THIS Christmas, Fulham fans will be celebrating their first festive period in the top flight for 34 years. Many supporters will drink a toast to the architect of their achievement, Jean Tigana. Although the latest club to adopt continental habits, Fulham were also probably the first.
Back in 1934, Fulham appointed one of their former players, Jimmy Hogan, as team coach (rather than manager), the first Europhile to work in the English game. He arrived with impeccable credentials and, like Tigana, wanted to change fundamentally not just tactics but the whole approach. Sadly, the experiment lasted just 19 games and ended over the Christmas period. It was another 66 years before Hogan's true successor arrived at the Cottage.
Born in Nelson, Lancashire, in October 1882, Hogan seemed at one time destined for a career in the Church or accountancy. He turned instead to football and, in the early years of the 20th century, he was a journeyman professional with Rochdale, his hometown club, Burnley, Fulham, Swindon Town and Bolton Wanderers.
In his three years at the Cottage as a player from 1905 to 1908, the club won the Southern League championship twice and reached the semifinals of the FA Cup. When he took up an invitation to coach Dordrecht, the Dutch club, in 1910. From The Netherlands, he went to Germany and also worked in Hungary and Switzerland, but it was in Austria that he had his greatest success. Teaming up with Hugo Meisl, he coached at club and international level and saw his side lose 4-3 to England in December 1932.
When the Fulham board appointed Hogan to the manager's job in June 1934, it was hailed by the press as a bold and imaginative move. For his part, Hogan felt he was coming home. Like Tigana, he believed that the ball should be kept on the ground ("the carpet"), passing and control were the key skills and players interchanging positions during a game was encouraged.
Herbert Chapman's "third back game" and the conventional "W" formation were anathema to Hogan and he reacted against the athleticism of English football of the 1930s. The Fulham of the Edwardian era was his model. To have a manager who was involved coaching players was itself a novelty. Until then, the manager was usually a remote figure, concerned largely with administrative matters. During the week, the trainer was in charge at most clubs, supervising fitness work but little by way of skills or tactics.
Hogan, as he had on the Continent, tried to change this approach. He involved himself in all aspects of team affairs, from diet to training and coaching individuals. Unlike his contemporaries, Hogan did very little without the ball. What seemed natural to the Europeans brought a critical reaction from his English charges. Results were average: good at home but appalling away. More important was that there appeared to be disquiet behind the scenes, with players reacting badly to Hogan's methods.
As Christmas approached, he was struck down with appendicitis. It was while Hogan was recovering that the Fulham board disgracefully sacked him, claiming that "experienced players do not need coaching". After a brief interlude, Jack Peart, an old-style secretary-manager, was brought in as replacement.
Hogan returned to Austria, guiding the national side to the final of the 1936 Olympic tournament. He was back in England later that year, with Aston Villa, steering them to the second division championship and the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1938. After the war Hogan was in his mid-60s, but he still had spells coaching with Celtic and Brentford before retiring. His final years were spent in Lancashire, where he died, aged 91, in January 1973, a prophet without honour in his own country.