Many Hullensians still have an understandable chip on their shoulder about the lack of publicity (and subsequent funding) regarding the pounding the city took from the Luftwaffe in the Second World War. If you don’t know the facts, then shame on you, but suffice to say that wartime Home Secretary Herbert Morrison considered Hull the worst affected city in the UK by such raids. Basically, post-war Hull was a mess and morale was at rock bottom.
Why am I going on about this? Because it helps put into context just how important Raich Carter was to the city and its football team.
Raich was a household name before he arrived in Hull. He’d won the FA Cup before the war with his home-town club Sunderland and then after it with Derby County. Still an England regular, 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, and Forest boss Billy Walker was relatively young in management terms, Raich plumped for East Yorkshire, £6,000 was exchanged and a legend created.
On April 3rd 1948, Raich led out his new team-mates 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, so near yet so close to becoming our first England international. 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 team-mate 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. Sadly, City lost 1-0 in front of our record home crowd. Unluckily too, by most accounts, with the ball reportedly going out of play just before Manchester United scored the game’s solitary goal.
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. 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
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, 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 the 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”.
The rumours that surrounded (and still surround) Raich’s exit just added to the highly unsatisfactory way in which such a great servant to the game and Hull City had left the club. His popularity remained undiminished with the people of Hull though, and the following season when City went on 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, but he was soon back in England, managing Leeds United and helping shape the early stages of the career of John Charles. After getting Leeds promoted to Division One, Raich resigned from Leeds because couldn’t recover from the board selling John Charles to Juventus. Managerial posts at Mansfield 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, Windass and Turner? Well only one of them 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 team-mate instead of shooting, the fact that one of the country’s finest players was gracing the black and amber.
It’s hard to appreciate the present. Mention that Waggy and Chillo have been surpassed by Deano and Ash and you’ll generally get some Hull City fan over the age of 50 giving you a lecture on how two centre-forwards who for the most part couldn’t take City much higher than the middle of English football’s second tier were way better than anyone who played for us and against us between 2008 and 2010, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. There is generally a third name added to the list of they who will never be bettered. Horatio Stratton Carter. That’s because it would seem he was every bit as good as misty-eyed nostalgics would tell you.