Sunday, 19 October 2014

Jim's column 18.10.14

                                                        George Raynor

Sixty years ago next year Coventry City, then a struggling Third Division South outfit hit the back pages of the national newspapers by enticing top English coaches Jesse Carver and George Raynor from their well-paid positions as head coaches of AS Roma & Lazio respectively. It was seen as a massive coup by the City board & its chairman Erle Shanks & the highly respected men arrived in Coventry to a fanfare of publicity.

Carver, who had won Serie A with Juventus & built up a great reputation in Italy, would only stay at Highfield Road for six months, before being lured back to Italy with a massive salary but Raynor would stay for almost eighteen months. After Carver jumped ship George stepped into the manager's position but in the summer of 1956 he was demoted to coach again after the arrival of Harry Warren. Raynor was a football purist who had led Sweden to the Olympic gold medal in the 1948 London Olympics & third place in the 1950 World Cup. His ideas didn't sit well with Warren's out-dated & neanderthal tactics & when Sweden came again, seeking a man to lead them in their home World Cup in 1958, George was grateful to leave the primitive, up and under Third Division style of play.

Amazingly for a man who football has largely forgotten about, there have been two books published this year on George Raynor. Italian journalist Federico Farcomeni has written a short E-book of 64 pages entitled 'George Raynor- The Untold Story of English Football's Forgotten Giant' which makes for interesting reading and is available in Kindle form for only £1.53. Meanwhile Ashley Hyne has produced a far more meatier biography of Raynor entitled 'The Greatest Coach England Never Had'. Hyne's research is excellent, for instance he interviewed former City player Lol Harvey, one of the few ex-City men still alive who played under Raynor. Whilst the section about his time at Coventry are fairly brief the author weaves a story of a man misunderstood in his own country but revered in Sweden. Returning to Sweden in 1957 with just a year to prepare a team for the '58 World Cup he had the job of revitalising a team that had failed to qualify for the 1954 final stages & had regressed considerably since he had left them to go to Italy in 1953.

With the help of clever tactics & his own brand of motivation Raynor prepared his team with infinite detail & became the first Englishman to coach a team to the World Cup final. Unbeaten in the group stage, they went on to defeat USSR & holders West Germany to reach a final against the odds-on favourites Brazil. Sweden took an early lead but the silky skills of Garrincha, Didi & 17-year old Pele swept the hosts away in a 5-2 defeat. Raynor however was a Swedish national hero but when he returned to England a few months later the only job he could get was at Midland League Skegness.

One of the best stories in the book is about Sweden's meeting with the great Hungary side of the early 1950s. The Magyars were unbeaten in three years when Sweden arrived in Budapest just a week before Hungary were due to meet England at Wembley in what would turn out to be a watershed game for England. Raynor had done his homework & recognised the danger of Hidegkuti, the deep-lying centre-forward. He played a zonal marking system to counter Hidegkuti & instructed his forwards to close down their markers when they were not in possession (in modern parlance, a pressing game). The plan worked and Sweden got a creditable 2-2 draw. The arrogant English press saw the result & said England had little to fear from the Hungarians at Wembley. After the match Raynor met up with England manager Walter Winterbottom & gave him advice on how to play the Hungarians. Sadly Winterbottom ignored the advice, gave Hidegkuti the freedom of the pitch & England suffered their first home loss to continental opposition in an embarrassing 6-3 defeat.

George Raynor's death went unrecorded by the local & national press and he is still a largely forgotten man in football circles but Ashley Hyne's book does the man's fascinating life justice.

Today, the league leaders Bristol City are in town, rejuvenated by Steve Cotterill & boasting a couple of outstanding strikers in this division in Aaron Wilbraham & Kieran Agard. City did the double over them last season but it will take a massive effort to beat the Robins today. Cotterill's team have an amazing record at the Ricoh, winning four of the six meetings and drawing one. The only City victory was in the last meeting on Boxing Day 2011 when a Gary Deegan goal gave the Sky Blues their first win in 11 games.

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