Johnny Haynes may not have gained the same international recognition as his English compatriots who lifted the FIFA World Cup™ in 1966, but the status of this star of the 1950s and 60s could easily have been so different.
Haynes' place in British football folklore is best remembered for his pay cheque, with the Fulham star the first player in England to earn £100-a-week after the removal of the wage cap. But to define him by currency cheapens the memory of an artisan footballer and loyal servant to his club. When Hayes left Fulham on 17 January 1970, it brought to an end a 17-year era in the west Londoners' first team that has led both to a stand being named after him at Craven Cottage and his statue standing outside it.
Given an early taste of his talents via a televised England schoolboys game against Scotland, fans wanted the 15-year-old fast-tracked into the Fulham senior side, but it was not until Boxing Day 1952 that the 18-year-old Haynes stepped out in white, and what a Christmas present he would turn out to be.
Blessed with sublime vision, a deftness of touch and unbelievable ability to dissect a defence from his inside-left position – akin to an attacking midfielder today – he was the equivalent of a Xavi or Andres Iniesta of his day. Similarly, it is apt his nickname 'the Maestro' would later also be attributed to Xabi Alonso, such was Haynes' penchant for precision 40-yard passes.
Already well on his way to his 56 caps for England before Fulham reached Division One on the back of his 25 goals in 1959, his creativity would become integral to everything his country did. “[He is] the greatest passer of the ball I've ever seen,” England forward Jimmy Greaves said. “There has rarely been such a dominant figure for England as Johnny. Nearly ever forward move was masterminded by him.”
Then-captain Billy Wright was similarly effusive about his team-mate: “I almost used to purr when watching Johnny play his beautifully disguised passes with either foot. He was a footballing master.”
Haynes had already appeared at his first World Cup while still in Division Two, playing every game as England narrowly missed out on the quarter-finals at Sweden 1958. He scored what would be his only World Cup goal in their third group game with Austria, where England - knowing a win would put them through - drew 2-2 and departed following a 1-0 play-off defeat to USSR.
Taking off the cap
Known as the 'Brylcreem Boy' for being one of the first footballers to put his face to advertising - in this case hair styling products - the wage-cap abolishment on 18 January 1961 set in motion a whirlwind 18 months.
After Fulham chairman Tommy Trinder – a famous comedian in those days – had turned down an offer of £100,000 from AC Milan, which would have reportedly made Haynes the best-paid player on the planet, Trinder said he would pay him five times the £20 maximum wage if he could. “Haynes is an entertainer like I am, and if the maximum wage is ever abolished, I will pay him what he is worth, which is £100-a-week.”
Come January 1961, Haynes turned up at Trinder's door with the newspaper cuttings of those quotes, and the chairman had no choice but to give him the triple-figure wage, equating to roughly £2000-per-week today. “I signed the contract straight away,” said Haynes. “I love London, I am captain of England and I feel I owe the game something.” For future England coach Bobby Robson, a team-mate for club and country, it was money well spent. “We've got the best player in the country, nobody's going to touch him, and we'll pay him whatever we have to.”
A few months later, the then England captain had arguably his greatest moment in his country's colours, when he orchestrated a decimation of neighbours Scotland to clinch the British Home Nations Championship. The 9-3 defeat still ranks as the Scots' second-heaviest in history, and Haynes was carried aloft by his team-mates after scoring two and making several more.
There has rarely been such a dominant figure for England as Johnny.
“We paraded the great Haynesie around the pitch as if he was the FA Cup at the end of a match in which he touched perfection,” Greaves, who got a hat-trick, reflected. “We would have beaten anybody that day.” From the other side of the field, Dave Mackay was quite clear about his impressions of England's captain. “I'd sooner have the job of marking any other footballer in the world than Johnny Haynes.”
Going into the World Cup the following year, Haynes led his team to Chile, where they faced a daunting opening game against Hungary. The Magyars' coach, Lajos Baroti, was disarmingly frank about how they planned to beat England. “Simple: No10 (Haynes) takes the corners, No10 takes the throw-ins; No10 does everything. So what do we? We put a man on No10. Goodbye, England.” It worked a charm, with Hungary winning 2-1.
That result proved the difference as the Hungarians topped the group ahead of the Three Lions, though both were to crash out in the quarter-finals, with a Garrincha-inspired Brazil seeing off Haynes and Co 3-1 on the way to glory.
After being far from his best, Haynes, who would be 31 when the competition came to his homeland in four years' time, was defiant. “My burning ambition now is to captain England in the finals of 1966 at home, and to be the captain of the winning team.”
But just two months later the dream was to be cruelly shattered. Driving through Blackpool after an away game with Fulham, Haynes suffered a car crash, doing serious damage to his knee. It took almost the entirety of the 1962/63 season to return, but having torn his cruciate ligament in the accident, he was forever more dogged by injury.
As a result he would never play for England again and his powers began to wane. Having carried Fulham for so long – though two FA Cup semi-finals were the peak of his achievements there – they eventually succumbed to successive relegations. Haynes retired after half a season in the third division, with his heyday eight years earlier frozen in time by the famous contract he had signed. “I was the first player to be paid £100 a week," he observed, "but Fulham did not increase my wages by a penny to the day I retired in 1970.”