Hero – Raich Carter

Horatio Stratton Carter. The past few years may have skewed things slightly, but even after our first ever promotion to the top flight, after Okocha, Ashbee, Windass, Barmby, Turner, Geo, Huddlestone, Aluko, Elmohamady, Chester, after 60 subsequent years of good and bad, Raich is still talked about in hallowed terms by football fans in Hull. And Derby. And Sunderland.

Raich would walk into the greatest  XIs of any of the three teams he graced in England at inside left or inside right. Had the war not punctuated his career when he was at his most productive, he’d have more than a few supporters for a role in an all-time England XI too.

Born in Hendon, a ship-building area of Sunderland (his ‘posh’ Christian name was from his grandfather, Stratton his mother’s maiden name), in 1913, Carter was a prodigious youth sportsman. It was football, however, that had Raich marked out as a star from an early age, following in the footsteps of his father, who had played for Port Vale, Fulham and Southampton. An England schoolboy international, despite his slender build, Carter was fast-tracked into the Sunderland first team aged 18, and didn’t look back…

By the time he had reached his mid-20s he had a championship medal, had won the FA Cup (scoring in the final) and was establishing himself in the national team. By 1939, he was regarded as one of the finest players in the country, and at the age of 26 was just beginning to stamp his authority on the world of international football. Then Hitler went and invaded Poland…

Upon war being declared, Raich joined the fire brigade – a decision that didn’t go down too well with many. Though this enabled Raich to continue playing for Sunderland in their war-time games, as well as guesting for various other teams in the region in fund-raising games for the war effort, his lack of military action disappointed many fans, despite the fact he was spending most of his time extinguishing the fires caused by the ceaseless bombing of Sunderland’s shipyards by the Luftwaffe. Sensitive to this, Raich signed up with the RAF, and was eventually posted in Loughborough in a fitness and rehabilitation role. This allowed him to settle in Derby, near his wife’s family, and occasionally guest for the town’s football team. He would also play 17 times for ‘England’ during the war, scoring 18 goals – second only to Tommy Lawton’s 24.

Upon the end of the war, Raich’s disillusionment with the regime at Sunderland, and his enjoyment of his time in Derbyshire, saw him move to Derby County. Almost immediately he led his new team to the FA Cup, making him the only man to win the trophy before and after the war. The England call-ups continued and Raich continued where he’d left off in 1939, maintaining his reputation as one of the most skilful and entertaining players in the country. He also played a handful of times for Derbyshire in cricket’s County Championship, though his impressive club batting was soon found out by the county bowlers. You don’t care about any of that shit though.

In 1948, Raich was looking for a move into management. Assistant management offers flowed in, with two, Division Three North Hull City and Division Two Nottingham Forest, emerging as frontrunners. Mindful of the fact that City manager Major Frank Buckley was nearing retirement age, and Forest manager Billy Walker was relatively young in management terms, Raich plumped for East Yorkshire, £6,000 was exchanged and a legend was created. On April 3rd 1948, Raich led out his new teammates against York City in front of 33,000 at Boothferry Park. The game finished 1-1, and afterwards Raich immediately travelled up to Scotland to fulfil his duties as England reserve in a friendly at Hampden Park. In the match, England keeper Frank Swift went off injured, but sadly the substitution law that was being experimented with at the time was not being used for the friendly, so instead of creating Hull City history by becoming the club’s first England international, Raich accompanied Swift to Glasgow’s Victoria Hospital. So near, yet so far…

While Raich was away, his decision to join opt for City because of the potential for a quicker move into full management was proven to be a shrewd one. Major Buckley had fallen out with the City board, resigned, and Carter was offered the job one game into his City career, a move made official on April 23rd.

In the following summer, Carter signed former Sunderland FA Cup final teammate Eddie Burbanks to add to an impressive-looking team that contained the likes of Billy Bly, Ken Harrison, Norman Moore and Jimmy Greenhalgh. City got off to a flyer that year, with Raich prompting from inside left and Boothferry Park regularly packing in 30,000-plus gates. The side remained unbeaten until October 16 when Darlington won 1-0 at Boothferry Park. Carter responded by signing Danish international and City legend-in-the-making Viggo Jensen. They weren’t to lose again until mid-February, in which time First Division Stoke had been knocked out of the FA Cup in the fifth round in a match at the Victoria Ground. City were the talk of the football world, with Carter’s profile remaining as high as it had been when he was playing in the top-flight. His presence was adding thousands to any game he played in.

Though clinching promotion was not quite a formality, the sixth-round tie at home to Manchester United in the FA Cup in 1949 captured the city’s, and nation’s, imagination in a way that that other sport could only dream of. You should all know the attendance that day (55,019 for those of you who were too cool as children to spend hour upon hour studying the facts and figures in your Rothmans) and that City lost 1-0. Unluckily too, by most accounts, with the ball reportedly going out of play just before Manchester United scored the game’s solitary goal. Raich played left wing that game, and was largely subdued by Harry Cockburn, but his managerial qualities were there for all to see. City were matching the best teams in the land under his stewardship. It seemed that under Raich, it was a matter of when, not if, First Division football would finally come to Hull.

Promotion to Division Two was sealed on April 30th after a 6-1 win at home to Stockport, with Carter netting twice. In the whole season, Raich had missed only three league games, scoring 14 times (level with Viggo Jensen and only behind centre-forward Moore’s 22). Football historian Peter Jeffs names Raich as the manager of the year in his ‘The Golden Age of Football’. Raich was the king of Hull. The city that had taken such a battering in the war – and had been largely been ignored by the national media – was given reasons to be both cheerful and optimistic. And it was Raich we had to thank.

So, Division Two beckoned. City had shown that we could match the best in the FA Cup the previous year, but could we sustain it over a full season? Did Raich’s 36-year-old legs have another full season in them? Would he be as effective at this level? Of course he would. City won 12 of the first 18 games of the season to challenge at the top of the table, with Raich scoring 13 times. Don Revie was signed to strengthen the midfield for what was then staggering fee of £20,000. However, Revie proved to be a disappointment, and the wheels started to come off City’s season. Carter missed only three games all season, but was to only score three more times and a once-promising campaign faded as City won only one of the final 15 games, and finished what was generally viewed as a disappointing seventh. In the eyes of the City faithful, however, Carter could still do no wrong. The attendances still touched 50,000 for some home games, and Carter’s performances had many in the national press touting him as a potential member for England’s World Cup squad in Brazil.

As if to prove those pressmen right, Raich started the 1950-51 season in incredible form, scoring in eight of City’s first nine games as the Tigers once again started a season among the division’s front-runners. However, an injury to Raich in November saw the good form tail off, and though it picked up again on Raich’s return (which helped see off top-flight Everton in the third round of the FA Cup, a game in which Carter scored and Boothferry Halt was first used), the gap to the top two couldn’t be breached and City had to settle for 10th. Yet again, there’d been plenty of cause for optimism, but how much longer could Carter go on for? And who could replace him on the pitch? His 35 appearances had brought with them 21 goals. Alf Ackerman and Syd Gerrie had been brought in to plug the goalscoring gap with some success, but replacing the irreplaceable? You might as well replace Michael Turner with Ibrahima Sonko.

The 1951/52 season started with the usual optimism. Though Raich had missed the team’s pre-season tour to Spain to care for his sick wife, he’d declared himself fit for another season. However, he was injured in the first game of the season – a goalless draw against Barnsley. Little did anyone know that it was to be his last game as City’s player manager. Carter handed in his resignation on September 5th, and it was unanimously accepted by board on September 12th. Mystery shrouded Raich’s resignation. The board said nothing, and Raich’s vague explanation was that he’d quit because of “a disagreement on matters of a general nature in the conduct of the club’s affairs”.

And now for the tricky bit. Does a writer risk sullying the name of one of the greatest players in the club’s history by referring to what was largely believed by City fans at the time the reason for Carter’s departure? Or does one gloss over it as irrelevant gossip. Ah, you’ll just have to forgive me, but it was widely accepted around the city that Carter had become romantically entangled with a female member of the staff at the club (often rumoured to be a board member’s wife). A few years later, Raich’s first wife, Rose, died tragically young, aged only 38, after years of ill health. He was later to marry former Hull City employee Patricia Dixon. What actually went on when Raich left the club has been subject to decades of speculation. I don’t know what happened. All I know is that none of it should in any way detract from Raich’s outstanding contribution to the club and football in general, and that the ultimate losers in all of this were Hull City.

Raich made clear his intention to go back into management, and while awaiting the right offer, he opened a tobacconists on George Street. However, without Raich, City were rudderless. A 12-match winless run saw the board partially relent and allow Raich to return – as a player. The club’s fortunes improved with Raich dictating things, and the club staved off the relegation that once looked to be a certainty. The club even had time to beat First Division Manchester United 2-0 at Old Trafford in the third round of the FA Cup. Carter was man of the match. In the final game of the season – in what was to be Raich’s final game in the black and amber – Doncaster were beaten 1-0. The scorer? One Horatio Stratton Carter.

At the end of the season, Carter was given a civic testimonial by the Lord Mayor of Hull and the Carter family were showered with gifts from all kinds of companies and families connected with Hull. But the bitter truth was that Raich was going to move on, and when he did, it was surprisingly to Cork Athletic, who offered him a lucrative contract to play for them. After leading the team to the Irish Cup, managerial offers flooded in for Raich back in England. He opted for Leeds, where he would again follow in the footsteps of Major Frank Buckley, and also help shape the early stages of the career of John Charles.

After getting Leeds promoted to Division One, Raich resigned from Leeds in circumstances clearer than his initial departure from City. He couldn’t recover from the board selling John Charles to Juventus. Managerial posts at Mansfield (where he oversaw the early stages of the career of Ken Wagstaff) and Middlesbrough followed, but Raich’s managerial career, while impressive in places, was never to hit the heights of his playing days. After his sacking by Middlesbrough, Raich moved back to Willerby and made ends meet by starting his own football magazine, reporting on matches for the Daily Mirror, sitting on the pools panel and opening a newsagents close to where the KC is now situated. He remained a regular at Boothferry Park with his son, Raich Jr, but sadly only as a commendably passionate supporter.

Raich’s final ‘appearance’ at Boothferry Park came at half time in an otherwise forgettable 0-0 draw against Sunderland in October 1988. He and fellow Sunderland FA Cup final hero Bob Gurney dribbled a ball up and down the pitch as the crowd – to a man – stood to applaud them. The affection for Raich from all supporters was clear for anyone to see, several decades after he’d had any involvement with either club.

Raich died on October 9th, 1994 in Hull. At the time largely regarded as the club’s greatest ever player, the city mourned one of its finest adopted sons. At the request of then chairman Martin Fish, the funeral cortege stopped outside Boothferry Park to be met by a guard of honour formed by the playing and management staff and some 400 fans. His funeral ceremony was littered with football greats mourning a player who could stand shoulder to shoulder with any of them.

So where does Raich stand in what we can now hopefully call with some justification the ‘pantheon’ of City greats? Comparing players from different eras is in many ways futile. Who was the best Hull City player out of Carter, Waggy, Chillo, Whittle, Ashbee, Windass, Turner, Chester, Huddlestone et all? Only a handful of them have thrived in the top-flight with the club, but that shouldn’t necessarily end the argument. Raich’s stats – 136 games, 57 goals – don’t necessarily tell the full story either, the story of the hope he gave a bomb-battered city and its underperforming football club, the flashes of skill that could change a game, the cheeky penalties where he would pass the ball to a teammate instead of shooting, the fact that one of the country’s finest players was gracing the black and amber.

Raich’s name is remembered with a sports centre in his home town, a road in the Kingswood area of Hull, and a trophy that we played Sunderland for in the opening of the KC. More importantly, it is stamped all over the history of the teams he played for. ‘Carter the Unforgettable’ was the slogan printed on t-shirts by fanzine Hull, Hell and Happiness in the early 90s. Given that he could still inspire such affection from a club for whom he hadn’t played for in several decades, that would seem to be a most fitting epitaph.

Richard Gardham

1 reply
  1. Johnny Reggae Reggae
    Johnny Reggae Reggae says:

    Didn’t Cunning Linquist once vote for him as ‘Young Player Of The Year’ ?

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