MANY of the stars of football during the middle of the 20th century came from a footballing background at a time when ‘following in father’s footsteps’ was much more common than it seems these days.
Robert Carter came from County Durham and after starting his career with local teams Sunderland Royal Rovers and Selbourne he moved on to play professionally for Burslem Port Vale, Stockport County, Fulham and Southampton. Known as ‘Toddler’ because of his small stature, Carter was forced to retire in 1910 aged 29 due to a serious head injury.
After the enforced retirement Carter and his wife moved back to the North East to run a pub, The Ocean Queen, and their son Horatio Stratton, born in 1913, grew up a Sunderland fan, his idol being local hero Charles Buchan who sometimes visited the pub where the young lad was growing up.
Carter Junior was an accomplished cricketer, once scoring 141 runs in 25 minutes. But he was even better at football a fact not missed by those watching from the sideline.
Young Raich made his England Schoolboy debut in 1927 against Wales when just 13 years old and was generally thought to be the best player on the pitch.
Robert Carter never fully recovered from the head injury and died in 1928 aged just 48. Ten days after his father passed away Raich played for England Schoolboys against Scotland at Leicester and according to one observer was; ‘the best forward on the field’ in a 5-1 win.
For his last schoolboy international Carter captained his country to a 3-2 victory over Wales, scoring twice. The Sunderland Echo said of him; “He is one of the best all-round athletes Sunderland has produced for many a day, and his future career will be watched with interest”.
Sunderland manager Johnny Cochrane wanted to sign Carter when he left school aged 14 and give him a job in the club’s office until he could turn professional at 17. However, his uncle Ted Carter, a policeman, instructed him to reject Cochrane’s offer and instead arranged for young Raich to take a job as an apprentice electrician.
In 1930 a friend arranged for Carter, then 17, to have a trial with Leicester City. He played in a match again West Ham United but Foxes manager Willie Orr told him that he was too small and skinny and suggested that he; “Go home and build yourself up physically. Get some brawn and weight on you”.
Carter joined a local team, Esh Winning in the Northern Amateur League, and was soon approached with professional terms by Huddersfield Town. But Cochrane, who had followed his progress, offered him a £10 signing-on fee plus £3 per week and £1 per reserve team appearance and in November 1931 he signed a contract with his local club.
In 1932 injury and illness struck down Patsy Gallacher and Bob Gurney, the two inside-lefts in front of him, and gave Carter a first-team opportunity. He made his debut against Blackburn Rovers. Slotting in alongside left-winger Jimmy Connor he immediately developed a promising partnership with the Scotland international and kept his place in the side, scoring his first goal in the 7-4 win over Bolton Wanderers shortly after.
Carter drew praise right away. After the Bolton win a reporter said; “Carter showed all the skill of a veteran and paved the way for almost every successful Sunderland move”. None other than Charles Buchan, who had retired after a glittering career and was now a respected journalist predicted that the youngster to whom he was a hero would one day play for England.
Still the Roker team brought their prodigy, only 5ft 7in tall and weighing just 9st 6lbs, along slowly. In the 1932-33 season Carter made 29 appearances as his team finished in mid-table and his wages were increased to £8 per week.
The following was his breakout season. Carter scored 17 goals to help his team to a 6th-place finish and in April 1934 he won his first cap, appearing in the 3-2 win over Scotland at Wembley. He was then chosen for England’s summer tour and made his second international appearance in a 2-1 loss to Hungary in Budapest.
Sunderland continued their upward curve the following season, finishing runners-up to Arsenal and, after an injury to Alex Hastings, Carter, still only 22, was made skipper of the Black Cats.
In 1935-36 Sunderland started the season on fire. Carter scored 24 times in the first 22 games and his team built up a healthy lead in the title race. He was also recalled to the England line-up, playing in the 3-0 win over Germany on the infamous day that the swastika flew over White Hart Lane.
Sunderland seemed to be heading comfortably to the title. Then tragedy struck. On 1 February 1936 Chelsea visited Roker Park. It was a bad-tempered affair with the visitors having Billy Mitchell sent-off for a ‘horrendous tackle on Alex Hastings’. Home goalkeeper Jimmy Thorpe took a battering including kicks to the head and chest in one particularly brutal incident but, although ‘clearly disorientated’ he completed the match which finished 3-3.
Thorpe went home after the match but then collapsed and was taken to bed where he spent the weekend with his face badly bruised, eye-socket swollen and with a substantial head wound. On Monday 3 February he was taken to Monkwearmouth and Southwick Hospital, and two days later he died, aged 22.
The horrific incident clearly affected the Sunderland players and their form dipped over the following weeks. When they reached their final match of the season the Black Cats needed a point against Birmingham City to clinch the title. They won 7-2.
On 7 May Carter – who finished the campaign with 31 goals – and his teammates collected their winners’ medals, as did May Thorpe, widow of Jimmy, who attended the celebration dinner with her three-year-old son Ronnie.
Sunderland dropped down to eighth in 1936-37 but replaced the championship trophy in their cabinet with the FA Cup.
The Black Cats kicked off their cup campaign with a 3-2 win at Southampton, then saw off Luton Town (after a replay), Swansea Town, Wolves (after two replays) and then giant killers Millwall in the semi-final.
Carter got married on the Monday before the final and immediately after the reception he and best man / teammate Bob Gurney left the bride and guests to meet up with the team at their hotel.
‘A Fine Wedding Present’
In the final against Preston, Sunderland went in at half-time one behind to a Frank O’Donnell goal. The second-half turnaround, influenced by Carter, started when Gurney equalised. Carter himself gave his team the lead after a pass from his best man then with five minutes remaining Eddie Burbanks put the trophy beyond North End’s reach and it was Horatio ascending the famous Wembley steps to collect the trophy from the Queen, who was reported to have said as she handed Raich the cup; “That will make a fine wedding present!”.
During that highly successful season Carter had worked his way back into the national team set-up. He scored his first goal for England in the 3-1 win over Ireland at Stoke and scored again when England beat Hungary 6-2 at Highbury.
At 23 years old Carter had the football world at his feet. He had already skippered his hometown club to both the league title and the FA Cup and was an established international. His abilities were as both a maker and taker of goals. Centre-forward Tommy Lawton said of him; “He would send through pinpoint passes or be there for the knockdown”.
In April 1937, a few weeks before that Cup final win Carter had been chosen to play for his country against Scotland at Hampden. Also in the side that day was Stanley Matthews and England lost 3-1, leading to talk that the pair couldn’t play together.
Carter or Matthews
It was the Sunderland man who was dropped causing Lawton to profess his shock later saying; “Raich was the perfect team man”, meanwhile Carter said of Matthews; “He was so much of a star individualist that, though he was one of the best players of all time, he was not really a good footballer. When Stan gets the ball on the wing you don’t know when it’s coming back”.
Matthews meanwhile insisted that Carter was; “the ideal partner for me”.
The selection committee clearly felt that the pair weren’t suited to playing together. Carter had to wait 9 years and 168 days for his next cap – although World War Two clearly played a big part in this – and would line up with Matthews only twice more with those games resulting in a draw and a defeat.
When war broke out Carter joined the Sunderland Fire Service. This led to boos from fans who felt he was ducking national service and he joined the Royal Air Force. Like many professional footballers he served as a PT instructor and did not see any action.
Stationed at Loughborough, Carter guested on numerous occasions for Derby County and soon after the war ended the Baseball Ground club successfully bid £8,000 for his services.
At Derby he formed a fine inside-forward partnership with the mercurial Irishman Peter Doherty who said of him; “He was my twin, a brilliant schemer with a dangerous shot”.
Together, the pair guided Derby to the 1946 FA Cup Final. That year every round of the competition was played over two legs as there was no full league season. Derby hit an incredible 33 goals in the 10 games it took them to reach the final.
Derby then hammered Charlton Athletic 4-1 in front of 98,000 fans at Wembley to win the Cup. The game was goalless until the 85th minute when a own-goal by Bert Turner gave County the lead. Turned them atoned by equalising for Charlton to force extra-time. County scored three times in the extra period to give Derby the trophy and make Carter the only player to win the trophy on both sides of the war.
That summer, Carter briefly went back to his ‘other’ sport, appearing in three first-class cricket matches for Derbyshire.
When he was transferred in 1945, Carter said; “Sunderland were silly to sell me, Derby were lucky to get me”. In the 1946-47 season, as if to prove his point he scored four goals in a 5-1 win over his former club. However his playing days at the top were coming to an end and he was soon on the move again.
But Carter’s time at the top was coming to a close and he won his 13th and final cap -14 years after his first – at 33 years old, in the 1-0 loss to Switzerland in Zurich.
Off to Hull
In April 1948 Derby accepted a bid of £6,000 from Hull City and he moved to Yorkshire and dropped down two divisions taking on the role of player-assistant manager. Within weeks of his arrival Major Frank Buckley resigned as manager and he became player-manager.
In his first full season at the helm Carter led his new team to the Third Division (North) title. Once they were promoted, Carter bought players like Don Revie and Neil Franklin to the club and claimed; “My aim is to play good football and let the results take care of themselves”. But in 1951 he resigned as manager after failing to advance the team any further. He carried on playing before retiring at the end of the season, having scored 216 goals in 451 games, despite missing what would surely have been six of his prime years because of the war.
In 1952 a weekly magazine ‘Raich Carter’s Soccer Star’ was launched. It carried his name, and a weekly column by him, for three years and continued as ‘Soccer Star’ until finally closing down in 1970.
In 1954 he unretired and signed for Cork Athletic, helping them win the Irish Cup then two years later he was appointed manager at Leeds United, linking up again with Revie. He led Leeds into the top flight but performances declined after star man John Charles was sold to Italian Juventus and he left in 1958.
Later spells at Mansfield (who he led out of the 4th Division) and Middlesbrough came and went and after being fired by the Ayresome Park club in 1966 he took a job in a Hull sports store.
Raich Carter passed away in 1994 after suffering a stroke the previous year.
Many players saw their peak years taken away from them by the two major conflicts of the 20th century. Raich Carter’s brilliance on either side of the 1939-45 war makes one wonder just how great he might have been in those six lost years