Sheffield United at 131: The greatness of Jimmy Hagan - the football rebel who made many a kid's Christmas and turned down Sheffield Wednesday

Sheffield United turned 131 years old today – an occasion The Star will be marking with a series of articles from the club’s history.

By Danny Hall
Sunday, 22nd March 2020, 5:12 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd March 2020, 4:29 pm
Jimmy Hagan
Jimmy Hagan

I will always argue that, when asked to put together your all-time best Blades side, you actually have to have seen all of the players you pick play. When we have done all-time XIs, I have seen some great names added in. Needham, Gillespie, Foulkes, Dodds, Johnson – the list goes on.

All greats, all United legends and many responsible for major honours. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer around still fortunate enough to have seen any of the names listed play. Maybe the odd one saw Jock Dodds as a kid, but none who saw Needham and Co.

Former Sheffield United forward Jimmy Hagan (left) and his son, David, serving a customer in the sports shop he ran with former Sheffield United player Harold Brook on London Road, Sheffield, March 8, 1958

I mean, how do you pick a player on what is effectively hearsay? Thankfully plenty are around who saw Woody, TC and the like. Even the era before that, filled with Pace, Simpson and Coldwell. But the generation prior to that has less and less. Jimmy Hagan is a name that will always be mentioned.

I never saw him anywhere near a football shirt, but the name is one that is always synonymous with quality – by all accounts, a player that all agreed was years ahead of his time. One that should have had a bag full of international caps, not just the one recognised post-war appearance against Denmark in 1948.

Signed by Teddy Davison in 1938 from Derby, he was the son of a former professional player. Jimmy had been a schoolboy international who had been signed by Liverpool as a 14 year old, but fell victim to a Football League ruling that he was, at that age, too young to join their ground staff. He returned home to Washington in the north east and eventually signed for Derby, making his debut in the Football League just before his 18th birthday.

According to sources and the history books, his United career is legendary, mostly played out at a time when there were very few cameras recording games, so there is very little visual evidence. A few fleeting Pathe seconds against Stoke, a bit for the Football League, but most of it is passed down through families. My Dad said Jimmy was the best he ever saw, with TC as a very close second, and I would never doubt the old fella when it came to the beautiful game.

Jimmy Hagan when he was manager at Benfica

Our neighbours from S6 clearly thought the same. In February 1951 they offered a then record fee of £32,500 for a player past 30. United’s board, incredibly, accepted, but Jimmy didn’t. Known as his own man in every way, he refused point blank, saying he would finish his playing career with the Blades. He was a football rebel, as well. Many well-known names from the English top flight allegedly travelled to Ireland to play for cash under assumed names, meeting at places like Fishguard to get the ferry together. Shamrock may well have benefitted from Jimmy’s talents.

Not many people realise but when he had taken his United bow, he also played for Blackpool. OK, it was on a tour abroad, and done as a favour to his great friend Stanley Matthews, but a Tangerine he was for a short spell!

When looking for work in 1968 he was invited to a meeting with the United board at the Hallam Towers Hotel in Sheffield. John Harris was moving upstairs and the Lane legend was seen as the ideal man to lead the revolution. His questions were simple... were certain senior figures still involved? When the answer was ‘yes’ his reply was short. The chance to bring him home had passed.

Despite this entire hard and cool image, this was the man who, from the sports shop he ran on London Road with friend and playing colleague, Harold Brook, would deliver an ordered gift to the house of the child receiving it on a Christmas Eve. He would also put a protective arm round many of the part-time players that would train with him on a Wednesday evening at the ground.

Above all he, and his family, were and are modest to the last. Son David, still very much a Blade, would play football with his pals at the top of Meersbrook Park, not far from the Hagan home. He never told any of them who his Dad was - which worked well until one day he turned up to fetch him. You can imagine the effect that had. Plenty of lads calling for him at home from that moment on!

There you go. I try and touch on life and times away from the Lane and still never really scratch the surface of the story of the great man, I can still think of more anecdotes and tales writing this. I was lucky to have met him on a fair few occasions, and you always knew you were in the presence of United greatness. Jimmy died in Sheffield and his funeral was held at St Mary’s on Bramall Lane, in the shadow of his beloved Blades. Like I say, to put the greats of yesteryear, such as Jimmy, in your all time XI you have to have seen them play.

But my Dad said he was the best, and that’s good enough for me.