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Old 9th March 2010, 21:55   #1
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Houston Texas
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Default United Captains - Johnny Carey

“The Quiet Man” – Johnny Carey

“The Quiet Man” – I don’t think that there is a more apt description for the man who was to be Manchester United’s first post war Club Captain. Quiet, diplomatic, studious, intelligent, skilful, versatile, but authoritative, and respected, both on and off the field of play. One of the finest ambassadors for the game of football the sport has ever known. Carey certainly left his mark on the game, but in addition to the accolades described above, he will also be remembered as a wonderful human being.

Johnny’s path and journey to Old Trafford, and Manchester United, began in the summer of 1936, when as a raw boned 17 years old inside forward, he left Home Farm, the club that was to become so famous for producing so many wonderful Irish footballers for the British game, and joined the League of Ireland side, St. James’s Gate, one of Ireland’s oldest soccer clubs whose roots were based in the Guinness Brewery’s staff, sports and social club.

His stay at St. James’s was relatively short, in fact just two months. Johnny was spotted by a man whose name was later to become synonymous with Manchester United as their Chief Scout in the Republic of Ireland, one Billy Behan. Behan, a goalkeeper, had joined Manchester United in 1933 after moving from the Dublin club Shamrock Rovers. He was to stay at Old Trafford for just 11 months before moving back to Ireland in 1934 after playing in just one first team game, a Second Division encounter with Bury at Old Trafford in March of 1934. Behan retired from playing in 1936, and after watching Carey play a number of times, he recommended him to Scot Duncan, who was the then manager of Manchester United. United paid St. James’s of just 250 pounds in what was then a record fee for a League of Ireland player.

Carey’s debut game for Manchester United was on September 25, 1937 playing inside left, at Old Trafford, in a second Division game against Southampton which United lost by 2-1. It is interesting to note that his team mate playing at centre half that day was none other than Sir Walter Winterbottom who went on to become a celebrated manager and coach of the full England international team. Two other young players of note made their debuts for United not long afterwards; Jack Rowley, who had been signed from Bournemouth, and Stan Pearson who had come through from the juniors. For the rest of that season, Carey and Pearson vied with each other for the inside left berth with Carey chalking up 19 appearances.

The 1938/39 season saw Johnny make 34 first team appearances and most of those appearances were at inside left forming a great partnership with Jack Rowley. However, that was to be his last season in full time competitive football for almost six years, The war clouds had been gathering over Europe and the normal competitive leagues were suspended at the start of what would have been the 1939/40 season. For the next few years Johnny turned out for United in the Wartime leagues and “guested” for various clubs whilst also playing exhibition matches and friendlies, and this carried on until 1943 when he enlisted into the British Army. During the next two years he served overseas in both the middle east and in Italy, where again, he managed to play football in hastily organized friendly matches with the various service teams.

When hostilities ceased in 1945, despite being made several decent offers from other Clubs, Johnny returned back to Manchester and to Manchester United. The club were not in a great position. Old Trafford had suffered severe damage from bombs that had gone astray in German air raids that had targeted the large industrial area of Trafford Park. The stadium was in such poor condition that it had to be virtually re-built. There was very little money in the club, and the club had just appointed a new manager by the name of Matt Busby who had never managed a football club before. Without doubt a classy wing half as a player, and one who had served both Manchester City and Liverpool well during the 1930’s. But as a manager, he was untried, and the manager’s role back in those days was a totally different job than the one we see today.

Busby was to change that and he became the revolutionary, the first of what was to become known as the “track suit” manager. He had a long term vision of how he wanted the club to develop both on and off the field. He brought in a right hand man in Jimmy Murphy, a Welshman, and a former tenacious wing half with West Bromwich Albion. Their plans for the future were formulated and were quite revolutionary for the time, but initially time was the one thing that they needed. They also needed a bridge - a leader between themselves and the players. That bridge and leader was to be Johnny Carey.

Matt and Jimmy both Johnny personally. They had played with him and against him in exhibition games during the wartime years, both in Britain, and in Italy. In Johnny, they saw those much need qualities that were required to be a leader. They decided that he was to be their “generalissimo.” He was quiet and studious, had a very dry sense of humour, was prudent with his money, but was always calm under any kind of pressure. His temperament was ice cold. Nothing phased him. He could, and did hold his own with his contemporaries, and it was to their “Skipper” that they often turned to for advice. Carey without doubt had their respect, and they were prepared to follow his lead, even though there was a lot of strong personalities in the United dressing room immediately after the War.

As a player, Carey was so very versatile and he played in every position on the field for Manchester United, including one game in goal. In the first full season after the war (1946/47) Busby moved Carey into the position that he was really to make his own; right full back. Although he did play games in all those other positions, his main stay was right back. He was so poised, so articulate, always seemed to have so much time on the ball. Not for him the rash challenge, more often than not he stayed on his feet. He studied his opponents, knew their strengths, and probed their weaknesses. Such a composed player and his reputation and stature grew with each passing season. So much so that in 1947/48 he was given the honour of captaining the Rest of Europe against a Great Britain team at Hampden Park in a match that celebrated the British Home Countries affiliation to FIFA. Johnny Carey is one of the few men to have played for both the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Football Association winning 27 caps for the former, and 9 for the latter. His cool, calm, calculated play, tranquil style, and quiet but firm leadership led to him being elected the Football Writers Player of the Year at the end of the 1948/49 season. It was, without doubt, a very popular choice amongst his peers.

For the first four seasons after the War, Manchester United were to finish as runners-up in the First Division of the Football League. However in 1948, the team won the club’s first major honour since 1911, when the collected the F.A. Cup after they beat Lancashire rivals Blackpool, 4-2 in one of the most thrilling finals ever seen at the old Wembley Stadium. Despite being 2-1 down at half-time, Carey had as much influence as Busby and Murphy did in the inspirational talks that went on inside the Wembley dressing room. The team clicked and put on a second half display that was awe inspiring, and it was the quiet smiling Irishman who travelled up the famous 39 steps to the Royal box to collect the famous old FA Cup from HM King George VI. That evening, at the club’s reception in a top central London hotel, he sat quietly reflecting, puffing on his pipe, and was heard later to sing what was his “party piece”, a little ditty that was made famous years later by another of his countrymen, Val Doonican - “Paddy McGinty’s Goat.”

At the end of the 1951-52 season, Carey, at last collected the much coveted First Division Championship winner’s medal, when Manchester United at last finished first. By this time he was almost 34 and at the end of the following season he announced his retirement. United did want him to stay on, namely as a coach, but he had other ambitions in the management field, particularly after watching Busby at work at close quarters.

It did not take him too long to find a position and Johnny’s first appointment as a manager was at Ewood Park, Blackburn at the start of the 1953/54 season, and the team was then languishing in the Second Division. This appointment by the Lancashire Club was the harbinger of a golden period for them. Over the next three years, Johnny worked hard putting his own team together and inspiring players who had underachieved in their careers to put in regular consistent performances than they ever thought that they were capable of. He stamped his own authority on the club and took a leaf out of Matt Busby’s book at Manchester United by gradually introducing young players into the team such as Ronnie Clayton, Peter Dobing, Roy Vernon, Bryan Douglas, Dave Whelan, Mick McGrath, and mixing them with experienced players brought in on modest transfers, like Matt Woods, Harry Leyland, Ally McLeod. They played bright, open football and were good to watch. He’d introduced a new swashbuckling attacking style of play and the crowds flocked back to watch Carey’s team. In his first two seasons in charge at Ewood, the team just missed out on promotion to the First Division, however, the future of the club looked a lot rosier than it had done for years with the quiet, efficient Irishman at the helm.

Again in 1956 and 1957, Rovers just missed out on promotion, but there was no denying that with their open brand of football, they would not be long in joining the First Division’s elite. Sure enough at the end of the 1957/58 season, Carey’s team were promoted after finishing up as Runners-Up to Second Division Champions, West Ham United. It was the culmination of almost five years hard work on Carey’s part, but Blackburn were going to have a hard job holding on to the young manager whose name was now being touted about in the top echelons of the game.

Everton Football Club was a sleeping giant in the game at that time. For a club of their size, they had vastly under achieved since their glory years in the 1930’s. Their Board had watched Carey’s progress at Blackburn Rovers with interest and in later September of 1958 they made their move offering Carey a contract that he couldn’t really turn down. On October the 1st he left Ewood Park to begin a new era at Goodison Park as Manager of the famous Toffees.

Upon his takeover at Everton, Carey inherited some decent players like goalkeeper Albert Dunlop, Mick Meagan, Derek Temple, Wally Fielding, Brian Harris, Dave Hickson, and Tommy Jones. Carey once again started to mould his own team. Just two weeks before he arrived, Bobby Collins, a mercurial little inside forward (who was later to become the cornerstone of Don Revie’s early Leeds United team) had been bought from celtic in Scotland. Unlike his time at Blackburn, Everton did have money to spend in the transfer market and Johnny began to invest in good players. Over the next few years he made some very shrewd buys, particularly in Scottish players. He bought Alex Parker, a class Scottish international from Falkirk. He went back to Blackburn and signed another inside forward in Welsh international Roy Vernon. Jimmy Gabriel a terrific creative wing half from Dundee, Tommy Ring a dashing left winger from Clyde, Billy Bingham the tricky Irish international arrived from Luton Town, goalkeeper Gordon West from Blackpool, and Alex Young from Hearts. There was an immense wealth of talent in the club and it just needed time and patience to nurture it and bring it together.

In his first two seasons at Goodison, the team finshed in 16th position in both season as there was a period of bedding in. In the 1960/61 season however, the fruits of his labours began to be enjoyed as the team at last gelled and started to come together. By the end of the 1960/61 season, they had finished in 5th position and everybody could see that there was much more to come from this team. Sadly for Johnny Carey, he was never going to see his hard work at Everton rewarded. In early 1961, the Moores family (famous for their Littlewoods football pools company ownership) had taken over control of Everton Football Club. Sir John Moores had installed himself as Chairman of the Club, and it could be said, was more than a little impatient for success – he wanted it now and was not prepared to wait for it. He seemed to be frustrated by Carey’s management style and wanted a more strict, disciplinary type of manager in the job.

Despite the progress that Carey’s team had made, many thought that although they played a brand of fine attacking football, and at last progress was being seen to be made, there was a feeling that the team would never be winners. In mid April 1961, Carey travelled to London with Sir John Moores to attend an FA meeting. Just a short time before, Harry Catterick had resigned as the manager of Sheffield Wednesday. It was probably the worst kept secret in football at that time, but the story was flying around that he’d been lined up for Carey’s job at Everton. On the way back from the FA meeting, carey and Moores were sharing a taxi going to Euston Station when carey decided to bring matters to a head. He asked his Chairman point blank if the rumours that he was hearing were true. Minutes later Carey was out of a job, told of his termination in the back of a black hackney cab. The following Monday, Catterick was installed as Everton manager. It must have been a blow for Johnny because two season later, with almost the very same team, Everton were crowned champions of the First Division. Catterick got all the credit, and Carey’s enormous part in the rebuilding of that Everton team is largely forgotten.

So Carey was unemployed – but not for long! Ask many football fans today what year was Liverpool promoted to the First Division and they will be able to tell you – 1962. Ask them which team gained promotion with them by finishing as Second Division Runners-Up, and it’s my guess that they won’t be able to tell you! It was actually unfashionable Leyton Orient – managed by Johnny Carey!

After the bitter disappointment of his departure from Everton in April 1961 Carey took some time off, until in the summer, he was approached by the Leyton Orient Board to take up the appointment of team manager. Orient had spent the previous five seasons languishing in the bottom half of the Second Division. In fact in season 1960/61 they had finished in 19th position only just missing out on relegatrion back into the Third Division.

Carey took to the job with gusto and what an amazing turnaround there was. With very little resources, he turned around what was supposedly a team of “no hopers” into Division Runners-Up and gained the “O’s” promotion to the elite First Division. It was an “Alice in Wonderland” fairy story for the East London Club, and the only time in their history that they ever reached the top flight in the game. The gulf in class within the First Division was just too hard for Carey’s team to bridge, and sadly, their status as a First Division team was to last just one season as they finished bottom of the table and were relegated alongside Manchester City.

Obviously, Carey had a lot to offer for in the summer of 1963, Nottingham Forest came calling, and so he left Leyton Orient to take up the challenge at the City Ground. At the time Forest were struggling in mid-table First Division mediocrity. Once again, he quietly went about reorganizing and restructuring an unfashionable football club and taking them forward to challenge clubs with much bigger names, and more importantly, much bigger resources. He already had some good players to work with – Peter Grummitt, Peter Hindley and John Winfield, Sammy Chapman, Bob McKinlay, Jeff Whitefoot (whom Carey had watched mature at Manchester United), and John Barnwell. There was a lot of experience there but the team had under achieved. Carey’s motivational skills were put to work, and he then bought wisely in the transfer market bringing in Terry Hennessy from Birmingham City, Joe Baker from Arsenal, Frank Wignall from Everton, Alan Hinton from Wolves. The added bonus for him was that young players like Barry Lyons, Ian Storey-Moore, and Henry Newton, were coming through from the reserve team. He managed to get an exciting blend of players playing open and attacking football.

It all came together for him and for Forest in the 1966/67 season. His team were bright, energetic, inventive, but very tight at the back. As that season moved into its final weeks, Forest was going for the “double” of both League and FA Cup. From the turn of the year, they had strung together some very consistent results, and were chasing Manchester United for the league title and by April, were just 1 point in arrears and had also reached the semi-final of the FA Cup. However, they suffered a dip in form from then on in and slipped further behind United who were eventually crowned Champions with a 4 point lead over Forest. In the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, again, they were disappointing on the day and lost to Tottenham Hotspur, the eventual winners by 2-0. So as season which promised so much, ended in bitter disappointment, and once again, Carey was the “nearly” man.

There had been so much optimism in the Forest camp that even though disappointed, both the Committee and the fans looked forward to bringing success to the City Ground in the 1968/69 season. Sadly that was not to happen. The team just didn’t function and until the turn of the year, they had managed to win only once at home and twice away, and sat just above the two relegation places in the division. The Forest Committee acted in the first weeks of 1969 by dismissing Carey from his managerial duties.

Johnny returned to Blackburn Rovers in an administrative capacity in 1969, but then in late 1970, with the team struggling and fighting for its Second Division survival, team manager Eddie Quigley was sacked, and Carey once again took over in the driving seat and tried to head off relegation to Division Three. This did not happen and at the end of the season, Rovers were down. In the close season, Rovers announced the sacking of Johnny and that was to be his last involvement in first class football in England.

It should also be noted that Johnny Carey also managed the Republic of Ireland national team for 12 years from 1955 - 1967. Although he was happy to do the job, the problem that Johnny had, was similar to that which England team managers prior to Sir Alf Ramsey, had experienced – and that was that they had not been able to select their own teams! The FAI had a Selection Committee which picked the team. But Carey saw it as the way it was and got on with the job before standing down in 1967.

After football, Johnny returned to the Manchester Area and worked in local government for Trafford Borough Council. He retired and lived out his life in Macclesfield, Cheshire before passing away on August 23, 1994 after fighting cancer.

Johnny was always the “Quiet Man”, but without doubt, he was a born leader, and did it in his own style. There were a lot of players in later years who tended to have an opinion that he was too laid back to be a football manager and that he hadn’t the heart to change things. That wasn’t true. Players who were close to Carey eulogised about him both as a cultured player, a fine manager, but most of all, a totally honest, caring, and compassionate human being. He left an indelible mark on the game of football, particularly in both the histories of Manchester United and the Football Association of Ireland.
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