John Madden

Football's Pioneers: John Madden

In the latest edition of Football's Pioneers - in partnership with De Montfort University's International Centre for Sports History & Culture - Professor Matt Taylor focuses on John Madden, a Scot who became a legendary and innovative coach in the 1920s.
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A pioneer of European football, Madden (1865-1948) was the first of many British professional coaches to be employed on the continent.

He joined Slavia Prague in 1905 and continued to coach the club until 1930. Still remembered as a ‘father’ of Czech football, Madden also coached sides representing Bohemia and Czechoslovakia during his time at Slavia.

Originally from Dumbarton, Madden worked in the Clyde shipyards and turned out for Dumbarton and Celtic (where he won three Scottish championships), along with brief spells in England at Gainsborough Trinity, Grimsby Town and Tottenham Hotspur.

He was a forward with a ferocious shot who was selected twice for Scotland and four times for the Scottish League.

At Slavia, he introduced a style of football based on the traditional Scottish short passing game and an emphasis on ball work, interplay and kicking with both feet. He revolutionised the club’s training regime.

A disciplinarian who emphasised diet, health and hygiene, Madden discouraged drinking and smoking. He focused on gymnastic exercises and fitness work and, though ball skills were important, he also prioritised physical conditioning for two days a week, training without a ball.

Madden’s Slavia side achieved considerable success. The club won four charity cups before the First World War, became Bohemian champions in 1913 and won the Czech league championship in 1925, 1929 and 1930.

This was a ‘golden age’ for Slavia in which the club established a pre-eminence at home, winning 134 of its 169 competitive matches.

International club matches were particularly important in central Europe at the time, and Slavia had an equally impressive record in this respect, totting up 304 wins in 429 matches.

This included coming runners-up to Hungary’s Újpest in the 1929 Mitropa Cup, the most prestigious European competition of the day. 

Slavia also regularly defeated British clubs on tour. In 1922, Slavia beat Madden’s former club Celtic 3-2 in a controversial game in which two Scots were sent off and yet the Czechs were accused by the British press of unnecessary roughness in their play.    

Madden became a legend among Slavia supporters. He had a Czech wife and stayed in touch with the club after retirement, regularly attending matches and serving on several committees.

He remained in Prague the rest of the life. At his funeral in 1948, the club arranged a guard of honour consisting of Slavia players wearing the team’s red and white shirts. A stand at the club's Sinobo Stadium is also named in his honour to this day.

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