Gordon Jago: A Soccer Pioneer – Column
Thursday, 18th May 2017 17:52 by Simon Dorset
A Kick Up The R’s columnist Simon Dorset returns to LFW with his latest column having tracked down a copy of Gordon Jago’s autobiography.
It was while I was compiling my previous article for Loft For Words, Whatever happened to QPR's fairytale of New York? that I finally realised something which was probably blindingly apparent to those that know me best; that I enjoyed research more than writing. The hours upon hours I spend digging around on the internet may be just reason to question my sanity, but I attack these quests with the same enthusiasm that some reserve for researching their family tree and others tend their garden.
Quite why my attention then turned onto Gordon Jago I can’t recall, but he certainly presented more of a challenge with so much of his career, in this country at least, being in the pre-internet era. I started to get a handle on his days as a youth thanks to a couple of Dulwich Hamlet aficionados who couldn’t have been more willing to help, but Jago then appeared to have fallen into a black hole before emerging again in Charlton’s first team which is where this remarkable man’s story starts to really take shape.
Frustrated by the poor standard of coaching at Charlton, Jago took his preliminary coaching badge while still young and helped out at the FA as a staff coach instructing other coaches at Lilleshall, in the company of men such as Walter Winterbottom, Ron Greenwood and Jimmy Hill. A kick in the eye he suffered in a match against Middlesbrough proved to be the catalyst to him changing roles. After being told by the medical staff at Moorfields Hospital that the resulting blood clot could have left him blind, he decided to quit playing at only 29.
Declining the opportunity to become Jimmy Hill’s assistant at Coventry City, Jago accepted an offer to become Eastbourne United’s manager where his role allowed him to continue working for the FA and to take youth and amateur players on tours. His pathway through to becoming a coach at Fulham, onto the Baltimore Bays in the newly formed North American Soccer League and even briefly becoming the United States National team’s coach is fairly well documented, but I was regularly finding little details irritatingly unobtainable.
It was at this point that the QPR’s official website carried the news that Gordon Jago was about to release his autobiography. My irritation at having my title “stolen” was soon replaced by impatience waiting for its release date and then annoyance that it didn’t appear to be on sale in this country. Disappointingly, the publishers didn’t reply to my email enquiring if it was going to be available in the UK, so I bit the bullet and ordered a copy off Amazon in the United States.
When the book finally arrived, taking all of the four-week’s delivery time that Amazon had estimated, I was disappointed by how thin it was; with fewer than 200 pages, it looked pretty meagre in relation to the $27.50 plus delivery price tag. As I started to dip into the contents to start to fill in the gaps in my research, I was immediately struck by the number of typos, but this lack of care by the publisher was soon relegated to a minor irritation as I became thoroughly absorbed in the unfolding account of Jago’s life.
Obviously Jago’s time as manager of QPR is of most interest, but it almost never happened. On his return from Baltimore he’d accepted an offer to become coach at Loftus Road, but after a run of poor results Jago had decided to accept the St Louis Stars’ offer to return to the United States as their coach. Before he could tender his resignation, he was called to Jim Gregory’s office to discover that manager Les Allen had beaten him to it and he was asked to temporarily take over the reins. Jago immediately turned the club’s fortunes around and began to build the team that Dave Sexton eventually steered to second place in the first division.
Jago’s disenchantment over how Manchester City pursued Rodney Marsh and disrupted our promotion challenge before eventually prising him away from QPR is fully documented, as is the more familiar story of how Don Givens, Stan Bowles and, eventually, Dave Thomas were signed to fill the void his departure left as is how he was considered a potential successor to Sir Alf Ramsey as England’s manager before Don Revie threw his hat into the ring.
He cities England’s quarter final match in the 1972 Euros against West Germany at Wembley as the match which shaped his football philosophy. Led by Franz Beckenbauer, and with an average age of just 23, the West German’s passing, movement, technique, and confidence in possession made an indelible impression on Jago. What he remembers as “one of the finest displays of attacking football that I have ever seen” became the template for all of his teams, starting with QPR.
Jago’s undisguised pride at seeing his team embrace his new methods, win promotion to the First Division and be recognised for their scintillating football by winning The Sun’s award for playing the most attractive football in the First Division shines through his words and is in sharp contrast to the disintegration of his relationship with Jim Gregory. He describes the day that he felt compelled to walk away from QPR as the “Saddest day of my soccer life”, but, as a strongly principled man, Gregory’s actions had left him with no alternative.
With events being treated in a relatively strict chronological order, it is easy to chart his development as a coach and of his priorities. The promotion he won at Millwall seems almost secondary to the youth policy he instigated, perhaps because this ignited a passion in him which would become more and more prominent during the rest of his career. Despite the successes Jago achieved as coach with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the indoor soccer team the Dallas Sidekicks and as Commissioner of the World Indoor Soccer League, his most significant work in his second spell in the United States was with the Dr Pepper Dallas Cup.
The international invitational youth team tournament, established in 1980, was flagging due to the aftermath of 9/11 when he was appointed as its executive director. He recounts how he delved into his contact book to address this and how Sir Bobby Robson, manager of Newcastle United at that time (Robson had been Fulham’s captain when Jago was coach there), immediately responded and sent over his Under 19 team. Jago steadily built the tournament into one of the most prestigious youth tournaments in the world with clubs such as Manchester United and Barcelona regularly sending over teams to compete. It was because of his outstanding work at the tournament that he was awarded the MBE for services to international youth football. After he retired from this role the elite group was renamed “The Gordon Jago Super Group” in his honour.
There are few footballing stories that can compare with Gordon Jago’s, I’ve barely scratched the surface here. As a good player, an innovative coach and an outstanding administrator, I don’t believe that he has ever received the acclaim he deserves in his home country. Does this the book redress that situation? If you can ignore the typos and errors, which are undoubtedly due to the publisher’s desire to ensure that it was available in time for this year’s Dallas Cup, and not be too perturbed by the Americanisms, then this book has a lot to commend it. The narrative is strong, Jago’s natural modesty ensures that it never gets even remotely self-indulgent and, above all else, it is a fascinating insight into the life of one of our greatest ever coaches.
Pictures – Action Images
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