Carver's centenary

Jesse Carver, who once played centre half for Huddersfield Town and Blackburn Rovers, could have managed England if he wanted to. Though, given his endless propensity for walking out of his many clubs, one cannot imagine he would have long stayed in. Much to the anger of the Dutch, he had, after all, walked out on the managership of Holland.

Jesse Carver was born 100 years ago. Forgotten in England, to be remembered in Italy: where he variously managed Juventus (aptly winning the Campionato), Torino, Roma, Inter, Lazio, Genoa and Sampdoria. And the Liverpudlian, who once played centre half for Huddersfield Town and Blackburn Rovers, could have managed England if he wanted to. Though, given his endless propensity for walking out of his many clubs, one cannot imagine he would have long stayed in. Much to the anger of the Dutch, he had, after all, walked out on the managership of Holland.

I knew he could have had the England role because, as a young man living in Rome, I accompanied him, one May morning in 1955, to the all powerful secretary of the Football Association, Sir Stanley Rous, at the Quirinale Hotel, favoured by the FA. 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.

It was I suppose a hot piece of news but I kept it to myself for years to come, not wanting to betray what could be seen as a secret. Oddly enough, Jesse did, soon afterwards, come back to England in surprising circumstances, suddenly deciding to leave Roma, where he had been in reach of the Championato prize, and joining Coventry City a mere Third Division South club. Taking with him, into the bargain, his assistant, little Yorkshireman George Raynor, who had been the coach of the rival Roman team, Lazio, and had his halcyon days as manager in Sweden. It was my good luck to live in Rome at the time, working for the leading sports daily, ‘Corriere Dello Sport.' The only time in football history that both these big clubs had an English manager.

Carver and Raynor were diametrically different people. Jesse, Liverpudlian who had lost his Liverpool accent, was curiously closed and even secretive. When with Roma, he assured me that he had a clause in his contract forbidding him to give interviews. It wasn't true. Raynor, by contrast, was open and friendly, even hospitable.

“I don't know why Jesse never invited you here,” Carver's wife once told me. They lived in the Stadio Torino where the team trained. If she did ask you to come, you were likely to get a call to tell you that she had to go to the dressmaker.

Despite all his years in Italy, Carver's Italian was sparse and ungrammatical but it made no difference. His players adored him and believed in him. Winning the Campionato at his first attempt with Juventus in 1949/50 was a remarkable achievement. But in the next season he unguardedly criticised the club and its directors and they promptly dismissed him. Obliging him to take over for a brief while at neighbouring Torino, once cock of the walk but devastated by May 1949 Superga air crash, when almost their whole team was killed.

Childless, unlike Raynor, it was rumoured that Carver's wife used to regularly cross the Swiss border bearing bags full of cash.

Almost predictably, Carver walked away from Coventry City the next season. Arriving at Rome's airport, he was greeted there by the President of Lazio, with a bouquet of flowers for his wife. “The thorns”, according to Calcio Illustrato, “were for Lazio.” Since far from Rome, Jesse flew up to Milan and signed with Inter!

Carver, an expert coach who'd taken to the task when briefly being the captain of Bury Reserves, had an outstanding spell in 1952 briefly back in England, with West Bromwich Albion, putting a strong emphasis on hard work — amazingly, all but unknown in English football then. His swinging exercises at first induced amusement, but proved highly beneficial. Albion then wouldn't appoint a manager as coach and if they had done so, perhaps Jesse, who transformed the team, would have stayed longer. The players thrived under his methods. He later went back to Italy.

There, as we know, he moved from club to club, often with Gigi Peronace, the volatile little Calabrian player agent who had been his interpreter at Juventus. The sad end of it was that he ran out of clubs. I remember Gigi showing me a pleading letter, from Carver, begging him to find another team for him.

He had a spell coaching at Tottenham before he retired to obscurity on the South Coast in Bournemouth and nearby till he died, well into his 90s. His wife was obliged at one distressing period to look after him as he was crippled and chair bound. When he died, there wasn't a word about him in the English media. Yet, beyond doubt he was one of the greatest English manager-coaches of his time, gifted and original. And had he agreed to become manager of England, however briefly, what he might have done?