KEIR RADNEDGE in PRAGUE —- On the counter of the Fan Shop outside the Eden Stadium in Prague, amid the scarves and the shirts and the caps, is a perspex box half full with bank notes and coins of all denominations.
With the UEFA European Under-21 Championship about to open in Prague the bank notes and coins may soon pile up. But the cash is not destined for the coffers of home club Slavia but for the memory of the greatest figure in the club’s history.
He was not Czech or Slovak or Moravian or Austrian; he was Scottish. His name was John William Madden and he was coach of the club of the red star from 1905 until 1930. Madden laid the foundations of the greatest subsequent decade in Slavia’s history when they were six times Czech champions and once winners of the Mitropa Cup, forerunner of today’s Champions League.
Only three times have Slavia won the league title in Czechoslovak and Czech Republic in the 67 years since Madden’s death, in his adopted home city on the Vltava, on April 17, 1948.
He is buried in Prague’s Olsany cemetery but his grave, like the Slavia club, has seen better days. Hence the collection in the Slavia Fan Shop. The management of the club has no time or koruna for tradition but the fans know better. Madden is a legend, even the ‘Father of Czech Football.’
His story is a wild one, characteristic of those football pioneers who strew the people’s game across the continent.
Born on June 11, 1865, in Dumbarton, Madden – variously nicknamed ‘Jake . . .Old Man . . . Rooted’ was one of nine children of Irish Catholic immigrants. By his teens he was working in the Clydeside shipyards and making a weekend name playing football, even down in England with Grimsby.
On May 28, 1888, Madden played centre-forward in Celtic’s first-ever match, a 5-2 win over Rangers. Altogether he scored 49 goals in 118 appearances (38 in 92 league games and 11 in 26 Scottish cup-ties).
Twice Madden played the the Scottish League and twice for the Scottish national team. Both matches were against Wales. Madden struck four in an 8-0 win on the first outing in Wrexham in 1893 and scored both Scotland goals in a 2-2 draw two years later, also in Wrexham.
With Celtic he was a Scottish champion three times (in 1893, 1894 and 1896) and a cup-winner in 1892.
Sheffield Wednesday wanted to sign him but he stayed in Paradise. The reasons remains confused. One tale has it that Celtic’s secretary-manager chased after him to Yorkshire with a better offer; another version claims angry fans threatened Wednesday officials when they arrived at the train station in Partick; a third version claims he was persuaded to return to Glasgow by a Catholic priest.
Madden stayed with Celtic until his retirement in 1897. He made a brief comeback with Dumbarton then quit again and was briefly secretary-manager at both Dundee and Tottenham Hotspur.
Eight years later and he was on his way to Prague. Slavia officials had come to London looking for a new manager. Madden had played in Hungary on a summer tour and ‘sold’ himself to them. Asked the reason, years later, Madden snorted: “Well, it beats boiler making in the shipyard.”
In 1908, three years after his arrival, Slavia won the Czech cup. Madden was hailed as a magician with his ‘modern methods’ such as massages and physiotherapy and a variety of strange, magic ointments. By then Prague was more than a club, it was his home through marriage to local girl Franceska Chekhov.
Madden managed Slavia until his retirement in June 1930. His last game in charge was a 3-0 defeat by Hungary’s Ujpest Dozsa in Geneva, in a club tournament organised by countries who had shied away from sending national teams to the inaugural World Cup in far-away Uruguay.
He continued helping with the coaching even after being restricted to a wheelchair and until his death in 1948.
Madden is buried in Prague’s Olsany cemetery, near the central railway station, along with Franceska and their son Henry. The coffin, at his funeral, was escorted to its final resting place by a guard of honour of Slavia players in the iconic red-and-white halved jerseys with that red star on their chests.
The condition of the grave is not what it was. Hence the collection box in Madden’s memory in the Slavia Fan Shop, to raise restoration funds.
Long gone . . . but not forgotten, in Prague at least. Maybe not in Scotland either?