing widely lauded football under his stewardship before he eventually headed back to Britain following the conclusion of hostilities in Europe.
His time in Hungary may have been relatively fleeting, but it is Hogan’s philosophy and methods that are held to be the blueprint for the great Hungarian side of the 1950s, the Mighty Magyars who inflicted that painful defeat on England in the bitter winter of 1953. The thoughtful ethos of short passing and fast movement off the ball was one which stuck with Hungarian football for several generations, an aesthetic style that Hogan had championed. He was a true footballing revolutionary.
On his return home Hogan was treated extremely poorly by an English FA that viewed him with great suspicion and refused to listen to his ideas. As Norman Fox described in a Guardian piece from 2003:
‘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”.’
Incensed, Hogan departed him homeland once again, moving to Switzerland where he spent several years with Young Boys Berne before returning to MTK and then joining SC Dresden in Germany in 1925. Hogan toured German clubs on lecture tours, instructing players and coaches alike in tactical philosophies and When we think of Hogan his time in Germany is not what first spring to mind, but such was the impression that he left that, on his death in 1974, his son received a letter from the German Football Federation describing him as “the father of modern football in Germany”. Hogan’s singular influence on European football simply cannot be overestimated.
At the start of the 1930s, as the political situation in Germany became increasingly concerning, Hogan returned to Austria to work once again with his old friend Hugo Meisl. With the likes of the great Matthias Sindelar in the side, the Austrians undoubtedly had the talent to achieve great things but seemed to suffer from a crippling naivety and lack of self-confidence. It was Hogan who instilled the tactical intelligence that the side was lacking, employing a defensive yet fluid version of the W-M formation that was given its first outing against England at Stamford Bridge in December 1932. Austria may have lost that game 4-3, but the British press eulogised about the visitors, flooding newsprint with words praising the Austrian’s exceptional passing football and evidently superior technical ability. It was a defeat, but the legend of Hogan and Meisl’s Austrian Wunderteam had been born.
Throughout the 1930s Austria thrilled Europe with the quick pass-and-move game that had been impressed upon them by Hogan, a style which instigated an ideological shift across much of the continent and, alongside the work of Herbert Chapman in England, gave tactics a far more elevated standing within the game.
During the 1934 World Cup the Wunderteam, with Hogan’s adaptation of the W-M which was founded on the freedom of movement and extra creativity given to the centre-half, reached the semi-finals before losing to Italy. Meisl’s team by all accounts played a beautiful brand of football that directed their collective artistry towards the end of victory in a manner never seen before.
By 1934, however, Hogan had departed Austria was back in England coaching his old club Fulham in the Second Division. He moved on to manage Aston Villa a year later, staying in the Midlands for four years with mixed results (there was both relegation from the top-flight and then promotion back to it) before deciding to call time of his formal managerial career. He remained in the game as a youth coach for several years afterwards, watching the game develop from afar, the fruits of his labour taking shape.
Hogan may not be the most successful manager in terms of weight of silverware, but he is without doubt the most important individual figure there has ever been with regard to the professional and theoretical development of football. Hogan represents the developmental genesis of the game, the catalyst from which sprung the vast majority of modern ideas surrounding tactics, technique and physical conditioning. Without Hogan’s ingenuity we would likely not have had the Wunderteam or the Mighty Magyars, we may not have seen other great managers that developed his ideas such as the great Bela Guttman.
Without Jimmy Hogan football simply wouldn’t be the tactically diverse, organised and professional game it is today. He was a wandering footballing prophet and his ideas remain enshrined as the alpha of modern football. In my mind, there is no manager who deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time more than James “Jimmy” Hogan.