Archives for posts with tag: Hungary

by Rob Doolan

In 1954, football came home. Sort of. The selection of Switzerland as the venue for the fifth World Cup finals had less to do with practicality and more to do with the Swiss-based FIFA’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Yet in many ways it was fitting that the land of the cuckoo clock provided the setting for the most barking mad World Cup in history.

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It would be impossible to write a collection of articles on the subject of football in the 1950s without paying homage to the Mighty Magyars. One of the greatest teams to have ever graced the game, for the best part of six years Gusztáv Sebes’ Hungary thrilled audiences across Europe with their innovative and unique style, going down in history as one of the finest sporting collectives there has ever been. Read the rest of this entry »

While football may have been initially organised and codified on English soil, the tactical and theoretical development of the game has historically been cultivated in other pockets of Europe, most notably the inter-war bourgeois societies of the Danubian region. From Vienna, to Budapest, to Prague and beyond, football was met with a deeply philosophical and sophisticated approach to the game which resulted in a distinctive style of play emerging from Central Europe. The social driving force behind this development was, of course, the coffee house. Read the rest of this entry »

“We played football as Jimmy Hogan taught us. When our football history is told, his name should be written in gold letters.” – Gustav Sebes, Hungary coach 1949-57

The 25th November 1953 was English football’s anagnorisis. Amidst the fog that enveloped Wembley Stadium that day, Walter Winterbottom’s England team were taught an emphatic lesson in technique, in style and in tactical proficiency. The sense of superiority the English had harboured throughout the first half of the twentieth century was exposed as unfounded pomposity by the Hungarians who, with goals from Nándor Hidegkuti (3), Ferenc Puskás (2) and József Bozsik, tore England’s rigid W-M formation apart with a mesmerising display of synchronised ability. The game finished 6-3 to the visitors and English sporting narcissism lay ruined on the heavy North London turf.

After the game, as the president of the Hungarian FA, Sandor Barcs, spoke to assorted journalists he made a comment that surprised swathes of the English press, “Jimmy Hogan taught us everything we know about football.” The diminutive Lancastrian may have been labelled a traitor by his own FA for spending the vast majority of his coaching career abroad, but his impact on the continent in terms of tactical and instructive development was unparalleled. It is often said that Brian Clough was the best manager England never had; in reality it was Jimmy Hogan.

Born in Nelson just north of Burnley in 1882, Hogan lived through football’s fastest and most significant period of development and became hooked by the game at a young age. Hogan embarked on a playing career with Rochdale Town in 1902, quickly coming to be known as a talented inside forward of some repute. Spells at Burnley and Nelson followed before he moved south to join Fulham, reaching the FA Cup semi-finals with The Cottagers in 1908 before leaving for Swindon Town and, finally, Bolton Wanderers.

A meticulous, obsessive character, Hogan is reported to have had a consuming desire for self-improvement, his extensive fitness regime and the onus he placed on conditioning being remarkably rare for a time when formalised training was generally frowned upon. This compulsion to achieve excellence at all costs would serve Hogan well during what would become a distinguished coaching career, his drive to succeed feeding and shaping the talent of the players who had the privilege of learning from his studied insight and motivation.

During his time as a player at Bolton, Hogan had already begun his delve into the world of coaching, returning to the Netherlands after a summer tour to the country in 1910 to “teach them how to play”. He may only have spent a short amount of time there, but Hogan impressed sufficiently to be allowed to take charge of the Dutch national team for a game and is credited with sowing the seeds of a greater professionalism and more advanced tactical and technical thinking in Holland. Indeed, the Lancastrian is thought of by some as the true father of Total Football, the inspiration to Jack Reynolds and Rinus Michels who made the style famous with Ajax.


Having eventually hung up his boots in 1913, Hogan set about looking for full-time coaching work and was put in touch with Hugo Meisl, the head of the Austrian Football Association. Meisl, frustrated at what he perceived to be the underachievement of the Austrian national team, had been looking for a coach to raise the level of technical ability amongst the players and it was Hogan who was recommended to him. Hogan moved to Austria and linked up with Meisl ahead of the 1916 Olympics in Berlin, his brief being to give the Austrians the best possible opportunity to win gold in Germany.

However, with the outbreak of the First World War, Hogan’s ambitions of Olympic glory evaporated as the games were cancelled. The cancellation of the Olympics was not the only logistical problem that the start of the conflict caused for Hogan, he also found himself stuck in Austria-Hungary when the violence began, an Englishman in the middle of ‘enemy’ territory. Days later he was arrested as a foreign national, negotiating passage back to the United Kingdom for his wife and children in March 1915 while he was rescued by the intervention of the British vice-president of Budapest club MTK, Baron Dirstay, who took Hogan on as coach in order to prevent him being taken to a prisoner of war camp.

Enchanted with the stylish, flowing way in which football was played in Central Europe, Hogan didn’t attempt to change the philosophy of his players at MTK, but rather made gradual improvements to their tactical understanding and technical proficiency. Hogan’s methodology reaped great rewards, MTK winning the 1917 and 1918 titles playing widely lauded football under his stewardship before he eventually headed back to Britain following the conclusion of hostilities in Europe.

The 'Mighty Magyars'

His time in Hungary may have been relatively fleeting, but it is Hogan’s philosophy and methods that are held to be the blueprint for the great Hungarian side of the 1950s, the Mighty Magyars who inflicted that painful defeat on England in the bitter winter of 1953. The thoughtful ethos of short passing and fast movement off the ball was one which stuck with Hungarian football for several generations, an aesthetic style that Hogan had championed. He was a true footballing revolutionary.


On his return home Hogan was treated extremely poorly by an English FA that viewed him with great suspicion and refused to listen to his ideas. As Norman Fox described in a Guardian piece from 2003:

‘When the war ended he returned to England and was told that men who had suffered financially as a result of the war could claim £200 from the FA. He was almost destitute but when he went to London the secretary, Francis Wall, opened a cupboard and offered him a pair of khaki socks. “We sent these to the boys at the front and they were grateful.” The unsubtle message was: “Traitor”.’

Incensed, Hogan departed him homeland once again, moving to Switzerland where he spent several years with Young Boys Berne before returning to MTK and then joining SC Dresden in Germany in 1925. Hogan toured German clubs on lecture tours, instructing players and coaches alike in tactical philosophies and When we think of Hogan his time in Germany is not what first spring to mind, but such was the impression that he left that, on his death in 1974, his son received a letter from the German Football Federation describing him as “the father of modern football in Germany”. Hogan’s singular influence on European football simply cannot be overestimated.

At the start of the 1930s, as the political situation in Germany became increasingly concerning, Hogan returned to Austria to work once again with his old friend Hugo Meisl. With the likes of the great Matthias Sindelar in the side, the Austrians undoubtedly had the talent to achieve great things but seemed to suffer from a crippling naivety and lack of self-confidence. It was Hogan who instilled the tactical intelligence that the side was lacking, employing a defensive yet fluid version of the W-M formation that was given its first outing against England at Stamford Bridge in December 1932. Austria may have lost that game 4-3, but the British press eulogised about the visitors, flooding newsprint with words praising the Austrian’s exceptional passing football and evidently superior technical ability. It was a defeat, but the legend of Hogan and Meisl’s Austrian Wunderteam had been born.

Hugo Meisl

Throughout the 1930s Austria thrilled Europe with the quick pass-and-move game that had been impressed upon them by Hogan, a style which instigated an ideological shift across much of the continent and, alongside the work of Herbert Chapman in England, gave tactics a far more elevated standing within the game.

During the 1934 World Cup the Wunderteam, with Hogan’s adaptation of the W-M which was founded on the freedom of movement and extra creativity given to the centre-half, reached the semi-finals before losing to Italy. Meisl’s team by all accounts played a beautiful brand of football that directed their collective artistry towards the end of victory in a manner never seen before.


By 1934, however, Hogan had departed Austria was back in England coaching his old club Fulham in the Second Division. He moved on to manage Aston Villa a year later, staying in the Midlands for four years with mixed results (there was both relegation from the top-flight and then promotion back to it) before deciding to call time of his formal managerial career. He remained in the game as a youth coach for several years afterwards, watching the game develop from afar, the fruits of his labour taking shape.

Hogan may not be the most successful manager in terms of weight of silverware, but he is without doubt the most important individual figure there has ever been with regard to the professional and theoretical development of football. Hogan represents the developmental genesis of the game, the catalyst from which sprung the vast majority of modern ideas surrounding tactics, technique and physical conditioning. Without Hogan’s ingenuity we would likely not have had the Wunderteam or the Mighty Magyars, we may not have seen other great managers that developed his ideas such as the great Bela Guttman.

Without Jimmy Hogan football simply wouldn’t be the tactically diverse, organised and professional game it is today. He was a wandering footballing prophet and his ideas remain enshrined as the alpha of modern football. In my mind, there is no manager who deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time more than James “Jimmy” Hogan.

The Mighty Magyars

by Dave Hartrick

Every orchestra needs a conductor to bring the best out of its musicians. A conductor leads the rhythm of a piece, they make sure the true nature of the music is revealed just as its composer had intended. An untrained eye may claim that with or without, the end product will sound the same but that’s simply not the case. The magic of each instrument playing in perfect harmony with one another can be moving, inspiring, even magnificent when led by the right hand.

And so we come to Nándor Hidegkuti.

Hungary’s much-revered team of the early fifties only became the Magical, Magnificent and Mighty Magyars when Hidegkuti established himself in the team in a playmaker role as a result of his performances in the 1952 Olympics. Having been in and around the team since 1945 deployed in the main as a winger, it was his switch to playmaker that brought the best from a team of outstanding players.

Hidegkuti took a position most akin to an attacking midfielder in the modern game. It was a role employed by Hungary before, but Hidegkuti became the last piece to fit into the team’s exceptional puzzle. In a side littered with footballing giants such as Ferenc Puskás, Sandor Kocsis, and József Bozsik, it was Hidegkuti who allowed them to flourish.

His movement meant that defences struggled to pick him up without leaving huge gaps for Puskás or Kocsis to exploit. An intelligent player, he realised this and used the freedom to devastating effect.

When England played Hungary in 1953, it was Hidegkuti’s performance that left the established English tactics so bereft. Defender Harry Johnstone admitted he simply didn’t know how to mark him – he’d no idea whether to get tight and leave others in space, or gamble and leave Hidegkuti to roam where ever he wanted. Hidegkuti plundered a hat-trick and been a revelation. He’d proved that power and pace were redundant in comparison to near perfect technique married with intelligence.

Hidegkuti played throughout the 1954 World Cup and scored four times, including one goal in the brilliant semi-final with Uruguay. His entire club career was spent in Hungary so he never gained the same headlines at Barcelona and Real Madrid that Kocsis and Puskás achieved after defection. An innovator to the end, he moved into management and pioneered a 5-3-2 formation with Al-Ahly in Egypt to huge success, involved for the second time in his life with a golden generation of players.

Hidegkuti was the fulcrum of the brilliant attacking triangle that was so devastating for the Magyars. Hidegkuti laid the foundation for a position so commonplace in today’s game and allowed Puskás and Kocsis to play to their very best.

I’m 31 years old and came across Hidegkuti while researching the Magyars, immediately devouring all available footage of this mesmerising player. Watching the ‘Match of the Century’ against England or any of his performances in 1954 World Cup, the intelligence is evident and the ability to bring the best out of those around him is key.

Every orchestra needs a conductor to truly bring the best out of its musicians. The brilliant Mighty Magyars had Nándor Hidegkuti.

Read more from Dave on his blog, I Know Who Cyrille Makanaky Was, or follow him on Twitter @Hartch.