The untold story of an ex-Blade

Hoyland, 2018

Hoyland is just around the corner from my Grandmother’s house and I usually drive through the town when I visit her. This time, as I pass the market, I don’t think about the often-repeated tale of my Dad cracking his head open on a stall, my Grandmother having to flag down a lorry driver to take him to A&E. I’ve heard those events a million times over. Today I have a different story in mind.

Fixed to my consciousness like a missed appointment is the bloke that I have been reading about for the past couple of months. The pioneering local that I feel ashamed to have never heard of. Did he walk this street or buy a chop at’ market? Probably.

The 60th anniversary of this bloke’s most astonishing achievement passed without fanfare this summer.  As far as I can tell, it passed with barely a whisper despite being an achievement only bettered by Sir Alf Ramsay.

Born in Hoyland to parents George and Ethel, the story of this former Blades trainee is one that sprawls the globe, from Skeggy to Sao Paulo. It is a story that deserves to be told and re-told. It is the life and travels of George Raynor.

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South Yorkshire, 1925-39

Careers are hard-earned and in South Yorkshire in the 1920s and 30s, a career in football was not a lucrative one. George Raynor began sporting life in the non-league with Elsecar Bible Class, before moving onto to Wombwell. He signed for Sheffield United in 1930 – once a Blade, always a Blade – and during his time at Bramall Lane, he learnt from the best: Harry Johnson, the Blades all-time leading goal scorer, who communicated to him three lessons for footballing life:

Keep your feet on the ground, play good football regardless of others disposition, and don’t drink.

Like Johnson, Raynor would move to Mansfield Town, to Rotherham United and then to Bury, where it came to pass on one autumn afternoon that his leg was broken. This injury would effectively end his career, although he did manage to return to action for Bury and played sporadically during a final season of his career for Aldershot in 1939.

George Raynor’s playing career was not lucrative and his trophy cabinet was not full, he received no triumphant recognition for his skill nor achieved cult status at any of the clubs he played for. He was a middle of the road footballer, whose career would pass without discussion had it not foreshadowed one of the greatest managerial legacies never to receive the airtime it deserved.

George Raynor: a managerial timeline 

When the Second World War began, George Raynor signed up to become a Physical Training Instructor, as did many professional footballers. This wasn’t your bend and stretch exercises but involved teaching foot drills and all kinds of weapons training. Raynor was essentially a teacher and combined with his knowledge and passion for football, it is clear, with the benefit of hindsight, to see the path he would come to tread.

Iraq, 1943 – The second world war will not come to an end for two years. George Raynor is posted to Iraq and ordered to commence a School of Physical training and Sport just outside of Baghdad. Raynor at this point is as much teacher as he is a manager.

He soon pulls together a football team comprising his most talented students and begins a tour of the country as a de facto ‘Iraq XI.’ Raynor’s work did not go unnoticed and, in stark contrast with his later achievements, an FA official recognised his talents and kept him in mind when a future job opportunity arose.

Aldershot, 1945 – Raynor returns to his former club and, in fact, plays a handful of games, despite not having played professionally for some time. He is later offered the opportunity to take charge of the Aldershot Reserves. The FA official, a secretary by the name of Stanley Rous, had been asked to make a recommendation to the Swedish Football Association in regard to the appointment of a new a manager of the national side.

Stockholm, 1946 – The Swedish FA act upon Rous’ recommendation and take the radical course of action in appointing a foreign manager in George Raynor.

London, 1948 – Back on home soil, Raynor leads the Swedish national football team into the fourteenth Olympiad at the London Olympic games.FrontCover

On the 2nd of August they beat Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, before demolishing South Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park. The Swedes swagger into the Semi-Finals where they beat a Danish side (4-2) who would go onto to beat a Great British XI in the 3rd-place playoff.

Raynor’s Sweden triumph in the final against the favourites, Yugoslavia. Gunnar Gren, the talismanic forward scores twice in a 3-1 victory. His performances would earn him a move in 1949 to AC Milan and secure hero status for Raynor as the man behind Sweden’s Olympian effort.

Sao Paulo, 1950 – The Swede’s under Raynor head to the World Cup in Brazil. After winning ‘Group 3’, knocking-out the Italians in the process, they head into a four-team playoff with Brazil, Uruguay and Spain. They lose 7-1 to Brazil and 3-2 to Uruguay, but Raynor’s men beat Spain 3-1 to clinch third place in a tournament where England were knocked out in the first round.

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Torino, 1954 – Raynor left his post with the Swedish national side to pursue new opportunities presenting themselves south of Scandinavia.

Gianni Agnelli

After his exploits in the Olympics, Raynor was coveted by the Italian giants Juventus. He agreed to sign-on with ‘the old lady’ at the behest of their owner Gianni Agnelli. The Agnelli Family are still majority shareholders in the club today. Back then, they were forging ahead with their car company, Fiat.

Unfortunately, things didn’t run smoothly for Raynor, largely due to the interference of other coaches who saw themselves as his equal. Nevertheless, Giampiero Boniperti, a Juventus legend whose record of playing the most ever minutes for the club was only recently beaten by Gianluca Buffon, spoke fondly of the Englishman. “He knew plenty about football, but he was never able to make his precious advice heard.”

Lazio, 1954 – The short spell with Juventus ended and immediately Raynor was signed up by Lazio. He found early success in a co-managerial partnership with Roberto Pernico, but the side only finished in a disappointing 12th position.

This spell makes the first marks of a pattern that would follow Raynor throughout his career; boardroom ‘disagreements’. He spoke of ‘crooked’ elements spoiling the Italian game and this, coupled with a desire to return to prove himself in England, signalled the end of his ‘era’ in Italy.

Coventry, 1956 – The managerial position at Coventry became vacant and Raynor seized this opportunity to take a job in England…before resigning for reasons of ‘boardroom interference’ within a matter of weeks.

Sweden, 1956 – Raynor returned to manage the Sweden national side. His appointed was greeted with warmth and expectation; a home-nation World Cup on the horizon in 1958.

Sweden, 1958 – World Cup

The Swede’s were by no means the favourites for the 1958 World Cup despite their status as hosts. They were 1 of 16 of the planet’s top teams and Raynor was determined to make another impression on this international platform.

In the groups, Sweden drew with Wales and beat Mexico and Hungary, qualifying, as in 1950, as ‘Group 3’ winners. In the knockout stages, Raynor cleared a path through the Soviet Union (2-0) and West Germany (3-1) before coming up against mighty Brazil in the World Cup Final.

Garrincha, Zagallo, Vava, Didi, Altafini and Pele stood in the way of the Swedes. The free-scoring Brazil side were heavy, heavy favourites. But as the match kicked off and the Swedish public hoped against hope, it was Sweden took the lead.

A 4th-minute strike courtesy of a Nils Erik Liedholm who, aged 36, was the oldest player to score in a World Cup Final. It wasn’t a moment to be celebrated for too long. Brazil fought back and their quality quickly told. They equalised in the 9th minute and took the lead in the 32nd.

In the 90th minute, Sweden were 4-2 down and knew they were shot. The youngest player to score in a World Cup Final, Pele scored a fifth, sealing victory for arguably the greatest team in the tournament’s history.

As a sign of respect to the hosts and fellow finalists, the victorious Brazil team proceeded on a lap of honour with the Swedish flag held aloft. But that will have been little comfort for Raynor who, in reaching the World Cup final as a manager, had achieved something no Englishman ever had before – the 60th anniversary of this achievement passed as England fans dared to dream over this past summer.

A sad state of affairs

After the World Cup and having announcing himself as the most successful English international manager of all time, Raynor failed to land a top job. He wanted so much to manage the England national side and yet the stifling, backward facing politicos in the high offices of the F.A were never going to give the job to man without solid English pedigree, somebody considered to be a maverick of the game.

The big clubs of the day did not come knocking either. Nor did the medium-sized or smaller clubs. A few months after managing Sweden in the World Cup final, George Raynor could be found as manager of minnows, Skegness Town F.C.

He took the job after their highly ambitious chairman convinced him this publicity stunt would work soundly for the club and for Raynor’s own prospects. He spent two years with the club, living in a bungalow, impressing the locals with his flash Saab and supplementing his income working in a local sports centre.

Raynor coaches youth players at Skegness Town

Wembley, 1959 – Raynor took a sabbatical from his duties with Skegness to take on an advisory coaching role with Sweden as they face England at Wembley in 1959. Sweden won 3-2 and afterwards, Raynor spoke to the agglomerated press and delivered to them a stern and sincere message:

“I got some sort of satisfaction out of the result but not enough. I would much rather have been doing the same sort of thing for the country of my birth. All I consider is that the people in England have had their chance. I want to work in England, for England. They want me in Ghana, in Israel, in Mexico and in Sweden. I am a knight in Sweden and have a huge gold medal of thanks from King Gustaf. I have a letter of thanks and commendation from the Prime Minister of Iraq. My record as a coach is the best in the world. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I live for football.”

The Football Association were uninterested in his claims, justifiable or not. If anything, the result damaged any hopes Raynor held about managing  England. Those hopes were further dented when Raynor penned his autobiography-cum-coaching manual, Football Ambassador at Large, which openly mocked the FA and Walter Winterbottom who was the England manager at the time.

Intruginginly, a young Brian Clough made the starting eleven for the beaten England side that day. Another managed with a track record surpassing his contemporaries, a manager who wanted the England job and was shunned for reasons known only to those officials who prioritise their own reputation over the performance of the national side.

Like Clough, George Raynor was never to get a crack at managing the England national team. In fact, his career quickly wavered and took a progressively downward turn beyond Skegness, to Swedish side Djurgårdens, a brief and failed return to management with Sweden in 1961 and finally,  a short an unsuccessful spell at Doncaster Rovers.

George Raynor, the football ambassador at large, carved out for himself a career in football management that only a World Cup winner has since surpassed. He travelled the globe spreading his views on coaching: emphasising the importance of fitness, youth development and diet. The phrase ‘he was a man before his time’ only became cliched because it was used to describe individual without any comparison to George Raynor, a working-class bloke from Hoyland, South Yorkshire, who grafted his way to the pinnacle of football.

Sheffield, 2018 

It’s a Tuesday morning and I’ve come home from a visit to my Grandmother’s. Herself and my Grandad had both heard of George Raynor, course we have, they said. They both knew people who knew George and they both decried the sad state of affairs, that he should be little more than an isolated memory in too few people’s minds. He should have a statue. 

I google his name, as I have done a hundred times before. So little is written about him.  On a tired looking public records website in the greyest recesses of the internet, I find a record of Raynor’s death a nursing home in the Peak District that is now closed down:

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I scroll down the page to find an obituary in the Barnsley Chronicle:


“He was actively involved in football for 50..although his talents were, sadly, largely neglected in this country.” (Obituary). 

It’s sad that such a compelling football story has been so widely neglected. From those living in his hometown closeby to my Grandmothers to the Blades, his first professional employer, we should claim the hard graft and transparent success of his legacy as part of our own.

In Hoyland, there’s a shopping complex where the old pithead used to be. There is a Morrisons that my Grandma visits on a Tuesday morning to pick up the weeks groceries. Sometimes I go with her. Everytime that I do, she reminds me, “It used to be coyal mine and now it’s a goyald mine.” The same, I think, can be said of football.

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