Slavia Prague, Celtic fans play tribute to Scottish ‘Father of Czech football’

Glasgow Celtic and Prague Slavia fans pay homage to Johnny Madden, photo: Miroslav Pomikal

Visitors to Prague’s main Olšanské cemetery were treated to a somewhat strange sight last Saturday as Glasgow Celtic and Prague Slavia football fans congregated at one specific grave to the tune of a mournful bagpipe. They were paying homage to a Scotsman, Johnny Madden, a legend for both clubs who coached Slavia Prague for 25 years from just after the start of the 20th century to its third decade and took them to the top in Czech and European football.

Glasgow Celtic and Prague Slavia fans pay homage to Johnny Madden,  photo: Miroslav Pomikal
The Slavia turnout from the fan club was to honour a visit of around half a dozen Scots from the Celtic Graves Society who wanted to pay their own homage at the grave of Johnny Madden. The society makes sure the final resting place of players and officials are kept up and they are dedicated to the history of the club.

The visit put the spotlight on a man who was a legend for both clubs and countries and a story that is well worth re-telling. A leaflet by the society, for example, describes Madden without exaggeration as ‘The Father of Czech Football.’ Slavia Prague fan club committee member, Miroslav Pomikal, can get the ball rolling as it were by summing up the significance of Madden’s arrival in Prague.

"He was the first coach that came to Bohemia and he started a football revolution here. At the time it was really an amateur game. The players trained on their own for the most part. So there comes along a player, the former captain of what was then the most famous club in football, Celtic Glasgow. This was a real revolution for the whole of Czech football. He brought with him a vision of how football should be played and also new methods related to the physical preparation that players should undergo. He was a genius as regards physiotherapy and with regard to use of massage and similar things. He came here in 1905 and he had so much know-how that he stayed on until 1930. Then, Slavia won the league without dropping a single point. When that win was achieved he came into the dressing room and congratulated the players and said that he was stopping because there was nothing more to achieve.ʺ

Slavia Prague had been mulling the recruitment of a foreign coach for some time but there were other financial priorities for what was only a fairly recently formed club such as getting the pitch, terraces, and club house constructed and in order. That done, they could start building a formidable team. And, at the time it was only natural they looked to…Scotland. Miroslav Pomikal continues:

It was normal that they looked for the best and came upon Johnny Madden.

ʺFor Slavia, the breakthrough came in 1899 when for the first time invited an English team, Oxford, to play. At the time, it went without saying that everything that was English was the best. But even better than English, was Scottish. Celtic Glasgow was the best team of all. Former players in Scotland looked for some sort of paid work across Europe. But many clubs had just been created and in 1900 Slavia still not have the money to get a foreign coach. Later the club’s finances were stabilised and there was the opportunity to look for a foreign coach and it was normal that they looked for the best and came upon Johnny Madden."

Madden, a former striker for Celtic when the club burst onto the Scottish and international scene who also played for a short period for Tottenham, later explained the reasons for his arrival in Prague in a rare interview:

"He was asked why he came to Bohemia and replied that it was a lot better than toiling in the docks, the Glasgow docks. He had already done that and it was really demanding. So he came here for some wage and was treated like a king, a god. And because he was a talented physiotherapist, in his free time all the ballet dancers came to him. So you can imagine that he trained players, which was great, and then in the afternoon he massaged some of the most beautiful women in Prague.ʺ

Johnny Madden,  photo: Public Domain
Madden’s personal history was almost rags to, relative, riches. He came from a family of Irish immigrants who had fled to Scotland to avoid the famine in their homeland. They landed up in Dumbarton, around 20 miles, from Glasgow. It was a tough city based on shipbuilding and during that time the religious divide between Catholics and Protestants was still strong and overflowed onto the football field. Football author and member of the Celtic Graves Society, Brendan Sweeney, takes up the story:

"By the time he was 21, amongst many firsts, he became the first Catholic to play for his local team Dumbarton. And at the end of that same season he enjoyed a meteoric rise that took him to Hampden Park where he played in the Scottish Cup final against Hibernian, but they lost 2:1."

Madden was a natty dresser and also cut a striking figure with his handlebar moustache. He stood out on the football field as well, being nicknamed ‘The Rooter’ for his ability to dug up football posts with the power of his shots on goal. He was nicknamed ‘dedek’ or old man or geezer at the Czech club. But it was a lot more than brute power that brought Madden success:

"As a player he was innovative too. Winning was not good enough, he wanted to entertain. The back heel and the dummy were techniques used by Johnny Madden in the 1890s.ʺ

With Celtic in eight seasons after his final recruitment, he scored 49 goals in 118 appearances and helped the club’s rocketing success. They won the Scottish league, Charity Cup, and Glasgow Cup. He also played four times for Scotland. Brendan Sweeney again:

"Celtic Park was the perfect place for Johnny Madden to excel into a first class centre forward as he enjoyed our fast attacking, passing, game. And soon the winner’s medals began to mount up.ʺ

In the afternoon he massaged some of the most beautiful women in Prague.

There was another side to Madden’s character as well, he had a lashing tongue and keen wit with opposition players, referees, and opposing managers on the receiving end during his Celtic and Slavia days. There is one story that once playing for Celtic he was hacked so much by one opponent that he went off the pitch. Madden came back with a knife and offered it to his opponent, telling him that he would rather he be stabbed in the heart than undergo a second half of such torture. On another occasion at Slavia, Celtic had been invited over to play. At one stage a Slavia player went down seriously injured and it looked like being down to 10 men. Madden when down to see his player and shot out a comment to his Celtic counterpart that they could still win with 10. He returned with some remorse for his earlier comment. Brendan Sweeney:

ʺ…When he came back to his seat Johnny Madden apologised to the Celtic manager and said ‘I withdraw that remark. We could beat you with nine men [laughter]."

Glasgow Celtic and Prague Slavia fans pay homage to Johnny Madden,  photo: Jan Kaliba
Madden’s impact at Slavia was impressive. They won the first cup competition in the country in 1908, 1910, 1911, and 1912. They won the Czech championship in 1913 and later in 1915, though that was not officially recognised. They triumphed in the Central Bohemian league in 1918 and in 1924, though in that last year the competition was not finished. And when the professional league started in 1925 Slavia were the first winners and then again in the 1929 and 1930 seasons.

He also was an international coach. Madden was coach for the Czechoslovak team in the Antwerp Olympics in 1920, losing in controversial circumstances to the hosts. Although he officially retired from Slavia in 1930, Madden still lent a hand at the club and is credited with helping them win the Central European cup in 1938. He died in Prague 10 years later in 1948. Celtic Graves’ Brendan Sweeney sums up Madden’s enduring legacy:

"Celtic legend Johnny Madden played in our first ever match and he was a player that the Celtic Committee had tried to get for a year after that. And when we eventually got him in 1889 he became part of a legendary Celtic team. Although we have had fantastic eras over the years, for example winning the European Cup and nine titles in a row, for me, the most important part of any club’s history is at the very start because the pioneers of the club in the first 10 years made Celtic. If it was not for people like Johnny Madden at the very start we would not have had Lisbon [the European Championship]. So, Celtic are always eternally grateful d for Johnny Madden as well as all of the early founders and pioneers and they will always have a special place in our heart.

He…made Slavia Prague one of the biggest clubs in Europe.

"The fact that Johnny Madden came to Prague and was a fantastic success with Slavia Prague makes every Celtic fan extremely proud because it shows that what he learnt at Celtic, he then took elsewhere and made Slavia Prague one of the biggest clubs in Europe. The very fact that he stayed here 25 years showed how much he loved Prague the city and Slavia Prague the football club. He spent his first 40 years with Celtic and Glasgow, he spent the rest of his life with Slavia Prague, in Prague. And we are indebted to the people of Prague for taking Johnny to their hearts and doing what the Celtic fans do: we always remember our dead. And so we are greatly appreciative of the Slavia Prague fans who are doing the same for Johnny Madden.ʺ