CHRIS SMITH tells the story of the Austrian visionary and his innovative English contemporary who shaped football for generations that followed. This article appears in Issue 2 of The Football Pink magazine.
“We played football as Jimmy Hogan taught us. When our football history is told, his name should be written in letters”.
Some names in football reverberate through the ages. Others, even now, in these information-saturated times are practically forgotten. History is told by the winners and sometimes not even then. To some, Jimmy Hogan was the greatest English coach there ever was, to the proud English FA, a “traitor”. England’s loss, Europe’s gain. Rejected by his homeland, Hogan found solace in the progressive ambitions of Austrian FA General Secretary, national manager and referee, Hugo Meisl. Together both men changed European football forever.
The Four Englishmen of Vienna
On November 1st, 1881, Meisl was born to Jewish parents in Bohemia. Soon after, the family moved to Vienna. Early sporting yearnings were tempered by paternal practicality, and so, as a young man, he balanced qualifying as a professional referee and amateur football with Vienna Cricket and Football Club (Cricketer) with a Laenderbank clerk job. Aged 25, Meisl took up an administrative role within the Austrian FA’s fundraising department; a foot in the door that represented the first step of a pioneering journey which left footprints throughout the football landscape. Connections included our first two Englishmen: John Gramlick Snr, an ex-pat plumbing company owner who co-founded Cricketer in 1894 before creating Europe’s first interleague competitive tournament, the Challenge Cup, three years later; and Mark Nicholson, an 1892 FA Cup winner with West Bromwich Albion, who provisionally established the Austro-Hungarian FA in 1898. As the Englishmen imparted the professional habits of their ancestral football homeland upon 19th century Vienna, Meisl in particular reaped the benefits.
Right place, right timism is a handy knack in football. Meisl was the accidental master. In 1897, as football began to take over his life, Gramlick founded the Challenge Cup. Although the inaugural edition invited teams from throughout Austria-Hungary, its claim as the European Cup’s genesis is qualified by the exclusive participation of teams from Vienna, four in total with Cricketer routing First Vienna Football Club 7-0 in the final. Following the successful tour of Oxford University side, Oxonians, in 1899, Meisl worked closely with FA secretary Frederick Wall to secure an Austro-Hungarian tour for two of England’s best sides, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, in 1905. For the princely sum of £600 each, both clubs faced five Austro-Hungarian sides – including Slavia and Sparta Prague (both supposedly unbeatable on the continent), Cricketer, First Vienna and an Austria XI – before taking on each other in two prestige encounters. The English contingent scored a combined 69 goals for the concession of just 11 whilst Everton, to the delight of the enraptured Austrian public, claimed unexpected 2-0 and 1-0 victories over Spurs. The tour’s resounding success proved Meisl’s credentials. Just weeks later, Austria joined FIFA in a move so significant it coaxed the English national team abroad for the first time ever.
In 1908, Meisl and Austrian FA President, Adolf Wallner, convinced the FA committee – which governed the England side – to peek its proud head over the fence into Europe. England played their first four away games abroad between June 6th-13th, 1908, against Austria (twice), Hungary and Bohemia. The visitors won 6-1, 11-1, 7-0 and 4-0 respectively, affirming, albeit ultimately misleadingly, their crème-de-la-football-crème status. Meisl refereed the third match of the tour, testament to his growing status as an official, status which facilitated the acquaintance of our third Englishman, James Howcroft. Redcar-born referee Howcoft cut his teeth in the Cleveland junior leagues before gaining the reputation and contacts to officiate abroad. After Howcroft officiated a pre-Olympics 1-1 draw between Austria and Hungary in May, 1912, Meisl invited his respected friend’s suggestions. Howcroft was reminded of two years previously when Dordrecht of Holland had similarly approached him. Both times, Howcroft had just one coach in mind, our fourth and most important Englishman: the ghost of English football, Jimmy Hogan.
Total Football and War
Hogan toured Holland with Bolton Wanderers in the summer of 1910. After helping his side thrash Dordrecht 10-0, the inside-forward jokingly vowed to “go back and teach those fellows how to play properly”. When Howcroft made his pitch, the coincidence was irresistible. Hogan took the job. His short spell is memorable for a 2-1 victory over Germany having been afforded control of the Dutch national team, but much more importantly, sowing the seeds of Total Football. After decades of charge and rush, thump and wallop, hit and hope, and blood and glory, Hogan’s Scottish-influenced keeping it on the carpet football represented an evolutionary shift towards brain over brawn. Ball control, positional flexibility, tactical intelligence – all nurtured through professional daily training – heavily influenced the move towards professionalism in Holland, which under fellow Englishman, Jack Reynolds, at Ajax some years later flourished into the now symbolic Dutch style. Meisl was impressed with all Howcroft had told him and arranged a meeting immediately. As ever, the timing couldn’t have been better.
One year previously, Meisl had created Austria’s first official league to give the country’s football substance, now here all of a sudden was Hogan offering a captivating vision of style. With the 1912 Olympics in mind (an Olympics in which Meisl refereed), a short-term deal was agreed. Hogan, the Burnley-born idealist, set to work on his second national project. Little did anyone know, that idealist would change football forever, becoming arguably Europe’s most influential tactical innovator and his homeland’s most haunting regret. Two months after signing on, Hogan’s Austria-Hungary resoundingly beat Germany 5-1 in the first round – his second international match and second victory over the Germans. A 3-1 defeat to Holland ended any medal hopes but Meisl’s offer of a new contract until the 1916 Olympics – which arrived after a reference request from the German FA – granted Hogan a second chance. A chance the First World War would deny.
Hogan began intensively working with Meisl’s national side and many of Austria’s top clubs. Together, the two men began Austria’s most developmental era, which would eventually yield the country’s only notable achievements to date. Just two years into their joint venture however, Austria was at war. The assassination of heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, provoked an Austrian invasion of Serbia, and when the ensuing conflict accelerated Anglo-German tension, the First World War broke out across Europe. Meisl began a five-year tour of duty, whilst Hogan was later imprisoned under suspicion of being a British spy. Similarly, Reynolds, who had just accepted an offer to coach Germany, found the terms of acceptance impossible. England’s two greatest coaches, rejected by their homeland, now rejected by the enemy. Reynolds moved to Ajax to begin his revolution whilst Meisl and Hogan, shackled by the processes of war, also remained in work; Meisl led the national side through right-hand man Heinrich Retschury; Hogan, via the intervention of Cambridge-educated Baron Dirstay, began coaching MTK Budapest in between regular check-ins at the local police station.
Trophies and Socks
The patriotic post-war cauldron of Austria-Hungary cultivated mass desire for individual identity and global legitimacy. As the empire crumbled, new nations stepped out of the shadow – Czechoslovakia, the Kingdom of Serbs and most pertinently, Austria and Hungary. Football became an autonomic tool, a physical means to a spiritual end. After the war, Meisl regained full control of the national team, a position he held for 28 years until his death. Five years into his tenure, Meisl’s impact was evident. Between 1902 and 1923, Austria played 81 times against nine opponents. Yet the 15-month period that followed saw Austria face 12 different sides consecutively. Club football became professional with a two-tier league system for the first time. Most enduringly however, Meisl created two tournaments so competitively and dramatically well-balanced that they live on now as two of football’s three premier tournaments, with the notable honour of influencing the third. On March 21, 1927, as Meisl drew up the rules for the Mitropa Cup, he laid the competitive blueprint for the European Cup – qualification through domestic finish, knock-out home and away ties, only professional teams could enter. In the same year, Meisl helped instigate the Central Europe International Cup, precursor to the European Championship.
The 1927 Mitropa Cup featured champions from Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. After seven matches and 64 goals, Sparta Prague, managed by Scottish, ex-Woolwich Arsenal centre-back John Dick, defeated Rapid Vienna in the final. Three years later, Yugoslavian representation was replaced by Genoa and Giuseppe Meazza-led AS Ambrosiana (Inter Milan) from the newly-founded Serie A in Italy. Just the 59 goals this time around, four of which were scored by Rapid to Sparta’s three in the final as the Austrians gained revenge. However, it was Meazza’s Italy who, six months earlier, had made the bigger splash in international waters. May 11, 1930, marked the final game of the inaugural Central European International Cup (CEIC) which began in 1927. Meazza hit a hat-trick, the first three of five as Italy beat Hungary 5-0 to become Europe’s first ever international champions. Austria had begun the campaign with three defeats in four games, rendering four straight subsequent victories futile as Italy finished a point clear. Meisl’s motivation had always been to develop and showcase Austria and here were their greatest rivals of the day Italy, managed by one of his good friend, Vittorio Pozzo, stealing his thunder.
Just as in 1927-8 when Austria’s first four games had cost them the title, the 1931 CEIC began disappointingly. Defeat to Italy (Meazza again) and a draw with Czechoslovakia left Austria with three points from three games and Meisl facing a test of faith. His solution was found in majestic attacker Matthias Sindelar, a footballer so uniquely gifted he earned the monikers ‘Der Papierene’ – ‘the Paper-man’, ‘The Mozart of Football’ and least poetically of all ‘The Pele of the Interwar Years’. Goalkeeper Rudi Hiden and ball-playing centre-half Josef Smistik drew regular acclaim but Sindelar became the Wunderteam’s star. After the 2-1 defeat to Italy, Austria amassed a run of 14 games unbeaten including dominant victories over most of Europe’s top sides – Scotland (5-0), Germany (6-0 in Berlin, 5-0 in Vienna), Switzerland (8-1) and Hungary (8-2). The final match, a 3-1 Vienna victory over Switzerland, clinched the 1931 CEIC for Austria, a first and only international success. Next up for the new European champions was a trip to Stamford Bridge to face England, but for that Meisl required reinforcements; Hogan.
The Father of Modern Football
Hogan marked the recommencement of the Hungarian league in 1916 by winning back-to-back titles with MTK Budapest – success tempered by the now four-year estrangement from his wife and children, sent back to England upon his arrest. In 1919, Hogan returned to England. Whilst working at Walker’s Tobacco factory in Everton, he borrowed £5 to travel to London and meet with FA secretary Wall to make a justified plea for a £200 allowance the FA had set aside for its war-affected personnel. The plea was rejected with contempt. Three insulting pairs of khaki socks as per “boys at the front” provisions, Wall’s sneering disregard, and that was that: Hogan left angrily for Europe, England had lost him again. Switzerland’s Young Boys Bern was his next destination, where matters followed a familiar pattern: success (1920 league title) and international recognition (working with FC Servette’s Teddy Duckworth and NC Nordstern Basel’s Dori Kurschner to prepare Switzerland for the 1924 Olympics). Switzerland’s silver medal, after being defeating 3-0 in the final to hosts Uruguay remains the country’s greatest football achievement, their 9-0 opening victory over Lithuania their biggest win. Hogan moved on to Germany’s SC Dresden where he lectured thousands of German footballers. This brief period of German enlightenment was so significant it was marked upon his 1974 death by a letter from German Football Federation secretary Hans Passlack to son Frank which proclaimed Hogan as “the father of modern football in Germany”.
Hogan worked ferociously to prepare Austria for the Stamford Bridge encounter but within half an hour, the Central Europeans were two down. As Austria floundered and lost their shape, the pre-1931 inferiority complex threatened to resurface. But Sindelar’s brilliance, first to create for Karl Zischek and then to finish well himself after England had added a third, was the catalyst for a fascinating encounter, one which evenly pitched the practiced force of the original against the nuance of the progressive second wave. Blackpool’s Jimmy Hampson added his second and England’s fourth before Zischek matched the feat with five minutes remaining. Eventually, England held on, or more accurately, Austria fell short, but nonetheless drew widespread admiration from the English press. As Hogan left again for Europe to coach RC Paris, Austria returned home for both the 1933/35 CEIC and 1934 World Cup as favourites. In both tournaments, defeat to eventual champions Italy destroyed Austria’s hopes of victory. Indeed, when Hogan returned to Austria for a third and final time to coach them at the 1936 Olympics, again it was the Italians who beat them in the final, Austria’s only ever major tournament final. As Italy’s asserted dominance robbed the Wunderteam of their status, consolidation of European power of a different kind threatened their existence.
The largely Jewish Austrian team were among those most at risk as new German Chancellor and Führer, Adolf Hilter, effected mass expansionism, invasion and extermination of the Jewish population. The magical Sindelar, a vocal rejecter of the 1938 Anschluss-enforced change to Austria, was found dead in his apartment. But before one of European football’s most important lives could be savaged by the horror of the Final Solution, the beautiful game itself provided Meisl’s long-desired fitting ending. On May 6, 1936, Austria defeated England 2-1 in Vienna. Meisl’s mission was complete. The recognition of progress and ultimately superiority he’d dreamt of and obsessed over throughout his career was felt, albeit temporarily, after that victory. Four games and 10 months later, Meisl died of a heart-attack aged 55. Hogan, who had by this time returned Aston Villa to the top flight after a first ever relegation in 1936, was to score his own moral victory over the English almost two decades later. In 1953, Gusztáv Sebes’ Mighty Magyars of Hungary turned up at Wembley for what would become English football’s watershed moment. A mesmerising attack of Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis, József Bozsik and Nándor Hidegkuti annihilated England with the 6-3 score line flattering the defeated hosts. The visitors’ team was drawn mainly from Budapest Honvéd and MTK Budapest, where Hogan’s combined eight years had been seminal in that country’s 1950 Golden Era. After the match, Sebes declared “We played football as Jimmy Hogan taught us. When our football history is told, his name should be written in letters”. Sebes was of course referring to Hungary, although for the opposite reason and to a greater extent, the same will forever be true of England.
CHRIS SMITH – @cdsmith789