WORDS: DOMINIC BLISS
Back in the Fifties and Sixties, the inside-left was king on the football grounds of Britain. A creative visionary, with genius in his left boot and eyes in the back of his head, Johnny Haynes was perhaps the best of all. We took a look at the enduring significance of the former Fulham and England captain…
In the far corner of my big brother’s bedroom, partially obscured by a bunk bed covered in stickers of footballers, was a bookshelf that housed a collection of dusty paperbacks, an old dictionary and a hardback history of Fulham FC, bought for my dad – by his dad – for Christmas 1987, something I knew because it was inscribed on the inside cover page.
When you opened this book, to reveal that message from a father to his grown-up son, an autograph card of his childhood hero – Haynes – slipped out into your lap. The great inside-left of the Fifties and Sixties had signed the back of the photograph at the request of my Italian grandmother (Nonna to us) while she was working behind the bar at a pub he used to drink in. To this day, it remains one of my dad’s prized possessions.
That photo was my first window into the world of football past and I remember my Dad’s stories about Haynes’ brilliance and the days when Fulham were a top-flight team as vividly as most of the games I actually saw as a boy. At the time, Fulham were languishing in the lower reaches of the third tier and would soon be relegated to the basement division amidst financial turmoil. But the picture of Haynes – a Fulham player who had skippered England – opened my eyes to the changeable nature of football fortunes. This black-and-white figure with brylcreemed hair and a confident, serious face had once been the lynchpin in a serious Fulham side.
A decade later, during my second year of university, Haynes’ sudden and traumatic death – suffered at the wheel of his car on this day in 2005 – was reported on Channel 4 news as I sat watching with my housemates in the living room. One of them – a knowledgeable football supporter – seeing that I was affected by the news, admitted that he had never heard of Haynes. I was quietly disappointed.
To the credit of the club, Fulham and their supporters have since done everything in their power to ensure that Haynes is never forgotten in west London. The listed stand on Stevenage Road, a relic of the days when grand old Archibald Leitch-designed grounds were the norm in Britain, is now called the Johnny Haynes Stand and those supporters who file through the old turnstiles and take their place in the wooden seats alongside the cottage in the corner are surrounded by images of the man from Kentish Town.
Outside the entrance to Craven Cottage stands a statue of Haynes in typical pose – hands on hips, with the expression of impatience that he regularly wore in exasperation at his less-talented team-mates. Not everyone possessed a wand for a left foot, but that didn’t stop the first footballer to earn more than £100 per week from expecting the highest standards from those around him.
Thanks to my dad’s tales, I knew what it was like to grow up idolising Haynes but, after starting up this site, I decided to find out what it was like to play alongside one of the greatest inside-lefts. I called his former Fulham team-mate, Tosh Chamberlain.
“He was terrific,” the former Fulham winger told me. “To me he was everything: a good mate and a great footballer. I knew his family and we were very close – he was more like a brother, or a step-brother, to me because he was an only child, I was an only child and there was only six months between us.”
Fulham actually have Chamberlain to thank for bringing their greatest-ever player to the club because Haynes wanted to play for the same team as his mate.
“He came to Fulham with me – they didn’t ask him to come,” Chamberlain explained. “I couldn’t believe it because Arsenal and Tottenham used to sleep on his doorstep, trying to get him. Tottenham was about 200 yards from his house and Arsenal was about two-and-a-half miles down the road, so there was always one of the scouts at his door.”
Rumour has it that Haynes used to do extra training, alone at Craven Cottage, hitting long passes and landing them on a towel he had laid out half-a-pitch away. His adversaries certainly noticed that training pay off. Pele once termed Haynes the best passer of the ball he had ever seen, while Tommy Docherty who, as a right-half, was charged with marking the maestro on more than a few occasions for club and country, told me what it was like to face the man.
“I couldn’t speak highly enough of him,” he explained when I told him I was writing about Haynes. “You couldn’t get a better professional. He was an outstanding England international, a great passer of the ball – long and short. He wouldn’t go into a tackle all that much with you or to head a ball, but he had great vision. Before he got the ball he knew what he was going to do with it.”
Haynes managed 158 goals for the Cottagers in 658 games and set up countless others in the days before assists were recorded. It was also a time when cards stayed in referees’ pockets a great deal longer than they do now and Docherty devised his own way to prevent this particular creative genius from getting his own way.
“I whacked him right away!” he replied when I asked how he went about marking Haynes. “If you fouled him three or four times, he used to get frustrated and annoyed and it put him right off his game. But if you let him play, he’d destroy you because, with his range of passing, he was terrific.
“He was a great captain as well because he was a hard taskmaster, a perfectionist.”
That last point resonates with his former team-mate as well, although he feels Haynes was slightly misunderstood in this regard, believing that the captain simply thought other people had it in them to be better.
“He expected,” Chamberlain said. “When he was on the park, he was a miserable bastard at times, but it was because he was expecting people to be able to do what he could do. It wasn’t that they weren’t good enough, it was just that he took every footballer to be the same.
“I remember him from back in schools football – the number on his shirt when he played for Edmonton was bigger than him! I’d known him since those days, so I knew what kind of player he was – how he turned in and everything like that.
“To everyone else, the things he was doing were amazing but I knew he could do whatever he wanted to do, so he never really amazed me – he had been doing those things since he was at school.
“He was a different type of lad and I can’t say enough for him. But the footballing side was nothing to me; he was just a great mate. When we finished playing, we were still in contact all the time and I’ve got some of his ashes at home. He’s still giving me a bollocking every morning!
“Other people looked at him and saw him for what he was, which is a great footballer. But he was just Johnny Haynes to me.”