At first glance, I was happy that the Daily Mail recognised Johnny Haynes as one of the finest footballers ever to wear an England side. Then I looked at the names who ranked above him. Des Walker? Darren Anderton? Are you sure?
Haynes, the first player worth £100 a week and a man who captained his country 22 times, was one of the post-war game’s first star names. His range of passing was sublime and his influence on the game was unmistakable. He was, quite simply, brilliant. The fact that he remained a one-club man just makes him all the more deserving of the acclaim all these years on even though he is no longer with us.
The Maestro was an exceptional player and a wonderful man. No less a figure than Pele lauded him as the “best passer of the ball I’ve ever seen”.
The tributes after his death said it all.
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.
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.
The Fulham Supporters’ Trust
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.
This one came, of course, a few years earlier from the late, great Bobby Moore.
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.
Compare and contrast, if you will, Haynes with the men who the Mail have seen fit to list above him.
Des Walker might have had a great Italia ’90 but the rest of his international career was lamentable. His England form tailed off after he left England for a disappointing spell in Italy. You can trace the dramatic fall from grace of the much-maligned Graham Taylor back to the moment when Walker tripped Mark Overmars to concede a penalty and allow the Dutch to complete a comback from 2-0 down at Wembley in a crucial World Cup qualifier.
His defending against Poland later that same year wasn’t much better. He gifted the Poles a goal by inexplicably losing the ball on the edge of his own box and another blunder in a not-so-hilarious mix-up with Chris Woods almost led to a second. All this paled into insignificance when put next to an utterly abject performance in our shambolic defeat to Norway. Walker gave away a needless free-kick by the corner flag, argued about it with the referee and by the time he turned round Norway were in to score their first goal. It wasn’t his only mistake. His last international was memorable for all the wrong reasons – as San Marino scored after eight seconds and ruined any hope England had of making the World Cup in America.
Darren Anderton had enormous potential but spent most of his career lying on treatment tables. Sicknote had his moments for England – scoring a last-minute equaliser in a memorable comeback against Sweden in the Umbro Cup and firing home the first in our make-or-break World Cup ’98 tie with Colombia – but will probably always be remembered for hitting the post in extra time in our Euro ’96 semi-final with Germany.
Both players had some great moments with England but never hit the heights that Haynes managed. I’ve grown wearily used to disagreeing with the Mail – usually for the sensationalist untruths they parrot – but this was a disappointing example of how modernity, even if its mediocre, sadly trumps history.