Johnny Madden, ‘The Rooter’ who made a name for himself in Prague at the turn of last century.
By Bill Heaney
The John Madden story
Fake news? There is nothing at all new about that concept which was brought back centre stage in world politics by US President Donald Trump.
Sportswriters have been making things up since footballers first kicked a heavy, laced leather ball on the squelching turf of Boghead Park, Dumbarton.
And long before that too.
I once asked the late, legendary football manager Jock Stein if a couple of Celtic players, who had been chosen to play for Scotland against Portugal at Hampden Park, would be fit for the match.
He looked at me as though I was an innocent abroad, which I was at that time, and told me in language a similar shade of blue to a Rangers jersey, that of course they would be fit.
I had been stupid enough to believe what I read on the back pages of Scotland’s national newspapers that Lisbon Lions Stevie Chalmers and John Clark were doubtful because of injuries picked up on a trip to America.
The sportswriters, who had been on the tour to New York and transmogrified to become fans with typewriters had gone native.
They just looked at each other and laughed behind their hands at the wet behind the ears news reporter who had strayed into their territory at Prestwick Airport.
Newspapers have a voracious appetite for stories about Rangers and Celtic and even the suggestion of a player sustaining an ankle knock or a bruised shin was often turned into a back page splash.
The least suggestion of a transfer or a big signing can be front page news and if there’s not one in the pipeline some sports scribes have no qualms about making one up.
That episode came back to me when I set out to report that a party from the Celtic Graves Society would be travelling to Prague to visit Olsany Cemetery, where a man who could easily be described as the greatest ever footballer to come out of Dumbarton – and there were many – is interred.
The delegation was there to mark the 50th anniversary of John “The Rooter” Madden’s death at an event which has been organised by Slavia University.
Here are some of the stories about the late, great John Madden, pictured right in his Scotland jersey and international cap.
Perhaps you should take some of them with a large pinch of salt, since I feel they should carry a health warning: You couldn’t make them up.
For example, some sources say that Madden was given the nickname “The Rooter” because he packed a shot so powerful that the goal frame was in danger of collapsing when his near misses hit the post.
Another source states the nickname was apparently a reference to a back-heeling manoeuvre at which Madden was extremely adept.
There can be no question that he was a wizard, whether it was his shot or his skills that got him the nickname.
We are told that Madden became the first real football coach in Bohemia, introducing many modern methods to the Czech game.
And that he trained continuously, celebrating an incredible 25 years with Sparta Prague.
It is said he made the Czech national team one of the top teams in Europe and that he was trainer to the country’s athletic team that took part in the 1924 Olympics.
Madden added another nickname and in his mature years became known as the “Father of Czech football”.
I managed to include some of these marvellous stories about John Madden in my recent book, All Our Yesterdays, which looked back at life in Dunbartonshire last century.
But I found some more on a more recent trawl through the files at Dumbarton Library.
One was put together by Dumbarton librarian Arthur Jones and Dumbarton FC’s official historian Jim McAllister.
It states that John Madden was born, one of at least nine children, to Irish immigrants Edward Madden and Agnes Mcllvaine at 71 High Street Dumbarton, on June 11, 1865.
In his early life, he combined football with earning a living as a riveter, most probably in Denny’s Leven shipyard beneath the castle rock in Dumbarton.
On retiring from playing football Madden moved to Prague, where his career turned to coaching, training, massage and physiotherapy work in soccer, ice hockey and tennis.
It has also been claimed that he advised ballet dancers on physical fitness matters.
As a footballer, Madden represented Scotland four times at full and league international level.
On one of these occasions, versus Wales at Wrexham in 1893, he became one of the few Scots to score four goals in an international match.
Credit for one of these goals is somewhat qualified as Madden’s net bound shot was deflected off his teammate, Taylor.
In 1887 and 1892, Madden appeared unsuccessfully in Scottish Cup Finals for Dumbarton and Celtic.
However, he had played in Celtic’s first ever match in May, 1888, and was part of the team that won three League Championships in the 1890s.
Madden’s active involvement in senior football spanned a period of at least 44 years from 1886 until 1930.
His playing career began in Dumbarton with the town’s minor sides, Albion and Hibs.
Moving on to Sons in 1886, John Madden had short spells with Gainsborough Trinity, and Grimsby Town and, after appearing in Celtic’s first ever match, played in May, 1888, he returned to Dumbarton.
About a year later, he embarked on an eight-year long career with Celtic. Brief stints with Tottenham Hotspur and Dundee were followed by retirement and apparent obscurity in 1898.
It is here that the stories about Madden begin to sound more and more apocryphal.
Accounts of his eventual return to Celtic, range from simple persuasion on the club’s part through to veiled suggestions of threatened physical enforcement by Celtic.
And to dark references concerning the supposed all pervasive influence of Catholic priests on the daily lives of their flocks.
In his book “The Romance of Sheffield Wednesday”, Richard Sparling described Madden as being “spirited” back to Celtic by a priest after only having been in Sheffield for two days.
Sparling also involved Madden in a tale of the dangers facing English scouts engaged in recruiting talent in Scotland during in the last decades of the 1800s.
These dangers were apparently most acute in small towns like Dumbarton and villages such as Renton, where the arrival of strangers was immediately noticed.
In September 1891, at a time when Madden was a Celtic player, he became a target for Sheffield Wednesday.
His agent went to Sinclair’s public house in Dumbarton, situated near the railway station, which later became known as the County Restaurant.
It was said to be known to every footballer in Scotland as the place where shady transfer deals were done.
Word quickly got round the town that English raiders had come to snap up Scottish talent and 200 angry men are said to have assembled outside in Church Street.
Fists flew and blows were landed and the agent with his mouth and nose bleeding and with a pair of “keekers” – black eyes – starting to swell, ran for the station with mob in pursuit.
One player, Tom Towie, is said to have taken the English shilling though, but after a short spell with Preston North End, Towie returned to Scotland, where he found himself on loan to Celtic from Renton.
He appears to have scored the only goal of the Scottish Cup Final of 1893.
However, prior to kick-off, Ibrox Park was declared unplayable due to frost, and Celtic and Queen’s Park agreed to play a ‘friendly’.
When the final was eventually “played for real” though, Queen’s were the winners by 2-1.
In 1914, writing in a newspaper article, his former Celtic colleague, James Blessington, claimed that the five foot seven, extremely fit Madden was the greatest five-a-side player Scotland ever produced.
Perhaps gilding the lily at the time, Blessington wrote that in one season Johnny won gold watches and Alberts and enough clocks to furnish every room in a mansion.
He is said to have given most of these of these to friends and relatives as wedding presents.
In the same article, Blessington repeats the story of Madden’s mother complaining, no doubt with a measure of motherly pride, of being driven round the bend by “the ticking of those damned clocks”.
Blessington also mentions a Dumbarton player being involved with Madden in what appears to have been a fairly prominent five-a-side team.
Among these five-a-side prizes won by Madden was a pewter tea set which, as part of an exhibition marking Celtic’s Centenary, was displayed in the People’s Palace in 1988.
Won at a sports meeting at Celtic Park on Sunday, August 9, 1891, the tea set was presented to Madden by Mr Dan Crilly, an Irish MP, who was on tour of central Scotland, campaigning for Home Rule.
The John Madden story
Fatal Boghead, where Johnny Madden was a prolific scorer for Dumbarton FC.
Between playing for Dumbarton and settling down to an established career with Celtic, John Madden put in a stint with Gainsborough Trinity.
Celtic manager Willie Maley, writing in the Glasgow Times in 1936, used Madden as an example to what he saw as the then cosseted professional footballers.
He raised metaphorical eyebrows at players who enjoyed luxuries such as travel on trains with dining cars.
But Johnny would work all week at shipyard riveting, travel overnight on Friday to England, and return in time for his work on Monday morning.
Following his father’s death in 1885, John Madden and his mother moved from Dumbarton to Partick, where his sister, Agnes, was establishing a small group of Fish, Fruit and Vegetable stores, while her husband Bill Burgess worked in the shipyards as a riveter.
In early 1905, Johnny arrived in Prague, where, until 1930, he was actively associated with the Slavia club of that city.
Under his tutelage, the club enjoyed success on a continental scale by winning the Mitropa Cup, which was an amateur fore-runner of the European Cup.
Madden was a member of the Czech party at the 1924 Olympics in Paris.
It has also been claimed that members of his Slavia squad made up the bulk of the Czech side that unsuccessfully contested the World Final with Italy in 1932.
With the final being played in Rome, and Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini picking the same referee for both the final and Italy’s semi-final, it could reasonably be said that the Czechs were on to a loser.
Early in his time in Prague, Johnny married Frantiska Cechova, of Cesky Brodd, a suburb of Prague.
The couple had a son known by both the name Harry and its Czech equivalent, Jindrich. There has been speculation, never confirmed, that the Madden’s also had a daughter.
Although formally retiring in 1930, Madden retained an active role in Slavia’s affairs.
Ageing and infirm, he was known to supervise training from a wheelchair, making his points by wielding a coaching whip.
According to Willie Maley, the grateful Czech authorities awarded him a pension for his services to football.
He remained a British citizen throughout two World Wars until his death in Prague on April 17, 1948.
He is buried in the Olsany Cemetery, along with his widow who died in November 1963 and their son, Harry, who pre-deceased them.
On the day of his burial, John Madden’s body was carried on a bier supported by uniformed pallbearers and flanked by Slavia players wearing match day strips.
Madden, whose playing career spanned a period of rapid changes both on and off the field, was always there or thereabouts when controversy raised its head.
According to Arthur Jones and Jim McAllister’s ‘Sons of the Rock’, Madden caused something of a stir in 1887 when he became the first Catholic to play for Dumbarton.
Any misgivings the Sons’ fans may have had on this matter were soon dispelled when, in November, 1887, Madden scored a goal on his debut against the now defunct Third Lanark.
Someone must have told the Dumbarton management that not only did this Catholics excel when it came to crossing himself, but that he was also very good at crossing a ball and even putting it in the net.
In May 1888, John Madden was a member of the first side ever fielded by Celtic.
Later in the same year he appears to have been scheduled to play in the club’s first ever competition, the Exhibition Cup.
Whatever the actual circumstances, he played instead for Dumbarton.
Even Willie Maley, who ate, breathed and slept Celtic, has given two different versions of what happened.
Maley and Madden had long shared a mutual dislike of each other and writing in a newspaper series in 1915. Maley claimed that Madden had deserted Celtic.
Twenty three years later, in 1938, a more mellowed Maley, perhaps reflecting that he and Madden were then the only surviving original Celts, had amended Madden’s “desertion” to that of being kidnapped.
Madden played on New Year’s Day, 1892, when Celtic met Dumbarton in a friendly that was to be a landmark in the histories of the two clubs and the Scottish game in general.
Celtic’s defence played out the game, which was kicked off by Major Burke of the visiting Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, in front of a crowd of 15,000 in a spirit of festive generosity.
The eight goals they conceded remains the club’s heaviest ever home defeat and a Dumbarton newspaper, the Lennox Herald, claimed that it was the highest score then recorded in a first class match.
The match was also notable for being the first occasion on which goal nets were used in Scotland.
Prior to the open acknowledgement of their professional status, players of sufficient talent could enjoy a loose and probably quite profitable arrangement with a variety of clubs.
On the advent up-front payment of players, Madden held meetings in the Elephant Hotel (not to be confused with the present day Elephant and Castle) in Dumbarton High Street.
He warned fellow players on the dangers of signing what would be binding and to some degree one sided contacts.
It has never been fully established why, in early 1905, retired from football some seven years, Madden, probably lacking in any formal education, took himself off to Prague.
It may have been that the powers that be in the Scottish game were delighted to see the back of him and his “trade union” activities.
However, at Tottenham Hotspur seven years earlier, he had played along with an amateur known as Ernie Payne.
Many years later, in 1988, the fortieth anniversary of Madden’s death, the following was attributed to Miloslav Slavik, who has been described as a dedicated historian of T. J. Slavia.
He believed that Madden was almost certainly introduced to T. J. Slavia by a George Joseph Payne, a former English footballer who in the early part of the century was an employee in an agricultural business situated in Lipova Street, Prague.
The business trading under the name of PRODUCTIVE was owned by Frantisek Grob, an uncle of Slavik’s.
At this distance in time it is difficult to know if Ernie and George Joseph Payne were in fact one and the same person.
Another explanation of how Madden eventually arrived in Prague is that T. J. Slavia, a club that had developed from an oratorical society comprised of Czech nationalist students, was on the lookout for a British coach.
For whatever reason they had a preference for the Rangers player John Tait Robertson who, like Madden, had been born in Dumbarton High Street.
Findlay Speedie is in the team picture on the left; Rangers player John Tait Robertson who, like Madden, had been born in Dumbarton High Street, and Madden’s fake business car which said he played for Rangers displayed with other family memorabilia.
Robertson, who hoped to pursue a career in journalism with the Daily Record, had no immediate interest in Slavia’s offer.
Madden, always an opportunist, along with Robertson and another Dumbarton footballer, Findlay Speedie of Rangers, set out to deceive Slavia.
Dressing Madden in a Rangers’ jersey and international cap belonging to Speedie and Robertson, the “Rooter” was provided with credentials that made him acceptable to Slavia.
Fanciful although this story may seem, it was later given some credence by Slavia.
Around about 1910, the club issued picture postcards bearing the caption “John Madden Glasgow Rangers”.
Many years later one of these postcards turned up in a dealer’s shop in Florence.
It had apparently been sent by the club secretary apologising to a member of T. J. Slavia, who was disputing an annual fees arrears demand.
These postcards showed Madden wearing a bowler hat. Apparently up until he died, Madden was always smartly turned out, wearing distinctively British styled clothing.
The John Madden story
Whatever doubts surround how and why Dumbarton-born footballer John Madden went to Prague, not many surround his reasons for staying there.
His marriage to Frantiska Cechova, the births of a son Harry and possibly a daughter alone, would have been reason enough for him to remain in Prague for 43 until his death in 1948.
Material considerations would also have played no small part in Madden’s extended stay in central Europe, which included the duration of two world wars.
The Dumbarton-born Rangers player John Tait Robertson, who is said to have played a part in Madden’s appointment with Slavia, became the first manager of Chelsea in 1910.
He followed this with jobs coaching the Rapide and MTK clubs of Vienna and Budapest.
Meeting up with Madden in Vienna, he was assured by the “Rooter” that coaching in Prague was preferable to knocking in rivets on a cold day on Clydeside.
Whether coming from football or some other source, Madden certainly seems to have been in receipt of a very healthy income.
Johnny Madden, right, pictured with his wife, Frantiska Cechova, and son Harry.
It has been noted that he and his wife were always fashionably dressed and Madden himself favoured British style clothing.
Historian, author and noted Scottish athlete, the late Dr Ian MacPhail, of Dumbarton, had been a student a Prague university in the 1930s.
In 1988, he expressed the opinion that Madden’s home address in the Letna district of Prague was in an area of the city where property prices would have been outwith the expected income of a football coach.
When asked to translate Czech language material on Madden, Dr McPhail seemed taken aback and said “surely Madden was not the man in Prague”.
He may simply have been confusing Madden with Johnny Dick, a Scotsman who had coached Slavia’s city rivals Sparta.
Oddly enough, Dr MacPhail did not appear to have met fellow Dumbartonian Madden in Prague.
This was despite the fact that while he, MacPhail, lived there, he became friendly with an Englishman named Calder who had enjoyed more than a passing acquaintance with Madden.
Calder who ran a clothing shop called English Tailoring had played under Madden for one of three main Prague clubs.
When playing for Slavia, Calder was known by the more Slavonic sounding name of ‘Less’.
A persistent, but unconfirmed story about Madden is that there was a statue erected to his memory in Prague.
Another, and perhaps more plausible version of this is that the memorial was a wall plaque in the form of ‘hung up’ football boots.
True or untrue, any such memorial seems to have disappeared by the time Celtic played Dukla Prague in early 1967, the year the Glasgow club won the European Cup.
Another unconfirmed story about Madden was that during World War One, someone from Dumbarton met him in some kind of detention centre in Austria.
Johnny appears to have had a droll sense of humour.
In a series on the life of Willie Maley, The Weekly News of June 20, 1936, recounted a Celtic v Kilmarnock match when Madden’s immediate opponent was Bummer Campbell.
On this occasion Bummer’s tactics were not at all to Madden’s liking. He complained of hacking, ankle tapping, and other infringements. Bummer paid no heed.
Madden walked off the field, returned with a huge pocketknife, blade open, and handing it to Campbell, asked him to pierce his heart, as he preferred sudden death to the slow torture to which he was being subjected.
Campbell apparently saw the funny side and played out the game in a more sporting fashion.
The John Madden story
The funeral procession for Johnny Madden to Olshansky cemetery in Prague.
On Friday, April 15, l988, the 40th anniversary of his death, a simple ceremony was held at the grave of John W. Madden, the Scottish trainer of the Slavia Football Club in the years 1905-30.
A delegation from the branch of the friends of the Slavia club laid wreaths of red and white carnations, tied with ribbons, on his grave in the Olshansky cemetery.
Taking part in the ceremony of remembrance were VIPs from throughout the world of football.
Madden, an outstanding player with Glasgow Celtic and a Scottish internationalist, was such a noteworthy figure in Czech football that he has become a legend.
With his cap set at an angle, in a shirt and sleeveless vest, and particularly with his inevitable chibouk,
The chibouk was a pipe which Madden never laid aside, even in the dressing room.
This so-called “average Scot” throughout his whole life, never learned to speak Czech.
When he spoke, he used a mixture of English, Czech and German expressions.
In the eleventh yearbook of Slavia Club in 1928, there is recorded such a conversation, from which we extract Madden’s interesting opinion of the team that time.
He said: “No Czech player plays well, but the Czech player thinks he is a big man or a big sportsman. Only a little training, and rather girls and the pub. An old team is better. Today players, even the Czech, play for the sake of the game but they play well.
“We smiled but we understood,” emphasised Prantisek Planicka, captain of the World cup finalists in 1934, and, along with Ant. Puc, a survivor of those who trained under “Dedek” Madden.
They, however, earned his respect. “When we stepped out on to the pitch, all he would say was – “You must play all out”. He was trainer, masseur and doctor.
His Scottish “jets” were renowned. He cured even torn muscles with them.
Once I suffered a similar injury, and the doctor put my leg in plaster.
Madden removed it and I placed my foot on the bottom of the bathtub, and from a distance of one metre, for half an hour he discharged a powerful jet of cold water on my foot.
It was Easter and I was freezing.
On another occasion, he dealt with a severely injured ankle of Vanik.
We were doubtful about Vanik’s ever playing again, but Madden gave him his Scottish “jets”, and Vanik returned to the football pitch.”
Joseph Bican also remembers Madden.
“I have a good photograph of him; I was introduced to him before the derby match between Slavia and Sparta.
“He was an intelligent bloke, a professional trainer with us, and brought new methods and experience from England and Scotland.
“Especially notable was the fact that in his whole life he learned only enough Czech to enable him to scold players.”
Much has been written about Madden, but no one has as yet definitely ascertained how and why he came from Glasgow to Praha and from Celtic to Slavia.
Miloslav Slavik, the dedicated historian of the Slavia Club, who knew Madden personally, is possibly the person who has come nearest to a solution to the problem.
He said: “My uncle, Frantisek Grob, had a business in Lipova Street in Praha, a business concern called Productive, dealing in agricultural produce.
“One person who worked in this firm was an Englishman, George J. Payne, who was also an international football player. I am ninety per cent sure that this Mr. Payne recommended Madden to the Slavia Club.
Dedek (Old Man), as he was nicknamed, was 1·7 metres (5ft.7 ins) tall, had black hair. in Praha he became acquainted with Frantiska Cechova from Cesky Brod and married her. They had a son Harry, a born footballer, who, following an unfortunate love affair, departed prematurely from this life, a happening which markedly affected Madden. John Madden died in his 83rd year.
The 20th century equivalent of a Celtic supporters’ bus heading for the match.
The former Scot sleeps his eternal sleep in the Czech land and, if there is a life hereafter, surely his chibouk will be hovering over a football pitch.
(The following passages are translated from the article “Legend of Johnny Madden”, much of which is almost identical with the article “A Chibouk on the pitch.”)
Johnny Madden appeared in the Slavia Club, in February 1905; his entry to the Czech football scene is commemorated in the book, Czech Lane by the author, Maxim Boryslavsky.
“My name is Madden – em, ay, dee, ee, en. I have definitely had good experience. I know you have talent. We shall surely be friends.”
Up to this point he spoke English. “Dekuji vam (Thank you)”, he spoke in Czech, but without the hook mark of the grave accent. (See translator’s note below.)
“It is all one with whom we have to fight. If a player smokes, he is no player. But the trainer can smoke.”
For the preparation of footballers, he introduced new ideas quite revolutionary for the time.
Training must be carried out on a level, lined pitch. Every player has a duty to turn out for training equally well prepared, and even the laces of his trainers kept tight for a possible pass. Training was to begin with warming up, short sprints and rapid steps.
Madden insisted on Saturdays and Mondays as ‘no football days’ (games were played on Sundays) but in this he differed from modern practice, every day being regarded as a training day.
Madden’s methods were, for the period, quite varied and interesting. Often he would surprise us with some new idea. He maintained that a healthy life-style was the foundation for training and sport, and he would not tolerate players who did not like training and tried to dodge it. He called them ‘Gauners’ (cheats) and tramps. He would say, “Czech players are no good. The Czech thinks he knows a lot. Only a little training, but girls and the pub. Czechs like to have a fine time and have no energy for play.” (The last few sentences are in a kind of English.)
(The references to hook-marks in the first paragraph relates to the marks on certain letters in Czech, e,r,s,z,c, which change the sound and accents on vowels. Madden was unaware of the difference thus indicated.)
The following are translations of items that appeared in 1994 in a publication entitled ‘Sparta Slavia Derby’ and a 1998 Slavia publication entitled Fotbalový Zpravodaj.
- ‘Sparta Slavia Derby’.
- Mr Trainer
- John William Madden was the first foreign coach in Czech F.A. He was from Scotland and working for Slavia.
- J.W. Madden was known as ‘Grandfather Madden.
- As he was British, he had to wear a black Top Hat the same as bank clerks and wear black shiny shoes.
- He was always spreading the aroma of his tobacco.
- The players were all very fond of him, though he was very strict.
- He was a true pioneer in introducing the training of individuals and of group training. He was thorough in ball work, passing and the use of both feet. He even allowed his players a day free, a rest day.
- He advised his players on eating and what to drink and what not to drink.
- He analysed the game in such a way that present day coaches use his standards.
- He used to play for Celtic; he also represented the country of the Lilac.
- His players remembered him for his advice and understood his instructions delivered in a Czech-Scottish vocabulary. He used to say all his players were good boys, but they had to be supervised or they would only do a little training and concentrate on ‘girls and pubs’.
- He died in the spring of 1948. He was 83 years old and it is hard to accept that he has nearly been forgotten.
Fotbalový Zpravodaj (Football Bulletin)
- Fifty years ago on 17th April 1948 there died in Prague, the first international trainer of a Czech football team.
- John Madden was born 11 June 1865 he played for Celtic Glasgow and Scotland. He went to Prague in 1905 as Slavia’s trainer and remained as trainer for 25 years till 1930.
- He brought into our football new procedures, individual and collective training and kicking the ball from different angles. He introduced a day of rest, exercises, interplay, kicking with both legs, diet and after game discussions.
- He was well liked for his hard discipline and was given the name “Iron Grandfather”.
- For Slavia he is a legend and his time as trainer, 25 years, is a record which has not been bettered.
- In Prague he married and stayed till his death. He is buried at Olsanskych Cemetery.
- On the anniversaries of his death the “Friends of Slavia” put flowers on his grave on behalf of Slavia Football Club.
- Honour the memory of John William Madden.
In the Archive
Tribute to “Our Nice Warm Friend” John Madden
This Tribute must have been written about 1925 as it says:
- “Twenty-five years ago, you came to us to teach us and look after us. You are a good man to stay with us twenty years. We hope you like your new country and new friendships”.
- We remember you in our hearts because you are our good friend.
- Your friends.
In the Archives offices of Slavia, the “Friends of Slavia” found rare documents about important persons in Slavia’s history. A nice written thank you to J. W. Madden, his Paris 1924 Olympics document, his British Passport issued at the Prague Embassy and his photo on football activity for a Scottish men’s team in 1905.
All Our Yesterdays by award-winning journalist Bill Heaney is 535 pages of stories about the life and work of local people in West Dunbartonshire. The book is available for £20 including postage and packaging from email@example.com It’s a great present for anyone interested in local history, whether at Christmas or Easter or whenever.