Raich Carter

Football's Pioneers: Raich Carter

For several seasons, Leicester City has worked with De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture on various heritage projects. Today, Professor Tony Collins recalls the achievements of Raich Carter, one of the greatest players of his generation.

Who is the greatest player that Leicester City ever turned down? Perhaps the Foxes’ biggest mistake would be the teenage inside-forward Raich Carter, who had trials at Filbert Street in 1930, but was let go because he was thought to be too small. 

Four years later, Carter made his debut for England, aged 20. In 1936, he captained his home town team Sunderland to the league championship, becoming the youngest player ever to do so. For good measure, he was also the First Division’s leading scorer that season.

He was, all critics agreed, one of the greatest players of his generation. A multi-talented athlete who played for England schoolboys, Carter bestrode the pitch like a field marshal, directing his players while leading by example.

He could shoot using either foot, pass with deftness through the narrowest of gaps, and anticipate the pattern of play with the ease of a clairvoyant. As well as captaining Sunderland to the title, he also lifted the FA Cup in 1937, where he scored in their 3-1 victory over Preston.

But in 1939, when Carter was 25, the Second World War broke out. The best years of his football career seemed to have been lost. But his RAF war service took him to Loughborough and he played for Derby County, when they defeated Charlton in the first FA Cup final after the war in 1946.

Further proving his extraordinary talents, he also played three times for Derbyshire in cricket’s county championship that same year. Now in his thirties, it seemed as if his football career was drawing to a close. However, in 1948 he was signed by the perennial strugglers of Hull City.

He quickly became the player-manager.

"My aim is to play high-class football and let the result take care of itself," he told the press. He took Hull out of the Third Division North in his first season as manager. He signed Don Revie and Neil Franklin but promotion to the First Division eluded the side.

Frustrated by the club’s directors, he resigned in 1951 but was brought back to save Hull from relegation in the last match of the season. At the age of 39, he scored the goal that kept the club up.

He went on to manage Cork Athletic, Mansfield Town, Leeds United and Middlesbrough, but his heart remained in Hull. In a city dominated by rugby league, ‘Raich’ - as he was universally known - put Hull City at the centre of Hull’s sporting life, spending huge amounts of time promoting football and the Tigers in local workplaces and schools. When he died in 1994, thousands lined the streets of Hull to pay their respects.

Only the most inspirational footballers become icons in the city where they play football. But only the truly great become icons in two cities. Raich, son of Sunderland and adopted son of Hull, was one of those rare few - and one of the great ‘what ifs’ of Leicester City history.

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