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Gordon Jago: “It was a happy Valley, but I learnt what not to do at Charlton”

There’s excitement in his voice as he answers, but so too a hint of assertiveness. As if he’s happy the subject of his allegiance to Charlton Athletic has cropped up in conversation, and equally insulted that I felt the need to question it.

But Gordon Jago’s 147 league games for Charlton between 1954 and 1962 have almost become a footnote in his incredible list of career achievements.

The 82-year-old has spent his entire working life in football. He’s won England youth caps, helped to create one of the best sides QPR supporters have ever seen, and been interviewed for the job of England manager.

And for the last 40 years, Jago has been enjoying success in every soccer-related role he’s attempted in the USA. His Tampa Bay Rowdies side were runners-up on two occasions in the now defunct North American Soccer League, his work as coach of the Dallas Sidekicks, an indoor soccer side, earned him induction into the Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame, and his successful running of the Dallas Cup, a youth tournament that attracts academy sides from all over the world, saw him made a MBE.

So you can be forgiven for thinking, amongst all that, his affection for the Addicks has been pushed to one side. Other moments in his life taking greater significance, meaning he is not a supporter from afar of the club he spent his entire professional playing career at.

That, however, is not the case.

“Oh yes, it’s one of the first results I look for while I’m out in the United States,” says Jago, on a visit back to England.

“It was a happy Valley, the players were good together and the crowd was very supportive”

Jago, who turned down Tottenham Hotspur in order to represent his local club, can confidently look back at his playing career as a relative success. His longevity particularly impressive with 52 professionals, including eight centre-halves, at the club when he first broke into the first team – some contrast to the lack of numbers, particularly at the back, at present.

“I think I was a good, steady, average first team player at that time, and I must have been to play over the amount of games I did,” says Jago.

“I also must have been a thinker, because I remember we played Manchester United a year before the [Munich] crash. It was one of Bobby Charlton’s first games, Duncan Edwards was playing, and so was Tommy Taylor. Great players.

“Taylor was the England centre-forward, and he went out to the 18-yard line, so I’d go with him and stand him up. Then they’d knock it up to him, and he’d be running in while I’m running in on my own goal trying to flick it out. He went above me twice, and scored twice.

“I remember thinking this is ridiculous, so I didn’t go out to him on the next occasion. Willie Duff, the goalkeeper, is going berserk, but I’m telling him it’s a waste of time. Now as the ball’s coming in, I’m going out and heading it the way I want to and getting above him.”

It means there are positive memories for the centre-half, who scored a solitary goal during his time in SE7.

“It was a happy Valley, the players were good together and the crowd was very supportive.”

And so you might think. Jago’s Charlton career saw him play in the First Division, play alongside the likes of Derek Ufton, Benny Fenton, and Frank Lock, and play under legendary Addicks boss Jimmy Seed.

While knowledge among younger supporters about Seed isn’t complete, anyone who has ever been to The Valley will be aware of the impact he had on the club. One of the first things I did after stepping foot inside the ground for the first time was ask who the bloke whose name was on the away stand was.

But there is genuine frustration in Jago’s voice as he speaks about the standard of coaching, training, and tactical guidance that was on offer under Seed, and his replacement Jimmy Trotter. His views going almost completely against the status Seed has at the club.

“There were so many things done at Charlton at that time which weren’t the right things to do,” he suggests.

“Our training was diabolical. Our preparation was diabolical. We didn’t have a training ground at that time.

“Jack Shreeve, the coach, used to stand in the middle of The Valley. There would be four groups of players, two on the halfway line, and two behind the goals. He’d hold his fingers up to us, and however many number fingers were held was the amount of laps we did.

“I weighed nothing, and could run for miles. But if I started to run quick, then the Gordon Hursts of the group would say ‘where the bloody hell are you off to, Jago?’, so you dropped back and just ran, which really didn’t do us any good.

“On Tuesdays, we’d go on a run through Blackheath, and that was our training. Seed and Trotter told us that if you have the ball in the week, you won’t want it on a Saturday. Can you believe that?

“We couldn’t go on the field if it was wet, as they didn’t want to spoil it. I used to get goalkeeper Willie Duff to kick balls down on a cinder surface out at the back, and my forehead would be scared from it, but I did that myself.”

“There were so many things done at Charlton at that time which weren’t the right things to do”

Jago’s frustration was only increased by the fact he had made his first inroads into coaching while Trotter was boss, and could see the obvious faults in the training. He earned his preliminary coaching badge, and then became a staff coach at the FA, instructing other coaches at Lilleshall.

And such frustration was eventually displayed shortly before Jago’s retirement during one of Shreeve’s Valley running sessions.

“I wasn’t a rebel, but I go up to the far side away from the old stand and I stopped. I walked towards Jack in the centre circle,” he recalls.

“I told him ‘Jack, you could train a bloody chimpanzee to do your job’, and I carried on walking. I go home and tell my wife to expect a phone call that afternoon. No phone call.

“I go in the next morning, expecting to be in the office to see Trotter. Nothing. Jack Shreeve never said a word. No discipline, no nothing, and it killed it for me.

“Shortly after, I was kicked in the eye while playing Middlesbrough. I had a blood clot, but had to go back on after half-time because there was no substitutions. They took me to Moorefield hospital after the game and they went berserk. I could have been blind.

“I was only 29, but I decided then that that was the end of my career. I played a few games at the end of the season in the reserves, and I left after”.

Trotter, in Jago’s view, should never have been made manager of the club, despite being a brilliant trainer before getting the top job.

“Benny Fenton was going to come back from Colchester after Seed left, and that meant Benny, who had been a player under Jimmy, would be over Jimmy.

“Trotter didn’t want that, and he talked the board into making him manager. He was a nice man, but he had no knowledge of coaching.”

And, incredibly, there is similar criticism for Seed.

“Seed was a good selector of players, but he certainly wasn’t a tactician or coach,” says Jago.

“His conversation at the start of each season was “36 points”. That was it. Nothing else. His attitude was First Division. 36 points and stay in the First Division.

“How can a manager say 36 points? What sort of incentive is that?”

“Seed was a good selector of players, but he certainly wasn’t a tactician or coach”

It’s of no surprise to Jago that the Addicks suffered in the latter half of his time at the club, which included Seed resigning and relegation following in 1956-57, and the club slumping to 15th in the Second Division in his final season as a player.

So how is it that Seed managed Charlton 729 times, won an FA Cup, and has legendary status at The Valley?

“A lot of it was done by the players themselves,” believes Jago. “Don Welsh was the captain and the leader of the cup-winning side, and Benny Fenton was the captain and the leader when I was a player.

“I learnt more from the players playing in the game than I did from any training or coaching. Benny Fenton would be talking to me the whole time during the game. Little basics, but you needed to understand it.”

Such criticism of Seed means it is not the legendary Charlton boss who nurtured Jago into a successful managerial career. In fact, there’s a feeling that his time under Seed and Trotter had the opposite effect.

“I learnt what not to do at Charlton, which stood me in great stead for the rest of my life as a coach and as a manager.

“I learnt from people like Ron Greenwood and Walter Winterbottom, by going on coaching courses, and being made a staff coach by Winterbottom. They taught me a new world of soccer.

“I was coming back from seeing some of the best coaches in Europe in action to ‘you can’t have a ball because you won’t want it on Saturday’.”

Jago was particularly keen to praise Greenwood’s impact on his career, who first suggested to him that coaching might be a path to go down while they joined in with England training, without being named in the squad.

In fact, Greenwood attempted to buy Jago while he was assistant coach at Arsenal.

“Arsenal made a bid for me, when Ron Greenwood was the assistant coach, but Trotter didn’t tell me,” recalls Jago.

“They were going to give Charlton Cliff Holton and some money for me, because they didn’t have a centre-half at that time and I was playing quite well.

“But I didn’t hear about it until three weeks after. I called up Greenwood and only then did I have it confirmed. It could have been a chance of a lifetime, but it didn’t happen.”

“I learnt what not to do at Charlton, which stood me in great stead for the rest of my life as a coach and as a manager”

Nonetheless, it’s fair to say Jago’s chance of a lifetime was still to come. His success at QPR means he remains a cult hero at Loftus Road today.

Having cut his teeth in non-league football, in the States, and as a coach at Loftus Road, Jago was given the manager’s job in 1971, and he went onto achieve promotion to the First Division and build a squad that, after his departure in 1974, would come within a point of winning the title.

“The best five years of my life in soccer were at QPR,” says Jago, with plenty of meaning. “It was just incredible, and we built a team that was unbelievable.

“When you add the likes Stan Bowles, Don Givens, David Thomas and Frank McLintock that you personally signed, your choices, it was just marvellous.

“The standard of the soccer that they played was tremendous, and it was a joy to go every morning to train because they were so receptive.

“They’d come back in the afternoon, and Terry Venables and Stan Bowles would spend hours trying to bend a ball around a wall on wheels. It was such a great atmosphere, because all the players wanted to better themselves.”

And Jago, without at all sounding arrogant, is fully aware of the impact he had at QPR, and the respect he maintains from supporters.

“It’s nice to hear people say well done or thank you, but I didn’t have to be told that. I know when I’ve had good days or bad days.

“I’d been interviewed for the England job after Sir Alf Ramsey left, so whatever I was doing, was catching the eye.”

“The best five years of my life in soccer were at QPR”

Equally, his time at Loftus Road coming to an end brought about great sadness for Jago. The journey concluding before it had reached its natural conclusion, owing to a dispute with chairman Jim Gregory.

“The saddest day of my life was when I walked out on QPR. We’d won promotion, had one season in the top flight and finished, and I knew that team was going to get better. I wanted to get into Europe.

“Sure enough, next season, when Dave Sexton picked it up, they got into Europe. But I knew that that was coming, because the side was so good, and I knew I was walking away from all of that.

While Jago reminisces about his time at QPR, I remind him that the opening day of the season sees two of his former clubs meet. The response is predictable.

“Oh Christ. I’m in trouble, here. May the best team win,” he offers.

“I follow QPR as closely as Charlton. I also check the results of West Ham, who I followed as a kid, Millwall, and to a certain extent Fulham as I had a couple of years there as a coach which I really enjoyed.”

In some respects, it’s a very odd bunch of clubs to feel attachment to. Plenty of London rivalries can be created from the pool of teams.

Nonetheless, supporters of the clubs he has worked for hold him in high regard, irrespective of whether he has represented a rival or not. Something that may seem strange to those Charlton supporters who immediately wrote off Bob Peeters because of his Millwall connections, but not Jago.

“My job as a coach or manager was to build a team, then to select players, and to make the players the best they could be,” he says.

“In my career, we always succeeded as a team. There were a number of times where we won promotion with a late run. I still hold the record at QPR for the most games unbeaten, 22. At Millwall, we went 15 games unbeaten to get promotion, and I changed the whole team with no money.

“So it doesn’t surprise that I’m held in high regard by supporters of rival clubs.”

And it was a rival of the Addicks where Jago went next, appointed Millwall manager shortly after leaving QPR.

“One minute I’m on the verge of Europe at QPR and being looked at for the England job, the next minute I’m at Millwall,” he laughs.

“But it was two and a half good years. I enjoyed it. I had to change the whole club, and the genuine fans were good people.”

However, Jago’s next career move after QPR could have been very different. He might well have made a return to SE7.

“At that time, it was very interesting,” he recalls. “Benny Fenton left Millwall, Dave Sexton left Chelsea, Gordon Jago left QPR, and Bill Nicholson left Spurs.

“There was a group of us out of a job at the same time, and Benny Fenton went to Charlton, I went to Millwall.

“I met [Charlton owner] Michael Glikstien just after I had left QPR, and gone to Millwall. He told me that ‘we really should have taken you after you left QPR’.

“But that was the only knowledge I had of Charlton having an interest me. I never applied to Charlton, or even indicated anything to them, but he did indicate, perhaps being wise after the event, that I should have gone to Charlton at that time. It would have been interesting.”

Even if the Addicks had wanted to make Jago their boss after he had left Millwall in 1977, feeling the need to resign after a largely fabricated BBC documentary on the club’s hooligan culture made the environment at the club a difficult one, their chance had long gone.

“One minute I’m on the verge of Europe at QPR and being looked at for the England job, the next minute I’m at Millwall”

For Jago soon headed off to the USA and, but for almost returning as QPR manager in 1984, has not had thoughts of returning to the UK to live or to work since.

“I liked the way of life in the United States. It was a good life, and a good life for my family. That’s why I’ve never really thought about coming back,” explains Jago.

And without moving to America, Jago would not have been able to find a calling in the Dallas Cup. Even now, despite officially retiring, he remains an advisor and takes an active part in a competition he has put all his efforts into, and a role he adores.

“The Dallas Cup gave me a whole new life. I was retiring when they asked me to come on board and that was it.

“To still be in the game, and to be enjoying what you do, is incredible. The nicest thing was, when you went in the office every morning, you didn’t have a clue what was going to happen, because you could get people from all over the world contacting you.

“I must give thanks to the Robsons, the Busbys, and the Fergusons, who helped me and sent teams over. It’s been a great success.”

“To still be in the game, and to be enjoying what you do, is incredible”

Alumni of the competition include Wayne Rooney, Tom Cleverly, and Peter Crouch, but getting Charlton to take part, irrespective of the club’s success in producing talent, has proved difficult.

“The big problem with getting Charlton over was finding a sponsor to pick up the tab. I could only bring a team over that I could sell,” Jago admits.

And a look at the teams who took part this year suggests the Addicks would be in esteemed company. Everton, Valencia, and Corinthians among the entrants in the Gordon Jago Super Cup.

But, during a conversation that lasted five hours, not one pair of eyes in the London hotel in which we chat gave a man who has an international tournament named after him, a second glance.

In fairness, most of those eyes belonged to Australians, seemingly setting off to Lord’s the following day.

But if they had listened to the same stories I was told, they would have realised they were in the presence of a fascinating man, who has achieved an incredible amount in his lifetime.

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1 Comment

  1. My Uncle and Aunt were neighbours of Gordon Jago’s mum in Hook Lane, Welling in the fifties and sixties. My uncle (a Millwall supporter by the way) took me to my first Charlton game against Everton in the FA Cup (Willie Duff, the goalkeeper Gordon mentioned, was sent off for punching the Everton centre forward at the end of a pulsating 2-2 draw). My Aunt asked Mrs Jago if it was possible for her to speak to her son and get the Charlton player’s autographs for me – which she duly did and that autograph book became a treasured possession in my growing up years. So I will always be grateful to Gordon Jago for his kindness.
    Thank you for your article as I had no idea concerning the success of Gordon’s career post Charlton, having emigrated to New Zealand at the end of the sixties where football news from England at that time was very limited.

    Behind Enemy Lines

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