Four years of study of Jimmy Hogan’s life has taught me that Jimmy Hogan is the great mystery man of British football. All those who know who he is don’t really know what he did and that has led to the most bizarre understandings as to his impact and what he was about. Hogan has been served well by history because he wrote his own, but he’s not been well-served by historians who have shown themselves for what they are. In Hogan’s case, he was poorly served first by Norman Fox who wrote a biography of him in 2002. This set the tone for the enduring confusion about Hogan and then a succession of other writers all blindly followed Fox’s lead.

What I want to do in this article is set out common misunderstandings about Hogan so that the reader can place Hogan properly within the history of the game. It is probably best, therefore, to start with a list of misunderstandings and then to set out explanations as to what the real case was. Then I want to set out what Hogan did do and why that makes him incredibly important. So Hogan was:

  • Not the first football coach
  • Not the father of total football
  • Not the father of Hungarian, Austrian and Brazilian football
  • Partly responsible for the first formal football coaching programme.

Hogan was not the first coach in football.

The first football coach is lost to history but you would not be far wrong if you were to argue that it was Bob Holmes, one of the Old Invincibles at Preston. Holmes coached for many years at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, following his retirement from the game, and then undertook a number of roles on the continent and in Britain. Holmes had acquired his interest in the technical stuff at Deepdale in the 1880s where the playing staff would gather around a blackboard and draw up ideas that could be debated and put into practice on match days.

A few years ago sporting talk was all about ‘marginal gains’ as a rejection against the standardisation of theory and practice but between the 1880s and the 1950s there were substantial gains to be made out of review and basic analysis in sport and that was thoroughly vindicated, in one instance, when Preston stormed to the top of the tree in the 1888-89 season laying all their opponents to waste. Holmes was not hugely successful as a coach; after all it takes more than scientific ideas to coax and cajole, but he was widely travelled and worked at MTK prior to Hogan in the early 1910s.

Hogan was not the father of Total Football

Some historians have tried to associate Hogan with the Hungarians of 1953 and then by that reason with the Dutch of 1974 which is weird really because none of those had anything to do with each other at all. What I try to do in the Hogan biography is set out what was classed as third man theory. That is a way of playing the game that was actually not used by the Dutch but was employed by the Hungarians to manoeuvre the antiquated defences of the 1950s out of position. Third man theory worked against the English at Wembley in 1953 because English footballers were demonstrating that old class-ridden ethic of doing as they were bloody well told (i.e. the left back’s ‘job’ is to mark the outside right, etc). It’s true that on the continent the Hungarians were encountering challenges to their methodologies; the most famous example of that being when Sweden came within a crossbar of beating the Magyars in November 1953 in Budapest (see my biography of George Raynor). In that match, instead of assigning players to mark opponents, the Swedes adopted zonal marking and that ruined the party for the Hungarians.

In the 1950s, what the Hungarians were playing was a fluid form of attack; they were not playing total football at all. Hidegkuti might capture the imagination but what was much more effective for Hungary’s style of play was the play of Czibor and Budai in that both could play on either wing. What made that effective for the Hungarians were two things. One: man-to-man marking meant that defenders would not track across to pick up their player if the opponent drifted across field, this potentially left the door open on one side of the field. Two: the Hungarians played and developed deep-lying attacks, meaning that cross-field movement could enable a left-sided attacker to find himself in acres of space behind an advanced defence trying to stop a right-side attack (or vice versa). This is all set out in the Hogan biography.

However, a fluid form of attack was nothing to do with Hogan. The tactical idea behind that fluidity was the work of Kalocsai and Bukovi and Sebes, etc, etc. Hogan played no part in that whatsoever. He taught the Hungarians how to properly master control of the ball but that within itself does not fluid football make. After all, just because I buy the paintbrushes for Picasso doesn’t mean I can get my name on the bottom of his pictures. What Hogan did do was coach MTK in the late 1910s and for one ill-fated season in 1925-26 and as a result of that laid down the programme of activities that the players had to follow to hone their technical (not tactical) skills for years to come. The tactical initiatives were formulated by Sebes, et al, but they were ideas gathered from anywhere and everywhere. Norman Bullock was playing a withdrawn centre-forward role in the 1920s and that idea was promoted in Europe by Raynor with Sweden in the 1940s. This idea was adopted by Bukovi. So, really, Hungary’s football was a successful blend of international ideas garnered from here and there.

If someone is saying to me that the Hungarians played total football then I would argue that that person’s interpretation of total football is different to mine. Total football, if we can set down a definition, is the concept by which players putatively adopt all-round responsibilities. Forwards become defenders, etc. The fact remains that it’s just a concept; it’s unobtainable. Don’t let anyone tell you that the Dutch played total football in the 1970s because, in truth, they couldn’t. The Dutch side was fairly fluid in their approach to the game, sure; but Rijsbergen and van Hanegam never led the attack, and Cruijff never played as a sweeper. Beckenbauer called it right after the World Cup Final in 1974 when he said words to the effect of ‘at its heart, all that theory was nothing but hot air but by the time everyone realised that, it was too late’.

If you really want to press me on who was the father of total football then I would say it’s Jimmy Jackson. Jackson, who was the cousin of the ill-fated by great cricketing artist Archie Jackson, was a professional football in Scotland and England around the turn of the 20th century but tellingly, before he returned to Britain from Australia, played Aussie Rules football as a ‘runner’. That is a position that sees a player offering support for defenders and attackers in the Rules game and when he played for Bradshaw at Woolwich Arsenal put that theory into practice with what was called ‘double cover’. Arsenal teammates of Jackson went to Europe to coach and therefore took his ideas with them and I would suggest that the idea of total football really emanated out of those ideas. Again this is in the biography.

Hogan was not the father of Hungarian, Austrian or Brazilian football

This statement (although the positive version) was first made by Jonathan Wilson in his Inverting the Pyramid. It’s a popular book is Pyramid but I read the section on Austrian football before the War and thought it was poor: it was more about personalities than tactics. And more than that I thought his historical analysis was pretty crap. Let me give you an example, as an aside, of what I mean.

Prior to 1925, Wilson would have you believe that the British played one style of football: the 2-3-5 formation. Wilson argues, that it was only with the advent of the change in the offside law that this changed. But that is wrong. If you read Goodall’s Association Football (1898) for instance you will understand that West Brom in the 1890s played a certain style of wing play that was especial to West Brom. Derby County played the inside forward game (hence why Bloomer is still the second-highest goalscorer in English first division or Premier league history! (even though he retired in 1914)). If you read The Book of Football (1906) you will understand that Chelsea and Spurs played the inside forward game; Chelsea reverted to the wing game when they felt indulgent enough to do so. Manchester United played the half-back game. Queens Park and Celtic played in the Scottish style. In other words, there was a patchwork of different styles of the game but according to Wilson, there was no such variance in styles: rather than an expanse of colour his understanding is of indecipherable tones of grey.

Of the 1920s and 1930s, Wilson considers there is only space for Chapman. But that’s wrong as well. FNS Creek’s Association Football (1937) lays bare the understanding that, again, rather than just WM, the British were experimenting with a range of different styles and approaches. Perhaps modern media has homogenised what we see; but before the advent of televised media, it really was left to the devices of different clubs scattered wherever they were to come up with their own ideas and applications.

What Wilson suggests is that Hogan was the father of all the great technical movements in Central Europe and Brazil. He argues it this way. Hogan worked in Vienna so was, therefore, the touchstone for the Wunderteam. He worked in Budapest – hence the Magical Magyars and worked alongside Dori Kurschner and therefore Kurschner went to Brazil and by association becomes the touchstone for the Brazilians after 1950.  All wrong.

Let’s take those ideas in turn.

Austria.

Between 1912 and 1932, Jimmy Hogan worked for the Austrians for 7 weeks. His ideas were dismissed and criticised and he fell out with the Austrian clubs because of what happened to his wife during the First World War when he was incarcerated. By the time he took a coaching session for the Wunderteam in 1932 before the Stamford Bridge international, he had not worked in Austria for 18 years. The team had been assembled and the tactics devised by the clubs and coaches that had worked in Vienna in the intervening years. Hogan was brought back because Hugo Meisl worked well with him over a short period in 1912 and 1914 and saw him as the bridge between his ideas and the players.  It was that simple.

Hungary.

As I set out above, Hogan had nothing to do with the tactical development of Hungarian football leading up to the 1954 World Cup final. Sebes and Kalocsai and Bukovi can all claim some part in that but, for my money, the work of Jackie Tait Robertson laid the primer upon which all added colours. Robertson, an inveterate drunk, was a half-back who was inveigled to become the Chelsea boss when they first made their start in the League in 1905. Robertson absolutely knew his stuff and was a professional footballer who operated at the highest levels within the game. He preferred the inside forward game; which, if we are to start talking about

Just as that is nonsense so is Wilson’s argument that Hogan was the father-figure of football in each of those different countries. In Hungary the father figure, in terms of tactics, is Robertson. In Austria, obviously, Hugo Meisl. As for Brazil, Hogan never worked beside Kurschner – so his basic premise is immediately wrong.

He helped set up the first formal football coaching programme.

A lifetime might only amount to a single moment of genius but that does not make that lifetime any less valueless. Hogan’s moment of genius came in the May of 1912 in Vienna.

In that month he was employed by the Austrian clubs to train their senior players and prepare the Austrian Olympic side for the Stockholm Games. At one point he was called out for teaching very basic stuff to the players. Hogan was not a trained coach and did not know how to coach. But Hugo Meisl called a summit meeting between himself and Hogan and drew up a programme of exercises that the players would have to follow and master and bring into their game. The immediate results were not promising.

Austria were appallingly behaved during the 1912 Olympic football tournament. But the programme set down the path for others to follow and with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire, all players were scattered across the continent by the favourable winds. That took Hogan’s ideas far and wide and led to the upskilling of players throughout. I heard that Liverpool recently employed a throw-in coach. Perhaps he should pay a visit to Rosewood Cemetery, in Burnley when he has a moment and give some quiet thanks to Hogan, for without the old man we would not see things as we see them now.