Addio Carver

Jesse Carver was a Liverpudlian, a first-class footballer good enough to play centre-half for Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers.

JESSE CARVER has died, and nobody noticed. Not even I. Died in Bournemouth in 2003, in his early 90s. Which couldn't have been very long after I had, to my great satisfaction, tracked him down there, at 90 years old. Not a word about his death appeared in the English papers. I had written an obituary of him for one of them, but since there was no word of his demise, it never appeared. It was only very recently that one paid the Bournemouth Register Office for a copy of his death certificate. Sic transit gloria mundi, as they said in Rome. Thus passes worldly glory. Apposite enough in this case since back in the middle 1950s, Jesse's was a very big name in Rome indeed.

That was when I myself was living there, in season 1954/5, when he took his gifted, well-organised, well-coached team to third place in the Campionato which actually became a second place when, at the end of that season, Udinese, who, in fact, had come an unexpected and unfashionable second, were brusquely relegated when it was discovered that they'd fixed a game, the season before.

May 1955 was also the month when, in my presence at the Hotel Quirinale in Rome, the majestic, all-powerful, FA Secretary, Stanley Rous, actually offered Jesse the managership of the England team, in place of the actual incumbent, his protege, Walter Winterbottom. "It's about time we brought Walter back into the office," rumbled Rous. It didn't happen, but I kept the secret for decades.

Had Carver taken the job I am sure he would have done it well and equally sure that he wouldn't have stayed in it for very long. For, the motif of his peripatetic, distinguished coaching career was that he was perpetually jumping ship. I remember placing a crucial piece into the jigsaw when, during the 1958 World Cup in Gothenburg, I met Karel Lotsy, the grand panjandrum of Dutch football, and he told me with some indignation that Carver had walked out of his successful role of manager of the Dutch international team. One he had achieved thanks to his prowess as manager of the now defunct Xerces club of Rotterdam, during a bitter post-War winter.

Carver was a Liverpudlian, a first-class footballer good enough to play centre-half for Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers. In the War he became not a soldier but a policeman. Afterwards he was made assistant trainer at Huddersfield Town and developed practices, which then, believe it or not, were revolutionary in hidebound English soccer; first actually to train with the ball than run endless, mindless, laps around the pitch day by day. Second, to perform loosening up exercises, which he himself devised, using his wife as a kind of guinea pig.

Leaving Holland, he was made manager of Italy's foremost club, the ever-powerful Juventus and took his team, which included the fine Danish internationals, to the scudeto, the Championship. That should have been the precursor to seasons of further success. Alas, in an interview with the chief Italian sports daily, he was betrayed into making criticisms of the club's directors. They were surely meant to be off the record, but published they were and he was sacked.

Back he went to England to become the innovative coach of a West Bromwich Albion team, which delighted in his novel methods and zoomed to the heights of the first division as it then was. But Albion were a perverse club, who in those days would never appoint an actual manager; so Carver returned to Italy to manage the other Turin club, Torino, once a great power but then still licking its wounds after the horror of the 1949 Superga air crash when the whole gifted squad was destroyed.

He did what he could there, but then moved South to Rome, where football is in a constant state of uproar, controversy and near chaos. There, too, the players responded to him with huge enthusiasm and affection, though away from them one found him a curiously self-contained, circumspect figure. "I often think that when you've been to the training," said his wife to me one day, "that Jesse will invite you back here for lunch (their apartment was near the Stadio Torino, where the players trained) but he never does."

This in sharp contrast with George Raynor, the lively, hospitable little Yorkshireman who was simultaneously running the much less successful local rival, Lazio. Close and cautious, Carver made it known there was a clause in his contract which forebade his giving interviews; but this turned out to be untrue. Any hint of criticism, and I was working for the major Roman daily, the Corriere Dello Sport and you would have Jesse on the phone. Not least when, early in 1955, Lazio, the underdogs had the temerity to beat Roma 3-1 in the impassioned local derby.

At the end of the season, sensationally and inexplicably, he accepted the managerial job at the humble third division south Coventry City, taking Raynor with him as assistant. But his role did not even last the season, for he was off again, lambasted by the English press, to manage Inter in Milan, snubbing Lazio, who wanted him, en route. Lazio, however, forgave him.

He'd manage them too, plus both big Genoese teams, till at last he had run out of clubs. Gigi Peronace, the ebullient player-agent who worked with him for years, first as interpreter at Juve and Torino, once showed me a plaintive letter in which Jesse asked him for help. Too late.

He had made plenty of money. It was rumoured that his wife used to take it across the Swiss border in bags. Back in England, he briefly coached at Tottenham, then vanished off the soccer radar screen for decades to come. I tracked him down and chatted with him, and I'm glad I did. But there was a mystery about a man who at least deserves to be remembered.