The birth of Johnny Haynes on 17th October 1934 in Edmonton, North London would see a future Fulham legend make his way into the world. Some 15 years later, Haynes arrived at Craven Cottage on schoolboy terms.
The man credited with bringing in the boy who would later become known as ‘The Maestro’ was Eddie Perry - Fulham’s former centre-forward and ex-assistant of Frank Osborne - who was in charge of juniors at the Cottage. Manager Bill Dodgin would certainly have noticed the precocious talent of Haynes too, however, as the inside-forward starred (and scored twice) for England Schoolboys as they trounced Scotland 8-1 in a televised match at Wembley in April 1950.
That was enough to persuade Fulham that the boy was worth signing, but we had to contend with some stiff competition as he spurned the interest of some major clubs in England before making his decision.
Willie Evans of the Daily Mirror, under a headline of ‘These lads make the Cottage the happiest of homes’ wrote: “One of the factors which influenced Johnny’s decision was a chat with two boys already enrolled there. L. Caretta - of Islington - and T. Chamberlain, another England schoolboy who was Haynes’ team-mate.
“Other famous clubs wanted Johnny: Arsenal have had a report on him in their files for the past two seasons. Spurs, Portsmouth and Wolves were also anxious to get him. But there is something about Fulham which attracts the lads. Maybe it is the atmosphere or the friendly relationship which exists between the staff, the recognised star players and the boys who still have to make their way.
“Almost a hundred youngsters had written asking for trials. They will get a chance to showcase their ability in games arranged for August 14th and 15th.
“I believe that a few seasons from now, Fulham will have groomed a bunch of boys smart enough to take their place in top-class Soccer. And I think, also, that Craven Cottage lads will come to know their ground as ‘Happy Cottage’.”
Without an established youth side at the time, Fulham put the schoolboy immediately to work at Feltham in the Middlesex League, Wimbledon in the Isthmian League, and Woodford Town in the Delphian League. Such was his potential that he signed professional forms at the age of 17, having won two English Youth caps in a tournament in Barcelona in 1952.
And it did not take him long to move up at the Club and make headlines. In August, ahead of the 1952/53 season, the Fulham Chronicle reported, ‘Johnny was the Star’ in the usual pre-season game between First Team and Reserves. His debut for the First Team, against Southampton on Boxing Day 1952, arrived soon after and although he later admitted to being “very nervous, more than I have ever been before or since” in a 1-1 draw, he never looked back.
His team-mate in the 50s (and future Manager of the Club) Bobby Robson wrote: “From the time he made his debut for England Schools, Johnny Haynes was destined for greatness. He was a spontaneous, instinctive player with a built-in football brain. But he wasn’t idle with it... No-one worked harder in training than he did. He was superbly fit.”
Haynes became the Club’s greatest ever player during his career in SW6 from 1950-1970; he made 658 appearances for Fulham, scored 158 goals, and won 56 caps for England. A statue in tribute to ‘The Maestro’ was erected outside Craven Cottage in 2008, three years after his death, ensuring that the next generation of Fulham fans are inspired by his achievements.
As Fulham Supporters Trust spokesman Tom Greatrex said upon his passing: “His dedication, skill, professionalism, grace and charm - both in his playing days and in retirement - serve as a poignant reminder to many of today's footballers about what true greatness really means.”