Graham Kelly: Hogan years ahead of his time but shunned at home

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The Independent Football

My pride knew no bounds. Four of our players had been selected for the England team. It was unprecedented.

Little did this seven-year-old Blackpool fan realise 50 years ago this week that the England team containing Stan Matthews, Ernie Taylor, Stan Mortensen and Harry Johnston were facing a humiliating first home defeat, 6-3, by the magnificent Hungarians, who promptly dedicated their victory to an ageing coach who had learned his skills on rough ground just a short drive from where I was growing up.

Jimmy Hogan, whose story is told in Norman Fox's Prophet or Traitor? (Parrs Wood Press) had been sounding warnings about England's insularity and over-long reliance on strength and stamina virtually ever since he had left these shores to work as a 28-year-old coach to lay the foundations for Total Football in the Netherlands.

Hogan's devoutly Roman Catholic family moved to East Lancashire from Ireland in search of employment and Jimmy, one of 11 children, was born in 1882. The supreme ball skills that were to remain with him throughout his life were mastered on Burnley "rec."

As a teenager I heard many tales of exploits on these fabled fields - if such they could be termed - from Jimmy Flynn, the father of a friend, who had the habit, the more he convulsed himself with laughing at his own exaggerations, of beating the arm of his old chair until clouds of dust enveloped his sitting-room.

Hogan the player wandered through the midfields of the early days of the last century, good enough to score some goals and command a transfer fee not far short of the then £1,000 record paid by Middlesbrough for Alf Common, but it was as a coach that he enjoyed a stellar reputation across Europe. When he died in 1974, the German FA said he had been the founder of modern football in their country and they owed their ensuing results to him.

Hogan was way ahead of his time. When he worked in Austria in 1914 he recognised the value of a controlled diet by cutting down on meat and increasing fruit and vegetables.

He extolled the virtues of the passing game and individuality, believing not that the British were poor players, but that they were badly directed. While Hogan was warning that European standards were rising, early administrators such as the Football League vice-president Charles Sutcliffe thought the English could learn little from abroad, and Fifa and its World Cup were snubbed.

Despite the subsequent efforts of Stanley Rous and Walter Winterbottom to promote a coaching culture, it was too little, far too late, and the defeat by Hungary was merely one in a series of landmarks that included the defeat by the United States in the World Cup three years earlier, the attempt by the Football League to prevent Manchester United from entering the European Cup in 1957, and the crass statement emanating from the same source in 1973 that England's World Cup exit would be forgotten in six weeks.

Hogan spent two spells in Budapest, one for three years during the First War after he fled from Austria, and a further two years from 1925. He regarded the Hungarian capital as the most beautiful of cities and more than repaid the gifts its charm bestowed upon him by instilling into countless players of his club, MTK, the love of a flowing style of play that endeared them to generations and attracted admirers from all over Europe.

The renowned Austrian manager, Hugo Meisl, was a supporter of Hogan's work, and, when he brought his famous "Wunderteam" to play England in 1932 after an amazing 13-match unbeaten run, he invited him to act as trainer. England won 4-3, but not before witnessing an excellent passing display from their accomplished visitors.

Interestingly, the Austrians eschewed the defensive centre-half deployed by Herbert Chapman so successfully at Arsenal after the change to the offside law in 1925. Meisl and Hogan preferred rather to concentrate on versatility and offence for their success. Moreover, Chapman is thought to have been considering changing his system at the time of his sudden death from pneumonia in 1934.

Hogan always demanded that his teams pass the ball "on the carpet" and he would sometimes bemuse them by saying, "We'll cut the grass with the ball." His main foray into English management was a more than decent spell at Aston Villa, which was cut short by the Second War. Despite a sceptical board, Hogan used a midfield centre-half to win the Division Two title and reach the FA Cup semi-final in his second season playing some attractive football. He had practised what he always preached: he had placed imagination at the very top of his agenda.

Hogan also advocated mandatory qualifications for managers and coaches, but England has taken more than fifty years to introduce them.