Ken Jones: Hero of the billboards who put football before money

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The Independent Online

The Friday lunch date Johnny Haynes keeps with friends he has made since moving to Edinburgh 20 years ago will have special significance tomorrow. It falls 48 hours before Haynes reaches his 70th birthday. Reminding us of the relentless passage of time, it is another nudge from mortality.

The Friday lunch date Johnny Haynes keeps with friends he has made since moving to Edinburgh 20 years ago will have special significance tomorrow. It falls 48 hours before Haynes reaches his 70th birthday. Reminding us of the relentless passage of time, it is another nudge from mortality.

Because heroic fiction drives out heroic fact, the modern generation of football fans is left wondering what Haynes actually was like. To begin with, everything you have heard about Haynes on a football field is probably the truth or close to it; the accuracy of his passing, his positional sense, his eye for an opening. A perfectionist.

Haynes's career, however, was one of the most contradictory in the history of British football. With the lifting of the maximum wage in 1961, he became the country's first £100-a-week player; he was one of the first to be represented by an agent for advertising purposes; 22 of 56 appearances for England were made as captain, 32 as a Second Division player with his only club, Fulham. And yet when Haynes left English football in 1970 to play for Durban in South Africa he didn't have an honour to his name.

When we spoke earlier this week, Haynes held no regrets. "I suppose things could have worked out differently," he said, "but I was happy at Fulham and playing for them didn't affect my international career so there didn't seem to be much point in moving elsewhere, although if the maximum wage hadn't been lifted I'd have gone to Italy. Not that I've ever bothered much about money. The game was the thing. I just loved playing. I don't envy the wages in football today, just the perfect pitches and the ball. When I remember playing in ankle-deep mud and with the old leather balls I have to think that players today don't know they are born."

The £100-a-week salary made little difference to Haynes's lifestyle (a third of it went in tax) but as a client of Bagenal Harvey, the agent to whom he had been introduced by the cricketer Denis Compton, he appeared on advertising hoardings promoting Brylcreem, his smoothly-oiled hair offered as a symbol for the smart young man of the day. "Frankly, it embarrassed me," he said. "I didn't own a car so travelling around by Underground and bus I was always seeing those pictures of myself."

Advances in treatment of injuries also come to his mind. In August 1962, shortly after the World Cup in Chile where his form had been poor, Haynes was involved in a car accident that caused serious damage to the cruciate ligament in his right knee. He was out for a year and was even told by some doctors he would never play again. "It's still a bad injury to get," he added, "but with today's techniques, players have a much greater chance of getting back their mobility. For me it was a big struggle and I was, more, or less, playing on one leg."

This didn't deter the Tottenham manager, Bill Nicholson, from identifying Haynes as a possible replacement for the club's brilliant Scottish international inside-forward John White, who was and killed by lightning on a golf course in July 1964. Nicholson offered Fulham £90,000 for the 30-year-old Haynes but the deal never went through. Ironically, it would have taken Edmonton-born Haynes to the club he was meant to join as a boy. "I went for Haynes because he was still one of the best midfield organisers in the game," Nicholson once told me. "There wasn't anyone in British football with more awareness. He always seemed to be two moves ahead and have a clear picture of everything that was going on around him."

Nobody was more alert to those qualities than Alf Ramsey, who didn't completely write off Haynes until his second year as manager of the national team. George Cohen remembers Ramsey asking him about Haynes (he played a further 236 games for Fulham after returning from injury). "Alf was still experimenting with his midfield, and he asked me about John, how well he was doing week in and week out. Considering the severity of his injury, I thought John was playing exceptionally well. Alf had been to one or two of our games. 'I don't think he'll ever be properly fit again,' he said. Contrary to what some people have written in the past, Alf never held anything against John Haynes."

Such were the vagaries of Haynes's career. Had the Manchester United accident in 1958 not robbed England of such notable talents as Duncan Edwards ("a phenomenal player"), Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor, he might have played in a World Cup final. But for the car crash he might have played many more times for England, adapting his game to cope with the change in defensive formations, answering the charge that his style of play had become obsolete. A move to Spurs might have provided the honours that eluded him.

Little of this crosses Haynes's mind. It was all for the love of the game.

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