Jimmy Hogan and the Art of Communicating with Your Feet – Part 1

Communicating by simply showing the players what they are supposed to do and how it is done has long been a tactic used by football coaches who don’t speak the same language as their pupils. Former Bolton and Burnley player Jimmy Hogan became a master of employing that tactic upon embarking on his remarkable journey onto the continent. Few coaches have had an impact in as many countries as the Englishman who was born in Lancashire in 1882.

After his decent playing career was cut short by injury, Hogan embarked on one of the most remarkable journeys a coach has ever taken in European football. First, he coached in the Netherlands were he found the state of football to be rather amateurish, but his players eager to learn. Despite his young age – Hogan was only 28-years-old at the time – the players took his advice about taking it easy on the booze and the fags and soon learned that Hogan expected every player to be comfortable on the ball in any given position; defenders could attack and attackers could defend, all depending on the situation. In Hogan’s football philosophy, work on the ball received the most important focus during every training session. Players had to know how to handle the ball in order to produce good football on the pitch. Whilst English players were not allowed to practice with the ball from Wednesdays on, in order for them to be more hungry for it on Sundays, Hogan included the ball in virtually every exercise he wanted his players to perform.

Long before the phrase Total Football came into being, Hogan expected his players to move freely and seek creative solutions. A player in possession in one of Hogan’s teams could have several passing options at hand, making it hard to figure out which player the opposing defenders should pick up. Long balls were a no-go for the Roman Catholic, who brought humility and good manners with him wherever he went. His teams played in a 2-3-5 formation, even when Chapman’s WM became successful. Being in possession and keeping the ball low were two of the key ingredients that would prevent teams from conceding goals in Hogan’s mind.

After his first stint in the Netherlands, he took his footballing philosophy to Austria, Hungary, and Switzerland, before arriving in Germany. In Austria, he coached the national team. In Hugo Meisl, he found a friend in whom he could confide and a partner who shared a similar vision of football. Meisl was more of a romantic, whilst Hogan simply saw his tactics as the most practical way of winning football matches.

Arriving in Germany

His stint coaching the Austrian Olympic national team and other clubs sides in Austria was cut short when the first World War broke out. Hogan had arranged a meeting at the British consulate two days prior to the outbreak of the war, but he was told that an urgent departure from Vienna wasn’t necessary.

His time as a prisoner of war was spent mostly in Budapest, where he turned MTK into one of Europe’s finest club teams. The club was virtually unbeatable between 1916 and 1925, producing some of the finest talents that European football had on offer back in those days. After the war had ended and he could go back home to England, the players gave him an inscribed cigarette lighter, reading: “To our dearest Basci with best wishes – the thankful MTK players.”

‘Uncle’ Jimmy was saddened to leave his players, but also looked forward to getting back to his beloved Britain. After his arrival, he discovered that several of his countrymen regarded him as a traitor, since he hadn’t helped in the war efforts; nevermind the fact that there wasn’t an awful lot he could have done about being jailed in Austria at the time.

A move abroad was once again in the cards. After stints in Switzerland and Hungary, Hogan moved to Germany, a nation he predicted would become formidable in the not-too-distant future.

The German FA had gotten in touch with one of the coaches, if not the coach, who had the biggest impact on the rapid development of Danubian football. Hogan was told by the FA that his job would consist of travelling around the country holding lectures and training sessions. Despite having spent a considerable amount of time in Austria, Hogan was far from fluent in German and could only have basic conversations in language. However, the German FA insisted that Hogan hold all of his lectures in German.

In order to make sure that his lectures and coaching sessions would go well. Hogan asked that he be allowed to write the lectures in English and have somebody translate them into German whilst he was holding his talks.

At first, he had no problems getting around Germany in this manner, attracting keen audiences all around the country. However, the training sessions with senior players could prove tricky. Most of the time, Hogan held training matches, which he sometimes interrupted to point out mistakes the players had made. After one of these sessions, an official from the DFB approached Hogan telling him that he hadn’t taught his pupils anything that Otto Nerz (at that point the assistant coach of the national team) hadn’t already taught them.

Several coaches who had attended his lectures found Hogan to come over too strongly as a non-German speaker, and in the end, the Englishman was told to hold a lecture in German or to find employment elsewhere.

Ignoring Orders

Soon, Hogan had a chance to respond to this order. For his next lecture, among the guests included Otto Nerz. Hogan’s plan was to deflect the attention away from his deficits in the mastery of the German language by stating that he was a professor of football and not a master of languages. A self-deprecating joke is not an uncommon thing among British people, but Hogan got off to a bad start when he managed to get tangled up in the German language so badly that he said the opposite of what he had intended to say.

Hogan’s ordeal was far from over. As he intended to say that football was an exercise for the mind as well as the body, he managed to use the German word for committee instead of the German word for mind. At that point, the audience had already started to laugh at the Englishman rather than with him. Later, he recalled that it was his stubbornness that made him keep on going on with this disaster of a lecture.

Whilst Hogan kept going, he was keenly aware that he needed a drastic turnaround to win his audience over, so Hogan asked for a ten-minute intermission. During the break from his lecture, Hogan put on his Bolton Wanderers kit and wandered onto the stage carrying a football in his hands. He asked for an interpreter, plainly ignoring the orders he was under by the German FA. Hogan then told the audience that 3/4 of German players couldn’t kick the ball correctly and that the reinforced toes of the football boots were at fault.

Finally, Hogan was able to concentrate on something he felt comfortable doing. After grabbing the audience’s attention by his bold claims, he went on to tell the audience that he could hit a panel in the wall from 15 yards out with his bare feet. The adrenaline pumping through his body must have gotten to Hogan, because after he had hit the precise panel he was aiming he realised that his right foot was bleeding. However, he couldn’t stop there and he went on to make the absurd claim that most British players were two-footed. Once again, he hit the exact same panel, only this time with his left foot. The first time, he had split the wood from top to bottom, but the shot with his left foot was even harder and Hogan smashed the entire panel to shreds.

With the audience starting to take a keen interest, Hogan proceeded to demonstrate other skills and in the end, he even asked a local player to join him on stage. After he had asked his opponent to intercept the ball, he simply showed how to run rings around an opponent demonstrating several hypnotic body swerves which kept the audience at the edge of their seats.

What set Hogan apart from other coaches was the fact that he never asked any of his players to do anything he himself couldn’t demonstrate on the training ground. He may not have been fluent in Hungarian or German, but he taught his players by simply showing them the skills he wanted them to acquire, which remained the case for Hogan even well past his 70th birthday!

Taking the Show on the Road

His glamorous finish to the presentation saved Hogan’s job at the German FA. Soon his lectures turned more into entertainment shows rather than lectures by a football coach. After a while, these lectures turned into stage shows that entertained large crowds. Additionally, Hogan kept instructing players everywhere he went. In Dresden, he guided over 5,000 footballers during the month he spent there, 2,500 players attended his training sessions in Chemnitz.

And the list went on.

However, he never kept forgetting that one of his passions was to discover and develop young talents. Long before the DFB had found out that youth academies were the way to go, Hogan was writing about the importance of giving young players a proper education on how the game was supposed to be played.

After Hogan had seen out his contract with the DFB, he took up the offer to coach Dresdner SC. There, one of his discoveries from his numerous journeys through Germany turned into one the best internationals the German national team has ever seen.

In this series of articles we are going to take a closer look at the impact English coach Jimmy Hogan had whilst he was working in Germany. Many coaches have made a name for themselves and have been mentioned among the greats of all time, however, Hogan’s name could be part of that discussion, but is almost never mentioned. The stories and anecdotes we have collected from Hogan’s time spent improving German football may convince you that just maybe this coach deserves a mention in that debate. Stay tuned for part two.


Norman Fox: Prophet or traitor? – The Jimmy Hogan Story
Jonathan Wilson: Inverting the pyramid

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.