If you scroll back through the previous Hall of Heroes articles on the Fulham Focus website (and in Lockdown there are worse ways of wasting your time) most will notice a glaring omission. I’m talking about the absence thus far of Fulham’s most famous footballing son; the Maestro himself Johnny Haynes.
This is not a mistake on the part of the Focus leadership but more of a conscious decision. Johnny’s story is already familiar to so many and even the youngest Fulham fan will know of him if they’ve seen his magnificent statue outside the ground. It was therefore thought that the Hall of Heroes should first feature some of our less well known past stars although there are still some pretty renowned figures in there. In fact, it’s been quite an eclectic mix so far with on the one hand somebody famous across the football world in Bobby Robson and on the other Les Strong? The series has also not just featured past players but has fittingly paid tribute to unsung heroes like Mark Maunders, Gentleman Jim and the much missed ‘Traveller’, Alex Ferguson.
Johnny Haynes is held in such esteem by those with Fulham in their hearts that it is quite a daunting prospect trying to do him justice in a short article. The definitive story of the great man was told by Martin Plumb in one of the many fabulous Ashwater Press publications but as their website says the book is sold out you’ll have to try and borrow a copy from somewhere (no you’re not having mine), or else make do with what’s to follow.
Johnny was the son of a post office engineer and was born in Kentish Town on 17 October 1934. He supported Arsenal as a boy and was a precocious talent from an early age, first catching the eye in an England Schoolboys win over Scotland at Wembley. Although Tottenham Hotspur wanted him he signed for Fulham as a 15-year-old amateur in 1950 with the credit commonly given to his best pal Tosh Chamberlain who persuaded Johnny to join him in SW6. Fulham were in a 3-season spell in the First Division at the time, so the young Haynes was loaned to then non-league Wimbledon to get experience before making his senior debut aged 18 in the 1952 Boxing Day visit of Southampton, by which time we were back in the Second Division.
Johnny caught the eye immediately with his magnificent ball control and passing ability as well as a tactical brain that belied his tender years. He missed only two more games after his debut that season and scored his first goal for the club in a 3-2 defeat by West Ham in April. That was his only goal that season but he was no doubt making plenty, particularly for prolific forward Bedford Jezzard who weighed in with 35 in a team total of 81. Unfortunately, we let 71 in so ended the season way off the promotion pace in 8th position.
Johnny had been given the number 10 shirt, which he was to make his own in the years to come, and was the epitome of the ball playing, goalscoring attacking midfielder which has become synonymous with that shirt number to this day. In 1953/54 he scored 16 goals in missing just one League game and with Jezzard scoring 39 and fellow midfielder Bobby Robson netting 13 we had a trio the envy of clubs much higher. A team total of 98 was the best in the Division but the Achilles heel of our defending saw us concede 85 as we once again finished 8th. 1954/55 was a less productive season for Haynes with only 8 goals in his 37 games as the club dropped down to a finishing position of 14th. There was better news for Johnny on a personal note though when his fine form saw him make his full England debut against Northern Ireland in October 1954 with Haynes scoring in a 2-0 win. His achievement was also notable for the fact he was the first player at that time to represent his country at all five levels available; schoolboy, youth, under 23, B team and full. All the more amazing when you consider he wasn’t yet 20 and was playing for a second division club. Haynes was to establish himself with England in much the same way he did for us and went on to earn 56 caps (22 as captain), scoring 18 goals and appearing at both the 1958 and 1962 World Cup Finals where he skippered the side.
Back at domestic level Haynes remained the fulcrum of a talented Fulham side that probably should have achieved more. We finished 9th in 1955/56 and 11th in 1956/57 by which time Haynes had been made captain. In 1957/58 we were much more consistent only to suffer the twin disappointment of just missing out on promotion with a 5th place finish and losing a FA Cup Semi Final replay to a Manchester United side still reeling from the tragedy of the Munich disaster. We were to put it right the following season though under a new manager. Bedford Jezzard had retired early from playing due to a terrible knee injury and after managing the youth team was promoted to first team boss on Dug Livingstone’s departure. He made a great signing in Graham Leggatt and his 21 goals and Maurice Cook’s 17 from the centre forward position were a large part of the success that followed. However, it was Haynes with a remarkable 26 goals in just 34 games that proved the major influence as we clinched promotion to the top flight as runners up to Sheffield Wednesday; a comfortable 7 points clear of the chasing pack.
Bearing in mind Haynes was already an England regular, the step up to the First Division was hardly likely to faze him. This proved the case as a ten goal haul and a number of excellent performances helped us to a creditable 10th position, which at one time looked like it could be much higher. 1960/61 was much more of a struggle with a lowly 17th place finish but on a personal level Haynes career was going from strength to strength. He had been made England captain in May 1960 and in 1961 when the maximum wage limit of £20 a week was lifted became the first £100 a week footballer. As a result he also emerged as a star both on and off the pitch with Haynes becoming one of the first players to have an agent in Bagenal Harvey who was instrumental in Johnny taking over from Dennis Compton as the face of Brylcreem. Johnny’s smoothly oiled hair appeared in adverts across the country and Harvey also increased Johnny’s commercial worth with other ‘peripheral activities’.
Johnny didn’t need an agent’s help in football matters though. Before the maximum wage limit was lifted Tommy Trinder was forever saying to Johnny, ‘If I could pay you more than twenty quid a week, Johnny, I would do. This maximum wage thing is nonsense. If it were not for that I’d pay you a hundred quid a week. Your performances deserve it.’ Therefore, on the day the maximum wage was abolished Johnny made a beeline for Tommy Trinder’s office and reminded Tom what he had said. There was no way out for Trinder. There’s an apocryphal story about centre forward Maurice Cook relating to this news. Cook had been told that his off-season summer wage would be £15 a week so went in to Trinder to chance his arm. Cook protested about the disparity between this miserly sum and what Haynes was now receiving. ‘But Haynes is a far better player than you are,’ Cook was told. ‘Not in the f****** summer he’s not,’ Cook retorted.
Johnny had a reputation for sometimes getting frustrated with his less gifted team mates who hadn’t anticipated a pinpoint pass and was often seen with a hands on hips pose and an exasperated look on his face. This didn’t translate off the pitch though where he was very popular with his colleagues who recognised his true worth. These quotes from fellow Fulham greats demonstrate the measure of the man:
“He was the only reason I went to Fulham as a young boy of 15 leaving school. He was my hero, the captain of England and Fulham. The word great rolls off the tongue quite easily these days but he really was. He was the best passer of a ball I have ever seen – I don’t know anyone who could pass a ball as accurately. Anyone who saw him will know what a great player he was”.
“I have a hundred individual memories of the beauty of John’s play. One stands out for the sheer perfection of his skill. It was a charity match which, but for that one second, has faded completely from my memory. The ball came to him at speed on a wet, slippery surface but with the slightest of adjustments, one that was almost imperceptible, he played it inside a full-back and into the path of an on-running winger. I looked at our coach Dave Sexton on the bench and he caught my glance and shook his head as if to say ‘fantastic’. Haynes could give you goose bumps on a wet night in a match that didn’t matter”.
“Once you get used to watching that perfection you realised the rest of the secret. John was always available, always hungry for the ball, always wanting to play. I loved watching the player. Later I learnt to love the man.”
Haynes reputation as a great player went across the globe. Pele himself said he had never seen a better passer of the ball and in the winter of 1961, Johnny received more recognition as one of the greats of his generation. He won the Sportsman of the year trophy and was voted the third best player in the world during the 1961 Ballon D’or.
By the summer of 1962, Haynes was at the peak of his powers. He had just returned from the World Cup in Chile where he’d skippered the side to a quarter final in which England were outclassed but not disgraced by Brazil who went on to retain the trophy. Little did he know at the time that he had already played his last game for his country. Early in the 1962/63 season he was involved in a car crash on Blackpool seafront in which he broke bones in both feet and also badly damaged a knee. It took Johnny nearly a year to recover and although he returned successfully to Fulham colours, the new England boss Alf Ramsey never picked him for his country again.
Johnny may have lost a little pace as a result of the injury but like most world class players it was his sharpness of mind that stood him out from the crowd. He therefore still had a starring role in a Fulham side that had a perennial struggle against relegation in the early to mid 60’s. 1965/66 was probably the season we cut it the finest when we looked doomed until a spectacular end of season run saved us from the hangman’s noose. Haynes was the experienced head but it was the injection of youth in the likes of Steve Earle and Les Barrett, and the coaching of Dave Sexton that gave us the impetus to escape. Hopes that we might build on that were dashed when we again struggled to an 18th place finish in 1966/67 before we finally pushed our luck too far the following season and were relegated in last place. It was such a pity that we didn’t make the necessary investment in the side in that period. Haynes was a model of consistency in this era and although we had some decent talent on the books he never quite got the support he deserved to properly establish us in the top flight. After recovering from his car crash Haynes League appearance and goals record for the next five seasons were a measure of his reliability;
- 1963/64 – 40 games and 8 goals
- 1964/65 – 39 games and 5 goals
- 1965/66 – 33 games and 6 goals
- 1966/67 – 36 games and 6 goals
- 1967/68 – 34 games and 5 goals
Haynes always had a great goalscoring return for a midfielder and finally surpassed his great pal Bedford Jezzard’s total to become the club’s record scorer. By the end of his career he’d netted 158 times for the club. Gordon Davies finally took his record in his second spell at Fulham but in view of the transient nature of modern football it’s unlikely Haynes place in the standings will ever be usurped.
If 1967/68 was bad then the following season was a catastrophe. Tommy Trinder had said he wasn’t changing the flags of the First Division clubs that flew on the Riverside as we’d only be in the second flight for a season. He was proved correct but sadly our direction of travel was further down rather than back whence we came. Bobby Robson was by now manager but was unceremoniously sacked after a dire start. Haynes very reluctantly took the reins as caretaker but only for a short time before the club appointed old team mate Bill Dodgin on Johnny’s recommendation. None of the changes helped and once again Fulham were relegated in bottom place.
At the end of that season Haynes had a richly deserved Testimonial match. It was significant for me as it was the first time I was taken to a match at Craven Cottage but sadly I was far too young to realise I’d been given the privilege of seeing an absolute legend. I was lucky enough to see Haynes score in the first League game I went to against Gillingham at the start of the following season but sadly It was one of his final goals for the club. Halfway through the campaign he made his last appearance for the club in a 1-1 draw with Stockport and took his bow having served the club with such distinction for two decades. It was a shame his time at the club ended with us in the undistinguished surroundings of the Third Division. As any of the older fans lucky enough to see him will attest Johnny was worthy of the game’s biggest and best stages. He remains without question Fulham’s greatest ever player.
Haynes retained his huge affection for the club after retiring and although he had moved to Edinburgh later in his life was a keen supporter of the Fulham 2000 campaign that fought so hard to keep us at our spiritual home of Craven Cottage in those grim pre Al Fayed years. It was therefore a great shock to us all when he died suddenly in 2005 following a car crash brought about by a brain aneurysm. The tribute that followed at the next home game with Liverpool demonstrated the love and respect we had for him and the magnificent statue that was unveiled in 2008 is a glorious permanent memorial to Fulham’s finest son. The Hall of Heroes could have not have a more fitting resident.