Video – Jimmy Hogan, football’s greatest pioneer, born to Irish parents

Pep Guardiola, Johan Cruijff and Rinus Michels are some of the most influential minds in the history of professional football. All three of these men have brought ideas and methods to the coaching of football which have been crucial to the development of the game in the past few decades. However, all 3 of these great innovators can trace their thoughts and their ideology of football back, in some way or another, to Jimmy Hogan. 


Hogan, born in Lancashire, was an Englishman of Irish descent. His parents emigrated from Ireland in order to find work in the late 19th century, eventually settling in Lancashire, renowned as a haven of activity for the mining and textile industries at the time. Hogan, true to his Irish roots, was a devout Catholic and played with the idea of becoming a priest in his teens, before a life in football eventually became too much to resist, and stole his heart instead. 


The first generation Englishman enjoyed a career as an inside forward largely spent playing for clubs based in North England, only spending a couple of years venturing further south with Fulham and Swindon, respectively. In his playing career, Hogan exhibited an interest in learning how to improve his technique as a footballer, that was an extreme rarity in the English game at the time. Where many English footballers saw the game as nothing more than a physical contest between two sets of eleven players, and saw the outcome of the dribbles and shots which they undertook as simply under the mercy of chance, Hogan held a more inquisitive and scientific outlook on the game. He refused to believe each shot taken had to just simply be at the mercy of the football gods, and instead expressed interest in learning how to improve his technique in order to improve the efficiency of the shots which he took. Instead of having a ‘hit and hope’ mindset around the game, Hogan wanted to learn how to ensure success, or at least a higher percentage chance of success. 


While playing a game against a Dutch side named ‘Dortrecht’ which Hogan’s Bolton won 10-0, Hogan saw something in the amateur Dutch players which he had frustratingly never seen in England, teachability. This led Hogan to beginning his European legacy by becoming the Dortrecht manager just one year after this game. Hogan sought to teach the Dutch how to play football the way he believed it should be played, and went about teaching it the way he believed it should have been taught in the professional English game. Immediately, Hogan took influence from the early Scottish style of playing, and coached heavily possession based, short pass focused football. Hogan was a believer that the best way to ensure victory was to hold onto the ball, and retain as much energy as possible, with less senseless dribbling and more passing. He assumed the role of a professor, teaching his players, or students, football as if he were teaching a subject in school. His methods were successful and well received, which is exemplified by his time in Holland culminating with him being asked to take charge of the Dutch national team in a 2-1 win versus germany. 


Hogan went on to work with the Austrian national team, helping them to prepare for the 1916 Olympics at the request of Hugo Meisl, an innovator in his own right, best known as the coach of the Austrian ‘Wunderteam’ of the early 1930s. The dream team of Hogan and Meisl looked to be building a team set to be a shoe-in for gold at the Olympics, however, Hogan and Austria’s Olympic dreams were brought to a sudden and harsh end as the tragedy of World War 1 broke out, and Hogan was arrested as a foreign national. 


Hogan’s career as a football manager, was looking bleak upon his arrest in Austria, but his career was provided a lifeline when Baron Dirstay, at the time the Vice-President of Budapest based club MTK, must have managed to smooth talk a few politicians and forces of control to get Jimmy Hogan into Hungary, and into the head coach position with his club, MTK. Hogan’s work with MTK arguably helped to establish his lasting legacy as a pioneer of football coaching on the European continent, more than anything else. At MTK, Hogan had a chance to develop young players in his image from scratch, as well as teaching some footballers who had been brought up in the game very differently to those in England, a way of approaching the game very differently to what they may have been used to. Hogan applied his methods to great success as he led MTK to the championship in 1917, a title which they would hold onto for nine consecutive years. Though Hogan only oversaw the first of those victories, it was his work and the application of his ideology at the club that set the basis for the success which the club built upon. Hogan himself said of his time in Hungary that “the time I spent in Hungary was almost as happy as my stay in Austria”, which was as big a compliment as any considering his family had been separated from him during the war and he hadn’t been with them for his tenure in Hungary. 


Hogan returned to England after the war, however, he was never given the respect or recognition he felt he deserved by the FA, due to the fact he didn’t serve on the frontline of the war. Regardless of the knowledge of his internment in Europe, and the fact that he had not had the opportunity to fight in the war. It was ultimately the FA and English football’s loss that they turned their backs on hogan, and the rest of the football world’s gain. Hogan would pick up where he left off, bringing his coaching methods to back to Hungary as well as Switzerland and France throughout a storied coaching career which he eventually capped off in England spending a season with Fulham and finishing his career with Aston Villa. 


The legacy of this son of Mayo emigrants is one which should be recognised by all football fans. Jimmy Hogan was a visionary who changed the way football was coached and played all around the world and played a pivotal role in the evolution and advancement of football from the game it was at the beginning of the 20th century, to the globally revered game that it has become today. Hogan’s successor at MTK was one of his former players, Dori Kurschner, a man who was himself, a crucially important innovator of the beautiful game in Brazil, as the former student of Hogan emigrated there in the 1930s, and helped them to develop their trademark style of play, through his expansion of coaching methods learned under Jimmy Hogan. Hogan’s legacy in Hungary is perhaps best remembered by Hungary’s famous 6-3 win over England at Wembley in 1953, a game after which the Hungarian manager Gustav Sebes declared “We played as Jimmy Hogan taught us.”


When football’s greatest minds and innovators are discussed, there are a plethora of names which come to mind, all of whom deserve to be mentioned as some of the most influential names in the history of the sport. However, the name Jimmy Hogan, the typically Irish name of a man one generation away from Co.Mayo, belongs up there with the very most influential of all.


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