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<p>The director has a special connection with the South Yorkshire town.</p>
Ken Loach backs Barnsley venue’s £5m bid to become world-class arts venue

The director has a special connection with the South Yorkshire town.

<p>The director has a special connection with the South Yorkshire town.</p>
Ken Loach backs Barnsley venue’s £5m bid to become world-class arts venue

The director has a special connection with the South Yorkshire town.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Championship - Barnsley vs Norwich City - Oakwell, Barnsley, Britain - March 13, 2018 Norwich City's Josh Murphy celebrates scoring their first goal Action Images/Craig Brough
FILE PHOTO: Championship - Barnsley vs Norwich City
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Championship - Barnsley vs Norwich City - Oakwell, Barnsley, Britain - March 13, 2018 Norwich City's Josh Murphy celebrates scoring their first goal Action Images/Craig Brough
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
A prophet without honour: The story of George Raynor, the first English manager to reach a World Cup final
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
A prophet without honour: The story of George Raynor, the first English manager to reach a World Cup final
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
A prophet without honour: The story of George Raynor, the first English manager to reach a World Cup final
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
A prophet without honour: The story of George Raynor, the first English manager to reach a World Cup final
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
A prophet without honour: The story of George Raynor, the first English manager to reach a World Cup final
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
A prophet without honour: The story of George Raynor, the first English manager to reach a World Cup final
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
A prophet without honour: The story of George Raynor, the first English manager to reach a World Cup final
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
A prophet without honour: The story of George Raynor, the first English manager to reach a World Cup final
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
A prophet without honour: The story of George Raynor, the first English manager to reach a World Cup final
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
A prophet without honour: The story of George Raynor, the first English manager to reach a World Cup final
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
A prophet without honour: The story of George Raynor, the first English manager to reach a World Cup final
England has a squalid tradition of treating its World Cup heroes shabbily: Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974 was announced in the most interminable and vapid Football Association statement imaginable and his pay-off and pension were derisory; Jack Charlton was denied the courtesy of a response when he applied for the manager’s job in 1977; Bobby Moore, demonstrably floundering in his retirement attempts to forge a career that afforded him appropriate dignity, was surveyed with the most sulphurous of official stink eyes and the ‘other Boys of 66’, the 11 squad members who did not play in the final and the support staff, had to wait 43 years for medals and recognition. Little wonder, then, that the first English manager to take his side to the World Cup final, a placid, coaching evangelist with a third-place finish and a runner’s-up spot at the game’s greatest tournament, should also be the victim of dishonourable indifference in his native land. A country that does not treasure its own champions is hardly going to revere Sweden’s even if he was born in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield and owed his education to Barnsley Grammar School, the Wesleyan Chapel, Football League and Army Physical Training Corps. Yet when George Raynor returned to his home in Skegness, the bracing North Sea resort town where generations of East Midlands industrial workers spent their ‘Going-off’ weeks, hoping for a crocodile of solicitous chairmen to cool their wingtips on the bungalow’s front path after Sweden’s 5-2 defeat by Brazil in the 1958 final, he was left swiftly and chasteningly disillusioned. Indeed the Skegness Standard found him at the end of July, 30 days after the Brazil game at the Rasunda, digging the back garden in his football boots and yellow and blue ‘Sverige’ tracksuit. His Saab, far more exotic than its owner in a world of Austin Cambridges, Morris Oxfords and legions of bus patrons, was parked outside. Once through the door, the reporter was obligingly given the grand tour of mementoes from Raynor’s Olympic gold-medal winning campaign in 1948 and bronze from Helsinki four years later, the family silver given by grateful clubs, autographed plate from his players and the British and Swedish ornamental flags standing proud on the front window sill. He was 51-years old, this prophet without honour in his homeland. He spoke with optimism about his future prospects and justified pride about the methods and achievements that had made him a Knight of the Order of Vasa, an honour given to him by King Gustaf VI. Within a month he was managing Skegness Town in the Midland League and on the way to a storeman’s job at Butlin’s. When he is spoken about at all now it is as a category error, “England’s forgotten coach” – implying common knowledge that has been eroded. In truth he was never widely known here, either as a player who had his best years with Bury, or as a coach with Coventry, or for his brief spells at Juventus and Lazio. In Sweden, however, he needs no proselytiser. In the national sports museum Raynor is not remote, parochial or obscure but one of the household gods. England’s loss was their gain, though his 12-year journey with them to the World Cup final required help from illustrious wartime pals to prevent it ending before it had even begun. Raynor enjoyed his best spell as a player at Bury Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Raynor arrived in Gothenburg in 1946 a reluctant émigré. He had played the last pre-war season on the right wing for Aldershot, joined up in the garrison town after Germany’s invasion of Poland and combined his duties as a PT instructor with playing wartime football in the most fortuitous of locations. Aldershot, who had spent seven seasons in the Third Division South since their election to the league, could suddenly call upon guests stationed at the barracks of the calibre of Tommy Lawton, Frank Swift and Jimmy Hagan – and Raynor played with them and against greater luminaries in visiting FA and Army XI games put on at the Rec to entertain the troops. He was posted to North Africa with the Ninth Army in late 1941 and two years later to Baghdad via Durban, Bombay and Karachi. As a warrant officer in the APTC, he was employed by the Military Mission in Iraq to train recruits in the capital and Basra - and part of his brief involved organising sports teams. Raynor wrote that he played seven or eight matches a week and refereed many more while on duty and his success in turning callow conscripts into tough and capable fighting men caught the attention of his superiors. When the mission received a request from the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Said, to help organise Iraq’s first national team to play exhibition games in Beirut and Damascus, Raynor was summoned back from Basra to take charge. Despite losing three of the five games, victory over Syria in the penultimate match before the last was abandoned in the midst of a riot (during which there were fatalities and scores of casualties) raised Raynor’s profile significantly in the Army and government of Iraq. While improperly contemptuous of the fortitude of Arab men, Raynor was inspired by the example of a pregnant woman he saw who made a 20-mile daily trip to market carrying fruit on her head and an infant on one hip. “That poor woman,” he wrote, “underlined the opinion I was already forming – that will-power will conquer everything.” On demobilisation in the summer of 1945 he returned to Aldershot with references from al-Said, the C-in-C Persia and Iraq command and a resolve to develop his Iraq “ideas and principles” in a “properly organised system of coaching” to “rebuild football in England after the war”. Raynor, front left, spent the last season of pre-war football at Aldershot Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock Instead he found “nobody wanted any system. Coaches were regarded as cranks who would soon fade away from the scene so that the game would continue.” He had a season running Aldershot reserves, who let him go after nine months, and his applications elsewhere were rebuffed at almost every turn. At football clubs, he surmised, “the sign was up: No hawkers. No Circulars. No Coaches.” Happily for Raynor, the football establishment had one non-conformist and it just happened to be its most significant modernising force. Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, had been forwarded the endorsements of Raynor’s illustrious referees and wrote to him with encouraging words. Unhappily, he had limited executive power in the federal structure and none at all with professional clubs. Mercifully, overseas governing bodies held him in higher esteem and were considerably less conservative. In 1946 Rous received a letter at his office in Lancaster Gate from his Swedish counterpart asking for a recommendation for a head coach and, remembering his correspondence, proposed Raynor. Remarkably for a man eking out £5 a week in a precarious job with Aldershot’s reserves, Raynor informed Rous that he did not want to go. But when he lost that position he reconsidered and boarded the Gothenburg steamer. He had agreed a six-month trial but before his first game in charge, Second Division Birmingham City visited Stockholm to play a friendly and when a few of their players admitted to inquiring journalists that they could furnish no background details on Raynor because they had never heard of him, alarm about the ‘unknown’ manager began to spread. Fears that Sweden had been lumbered with a ringer were only assuaged when an RAF side came on a goodwill trip a few weeks later. The sight of Raynor at the reception talking to England captain George Hardwick and the most famous footballer of them all, Stanley Matthews, with discernible intimacy and warmth mollified the disquiet. Raynor, left, shakes hands with Malmo's Stellan Nilsson shortly after taking over in 1946 Credit: Erik Collin/TT News Agency Although Swedish football had steadfastly resisted the game going professional, the kingdom’s neutrality in the war had left the game structurally intact and player development had not been impeded by more existential concerns. Raynor reported that he found “many fine technical players… probably too many but not enough who would fight for the ball”. Given a free hand by his employers, he focused on “quick reaction, agility and hardness” and, with the talents of Gunnar Gren, Niels Liedholm and the three Nordahl brothers – Bertil, Knut and Gunnar – to build on, quickly forged a team. To do this, he embedded himself in the regions, travelling around the country and spending a fortnight with each of the 12 First Division clubs, identifying possibles, teaching, training and integrating the best of them into his system of play. Raynor’s strategy revolved around a plan he called the “G-Man”, ostensibly a forerunner of the “deep lying centre-forward” used by Hungary with Nandor Hidegkuti, Manchester City’s “Revie Plan” and the “false nine” so prevalent over the past decade. He revealed that he adapted it from a fairly common tactic employed by Bury in the Thirties and deputed his inside-left, Knut Nordahl, to occupy the roaming role while Gren, on the right, and Gunnar Nordahl, through the middle, were pushed high upfield. The first time he used it after hours of drilling and discussion with his players where everyone was encouraged to speak, Sweden beat Switzerland 7-2 in July 1946, overturning the 3-0 defeat in Geneva from the previous November that had prompted the board’s urgent letter to Rous. Twin victories over Finland and Norway, one over Poland and three against Denmark followed over 18 months before Raynor’s Sweden took on England at Highbury in November 1947 and rattled the hosts. In the preceding 10 matches, Sweden scored 51 times and Gunnar Nordahl bagged 15, Gren eight and Liedholm five. From 3-1 down at the break, they dominated the second half and at 3-2 looked the most likely to score until Stan Mortensen hit them with a brilliant goal, trapping a goal-kick by the halfway line and weaving his way through the defence to shoot past the keeper. “The Swedes were a trifle overawed for the first 20 minutes,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “but later discovered there was nothing unbeatable in front of them, attacked for the greater part of the second half, and in the last half scored goal for goal.” Sweden came back to London for the 1948 Olympics Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo They returned to London the following summer and their combination of skill, organisation, power and Raynor’s more direct approach equipped them to sweep to the final at the Olympic Games by defeating Austria 3-0 at White Hart Lane, Korea 12-0 at Selhurst Park and Denmark, yet again, 4-2 in the semi-final at Wembley. Gren, a mercurially gifted inside-right with immaculate control, scored twice in the final and Gunnar Nordahl the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Yugoslavia who took losing out on gold sourly. One of their delegation went up to Raynor and said: “English coach, English referee. Communist. It is bribery.” And just to round it off, he spat in his face. Throughout the tournament, Italian agents had laid siege to Sweden’s training camp and dressing room, ultimately offering Raynor £1,000 and a car if he helped in the seduction of Liedholm, Gren, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Nordahl to move to Serie A. He turned them down but the exodus began, Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm joining AC Milan the following year where they became the fabled ‘Gre-No-Li’ trident that took the Rossoneri to the runners-up position in 1950 and the scudetto the following year. Incidentally, it was a golden age not only for Sweden’s players but also for evocative nicknames: Sune Andersson, the left-half, was known as ‘Mona Lisa’ for his smile, Sigge Parling ‘the Iron Stove’ for his physique, Gren ‘the Professor’ for his erudite play, Liedholm ‘the Baron’ for his bearing, Kurt Hamrin ‘Little Bird’, Gunnar Nordahl ‘the Fireman’ and Nacka Skoglund, whose life ended in an early, chaotic demise, ‘the Swaying Corncob’. In addition to the Milan immortals, Bertil Nordahl, the centre-half, went to Atalanta, his brother Knut and ‘La Gioconda’ to Roma and Carlsson to Stade Français. Liedholm, Il Barone, went to Milan with Gren and Gunnar Nordahl Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images Because the Swedish FA stuck obdurately to its amateur only policy, Raynor had to fashion a new team for the 1950 World Cup and still made it through to the final pool, beating the Italians who had pillaged six of his gold medal-winners. Although they were hammered 7-1 by the hosts, Brazil, and lost narrowly to eventual champions Uruguay, a 3-1 victory over Spain was enough to earn his refashioned side third place. How they would have fared with Gunnar Nordahl, who had scored 43 goals in 33 matches for Sweden, Liedholm and Gren is the great ‘what if?’ of Swedish football. It would take eight years, Raynor’s urging, failure to qualify for the 1954 tournament and fear of embarrassment at their home World Cup for the board to relent and allow professionals into the fold - by which point Nordahl had retired, Liedholm was 35 and Gren 37. Raynor left Sweden to move to Italy in 1954 after winning bronze at the 1952 Games and holding Hungary - Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas et al – to a 2-2 draw at the Nepstadion in November 1953. Ten days later the ‘Magical Magyars’ humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and destroyed the myth of English football exceptionalism for good. Raynor spent three months as general manager of Juventus but was shipped out to Lazio after his six games had left them five points behind Milan. He left Serie A at the end of the season, spooked, he claimed, by the widespread corruption and the strain of having to deal with a perennially squabbling, 26-strong board of directors in the capital. In the summer he moved to Coventry City of the Third Division South, first as assistant to the charismatic Jesse Carver, who made a similar journey from Roma to Highfield Road and rapidly regretted it, resigning on New Year’s Eve 1955 and jilting them for Lazio. Raynor stepped up but lasted only 11 months. His notice was accepted at the second time of offering and he records in his autobiography a litany of broken promises, double-dealing and “cock-and-bull stories” from malingering players. Raynor, right, disliked the players' attitudes during his spell as Coventry's manager Credit: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock By virtue of his year in Italy, he was relatively wealthy but unemployed. Raynor tried to find work with an English club but to no avail and spent the winter working as a regional coach with the Lincolnshire Education Committee. After the uprising in Hungary was repressed by Soviet troops in 1956, some refugees were found work as miners in England and Raynor offered his services to the National Coal Board to help train them. When the board brought up its own coach from London for the job, Raynor was despondent. “Britain had a heaven-sent opportunity to prove what a fine sporting nation it is during this Hungarian crisis,” he lamented. “But the opportunity was lost… I wanted to stay at home and help in whatever way I could, but apparently nobody wanted me.” Sweden had never neglected him and regular calls to the Lincolnshire bungalow from old, influential friends and a campaign of lobbying in person to his son Brian, who had remained in Stockholm and become a Swedish subject, gradually cajoled him into returning in March 1957 to prepare for the World Cup. Immediately he began his travels around the country, identifying players such as the centre-forward Agne Simonsson, devising personal fitness and tactical drills for them and persuading the board to let him pick the Italian-based players. “It was claimed that the Swedish [World] Cup side was not representative of Swedish football,” he wrote. “Perhaps it wasn’t, but it was representative of the footballers Sweden produced.” He stripped the team of the Second Divison players who had lost to Norway and drawn with Denmark and began to rebuild confidence with his pragmatic style and selections that re-established their position as the pre-eminent Scandinavian force. While walloping their neighbours boosted morale, slim defeats by Austria and the world champions West Germany in late 1957 became the impetus for the board to agree to call-ups for the Serie A exiles Liedholm, Hamrin, Skoglund and Atalanta’s centre-half, Julle Gustavsson. Without them they may have made it out of a group containing Hungary, Wales and Mexico but it is hard to envisage them progressing much further. Raynor with the Order of Vasa awarded by King Gustav VI in 1958 Credit: Aldre Bild/TT News Agency Convincing the Swedish board to capitulate over the ‘Italians’ was one thing, enticing the clubs to release them was another and the four arrived at the training camp only after compensation was agreed and merely days before the World Cup kicked off at the Rasunda where the hosts would play Mexico on June 8 1958. Raynor sent out his XI with Skoglund wide on the left, Hamrin on the right, Liedholm at right-half and Gren at inside-right but it was the wingers, rather than the two stately survivors of the 1948 side, who proved the difference, hugging the touchline, employing their dribbling skills in lieu of explosive pace to set up chances for Simonsson’s late bursts into the box to exploit. They won 3-0 and then dispatched a Hungary side weakened by defections 2-1, Hamrin scoring twice though the Scottish referee, Jack Mowatt, received more credit in Budapest for siding with the home side. The victory assured qualification for the quarter-final and Raynor asked his selection committee, astutely if not altogether respectably, to send out a second XI for the final group game against a Wales team, including John Charles in the wrong position at centre-half, which ended in a stalemate, proof of the effectiveness of his coaching and tactics. In the quarter-final Sweden took on the USSR, who had thrashed them 7-0 and 6-0 during Raynor’s year in Italy. It was the wingers once more, Hamrin especially, who decided the game. The Soviet Union, fatigued after a play-off, were outmanoeuvred by him and he scored once and cut out Lev Yashin with a marvellous cross to set up Simonsson for the late second in a 2-0 victory. Extraordinarily, the crowd in Stockholm for the quarter-final was 18,000 below capacity, as if the belief of Raynor and his team had not been transfused into the public. All that changed for the semi-final against defending champions West Germany when the mood took on an uncharacteristic and volatile edge. “The patriotic euphoria of this traditionally neutral, peaceable, unchauvinist nation rose to an orgy of patriotism,” wrote Brian Glanville. “It was a riveting and somewhat alarming study in national behaviour.” The opening ceremony was greeted with more traditional Swedish decorum than they afforded West Germany in the semi-final Credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images The game in Gothenburg began with Swedish cheerleaders on the pitch, rousing a crowd that needed no encouragement, and was played in a filthy atmosphere that deteriorated further after Hans Schaefer scored for West Germany with a 25-yard volleyed screamer. Raynor had switched Liedholm back to inside-left and it was in that role, albeit with the unpunished use of his hand, that he teed up Skoglund’s equaliser. When West Germany’s left-back Erich Juskowiak was sent off with more than a little assistance from Hamrin’s dramatic tumble and then Fritz Walter was hobbled by a terrible Parling foul, Sweden moved into the ascendancy and ended up triumphing 3-1 as a result of Gren’s thumping shot into the top corner and Hamrin’s glorious stop-start polka from the touchline which took out three defenders before he scored with an insouciant chip. The hosts and Raynor were in the final. There they would meet Brazil for whom 17-year-old Pele had scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory in the Stockholm semi-final that had wantonly been played simultaneously with Sweden’s game. On the morning of the final The Observer’s Tony Pawson profiled the manager for his own compatriots. “His instructions to players are simple and direct,” he wrote.”Even at press conferences where others are evasive or non-committal, he is frank and clear. He talks of his team as a slow side who rely on the ball to do the running, but there is speed where it matters most in defence and on the wing and the whole team is quick and intelligent in its reactions.” One example of that frankness and clarity, however, came back to bite him hard. Musing on the importance of a quick start, he told his players: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the show.” It took Sweden four minutes on the rainswept Sunday afternoon to test this rosy hypothesis when Liedholm put Sweden 1-0 up. Fifa, though, had banned the cheerleaders and the crowd correspondingly remained disturbingly reserved. The change from Gothenburg to Stockholm did not help and Brazil, by contrast with West Germany, were not easy to cast as bandits. Consequently, neither the show nor Brazil were afflicted by panic of any kind and within five minutes Garrincha had given Parling and Sven Axbom the slip with a sinuous bodyswerve by the touchline and set up Vava’s equaliser. It became a thrillingly open game and after Pele had flayed a shot against the post, Garrincha again mesmerised the left side of the home defence to create Vava’s second. Garrincha tore the left side of Sweden's defence apart in the final Credit: AP Ten minutes into the second half Pele scored the goal that every Brazilian of a certain age and every football fan of taste can spool through their mind’s eye, the sumptuous chest trap, scooped half-volley, flick over his shoulder, pirouette and controlled finish on the full with his laces. Mario Zagallo scored the fourth, Simonsson grabbed one back and Pele headed the fifth in injury time to win Brazil’s first World Cup. His team-mates lifted the boy on to their shoulders and he held his hand to his eyes to try to mask the tears but it was pointless. They splashed on to his royal blue shirt for a while longer. Soon enough, though, he joined in with the rest of the squad as they danced around the perimeter, parading first their own flag and then Sweden’s and the crowd, its reticence at last overcome, applauded wildly. “Will-power can conquer everything," had been Raynor’s coaching maxim, but at the Rasunda its limitations were exposed by the exceptional talents of Nilton Santos, Zito and Didi and the two geniuses, Pele and Garrincha, in the finest marriage of pace and power, precision and off-the-cuff improvisation in the history of the game up to that date. “There is no use beating about the bush,” Raynor wrote. “Brazil were magnificent. [They] were the masters in a glorious match played in the finest spirit in a great sporting land.” Pele, left, weeps on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar, after Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden as Didi waves to the crowd Credit: AP Photo/File Raynor returned to Skegness a few days later, still believing in his own great sporting land but he could find no job commensurate with his stature in the international game and spent only 17 months in League football at Doncaster Rovers from the summer of 1967. He wanted the England job and, pertinently, his preference for working alongside a selection committee would have commended him to the FA blazers who begrudgingly ceded control to Alf Ramsey in 1962. By then Raynor had ruined his chances by upsetting the governing body with his autopsy of England’s successive shameful failures at World Cups in his autobiography, Football Ambassador at Large, and indiscreetly recounted private conversations he had had with FA grandees addressing the squad’s poor preparation. The book was withdrawn from publication under the threat of legal action after barely a month and only the sanitised but still rare second edition can be found these days. Instead of taking over England, a job he insisted he was best qualified for, he carried on at Skegness Town, went back to Sweden for a third, short spell in charge of the national side and departed the game for good after leaving Belle Vue. He died in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1985 without an obituary to mark his passing in England, not even in Skegness, Barnsley or Bury. Not forgotten. Completely unnoticed. His family could be forgiven a rueful smile 15 years later when the FA turned to Sweden’s Sven Goran-Eriksson to manage England and again in 2012 when they appointed Roy Hodgson, an Englishman who had forged his career in Scandinavia. Such is the tragedy of pioneers, their race is usually run before the world catches up.
Aidy Boothroyd, the England Under-21 manager, was delighted to be told this week that reaching the semi-finals of the Toulon Tournament is nothing special as it shows how much things have changed in recent times for his young players. Expectations have soared for England’s age group sides after winning the Under-16 and Under-19 World Cups last year and Boothroyd knows that reaching the last four of an Under-21 tournament he also won two years ago is perceived as the minimum requirement these days. England face a Scotland side experiencing their own renaissance after beating France in the group stage last week, with Boothroyd revealing that complacency, rather than a lack of ability, that worries him most. “You don’t know how nice it is to be asked questions about complacency,” Boothroyd said. “Or how happy I am to be told that reaching the final four of a tournament is merely what is expected of us now. “That shows how far we have come and how much standards have been raised over the last few years. It can only be a good thing if reaching semi-finals and finals is just the expectation whenever England play in a tournament, because they will take that with them into senior football. World Cup kits ranked “I don’t think I’ll have any problems with complacency, this is a hungry, ambitious group that works hard to achieve their goals and ambitions. “These young men, they are all desperate to break into the senior teams with their clubs, they want to progress, they want to earn senior England caps and they is what they are striving for all the time.” Boothroyd singled out Newcastle United striker Adam Armstrong for special praise after he was drafted into the squad in place of more established forwards like Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Liverpool’s Dominic Solanke. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more They are just two of the players who have been above Armstrong in the pecking order, with the Geordie failing to earn a regular first team place under Rafael Benítez at his club. Instead, the 21-year-old has been out on loan to Coventry City, Barnsley and Blackburn Rovers and is likely to be sold this summer. “He has found his pathway blocked at this level, but when I called him to ask him to come and play here, he could not have been more enthusiastic,” Boothroyd added. “It has probably been frustrating for him, not getting picked for squads, but he has come in and done brilliantly. He has probably been our best player at the tournament and I cannot speak highly enough of him. “We’ve got a number of new players who have emerged at this tournament and they will be putting pressure on the more established names in the squad, and that is precisely what we want.” World Cup whatsapp promo
England U21 manager says semi-final spot at Toulon Tournament is minimum target, but warns against complacency
Aidy Boothroyd, the England Under-21 manager, was delighted to be told this week that reaching the semi-finals of the Toulon Tournament is nothing special as it shows how much things have changed in recent times for his young players. Expectations have soared for England’s age group sides after winning the Under-16 and Under-19 World Cups last year and Boothroyd knows that reaching the last four of an Under-21 tournament he also won two years ago is perceived as the minimum requirement these days. England face a Scotland side experiencing their own renaissance after beating France in the group stage last week, with Boothroyd revealing that complacency, rather than a lack of ability, that worries him most. “You don’t know how nice it is to be asked questions about complacency,” Boothroyd said. “Or how happy I am to be told that reaching the final four of a tournament is merely what is expected of us now. “That shows how far we have come and how much standards have been raised over the last few years. It can only be a good thing if reaching semi-finals and finals is just the expectation whenever England play in a tournament, because they will take that with them into senior football. World Cup kits ranked “I don’t think I’ll have any problems with complacency, this is a hungry, ambitious group that works hard to achieve their goals and ambitions. “These young men, they are all desperate to break into the senior teams with their clubs, they want to progress, they want to earn senior England caps and they is what they are striving for all the time.” Boothroyd singled out Newcastle United striker Adam Armstrong for special praise after he was drafted into the squad in place of more established forwards like Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Liverpool’s Dominic Solanke. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more They are just two of the players who have been above Armstrong in the pecking order, with the Geordie failing to earn a regular first team place under Rafael Benítez at his club. Instead, the 21-year-old has been out on loan to Coventry City, Barnsley and Blackburn Rovers and is likely to be sold this summer. “He has found his pathway blocked at this level, but when I called him to ask him to come and play here, he could not have been more enthusiastic,” Boothroyd added. “It has probably been frustrating for him, not getting picked for squads, but he has come in and done brilliantly. He has probably been our best player at the tournament and I cannot speak highly enough of him. “We’ve got a number of new players who have emerged at this tournament and they will be putting pressure on the more established names in the squad, and that is precisely what we want.” World Cup whatsapp promo
Jill Hibbered, 73, named as woman found dead from 'multiple stab wounds' in Barnsley
Jill Hibbered, 73, named as woman found dead from 'multiple stab wounds' in Barnsley
Jill Hibbered, 73, named as woman found dead from 'multiple stab wounds' in Barnsley
Jill Hibbered, 73, named as woman found dead from 'multiple stab wounds' in Barnsley
Jill Hibbered, 73, named as woman found dead from 'multiple stab wounds' in Barnsley
Jill Hibbered, 73, named as woman found dead from 'multiple stab wounds' in Barnsley
Marcelo Bielsa, the former Argentina and Chile coach, has emerged as a shock candidate to take over at Leeds United as the club search for their 10th manager in less than three years following the sacking of Paul Heckingbottom. Heckingbottom, 40, replaced Thomas Christiansen in February but, after winning just four of his 16 matches in charge, Leeds finished 13th in the Championship, 15 points adrift of the top six, and the club now want to appoint a head coach “with more experience”. Leeds are thought to have made initial contact with Bielsa, who left French club Lille in December. It is unclear whether the 62-year-old Argentine, who spent six years in charge of his native Argentina and four years coaching the Chile national team, before taking club jobs with Athletic Bilbao, Marseille and Lazio, would be prepared to move to England for the first time. Batigol: Bielsa with Argentinian striker Gabriel Batistuta in 2000 Credit: AP But the prospect of Bielsa, and whom Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino cite as an influence, taking the helm at Elland Road would surprise and intrigue in equal measure. Angus Kinnear, Leeds’ managing director, said they were “confident of making a quick appointment”. Other candidates are also being considered. England Formation Builder “Our objective is to bring in a head coach with more experience who can help us reach the goals we have talked about since we became custodians of the club last summer,” Kinnear said. Only one of Leeds’ past eight managers – Garry Monk in 2016-17 – has lasted a whole season in charge. Leeds had activated a £500,000 release clause in Heckingbottom’s contract at Barnsley in order to appoint him. Heckingbottom’s assistant, Jamie Clapham, the former Leeds defender, also departs along with head of fitness Nathan Winder, and analyst Alex Bailey. Gianni Vio – the club’s set-piece coach who was recruited prior to Heckingbottom’s arrival – is not having his contracted renewed.
Argentina, Chile... Elland Road?! Marcelo Bielsa emerges as unlikely Leeds United managerial candidate
Marcelo Bielsa, the former Argentina and Chile coach, has emerged as a shock candidate to take over at Leeds United as the club search for their 10th manager in less than three years following the sacking of Paul Heckingbottom. Heckingbottom, 40, replaced Thomas Christiansen in February but, after winning just four of his 16 matches in charge, Leeds finished 13th in the Championship, 15 points adrift of the top six, and the club now want to appoint a head coach “with more experience”. Leeds are thought to have made initial contact with Bielsa, who left French club Lille in December. It is unclear whether the 62-year-old Argentine, who spent six years in charge of his native Argentina and four years coaching the Chile national team, before taking club jobs with Athletic Bilbao, Marseille and Lazio, would be prepared to move to England for the first time. Batigol: Bielsa with Argentinian striker Gabriel Batistuta in 2000 Credit: AP But the prospect of Bielsa, and whom Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino cite as an influence, taking the helm at Elland Road would surprise and intrigue in equal measure. Angus Kinnear, Leeds’ managing director, said they were “confident of making a quick appointment”. Other candidates are also being considered. England Formation Builder “Our objective is to bring in a head coach with more experience who can help us reach the goals we have talked about since we became custodians of the club last summer,” Kinnear said. Only one of Leeds’ past eight managers – Garry Monk in 2016-17 – has lasted a whole season in charge. Leeds had activated a £500,000 release clause in Heckingbottom’s contract at Barnsley in order to appoint him. Heckingbottom’s assistant, Jamie Clapham, the former Leeds defender, also departs along with head of fitness Nathan Winder, and analyst Alex Bailey. Gianni Vio – the club’s set-piece coach who was recruited prior to Heckingbottom’s arrival – is not having his contracted renewed.
Marcelo Bielsa, the former Argentina and Chile coach, has emerged as a shock candidate to take over at Leeds United as the club search for their 10th manager in less than three years following the sacking of Paul Heckingbottom. Heckingbottom, 40, replaced Thomas Christiansen in February but, after winning just four of his 16 matches in charge, Leeds finished 13th in the Championship, 15 points adrift of the top six, and the club now want to appoint a head coach “with more experience”. Leeds are thought to have made initial contact with Bielsa, who left French club Lille in December. It is unclear whether the 62-year-old Argentine, who spent six years in charge of his native Argentina and four years coaching the Chile national team, before taking club jobs with Athletic Bilbao, Marseille and Lazio, would be prepared to move to England for the first time. Batigol: Bielsa with Argentinian striker Gabriel Batistuta in 2000 Credit: AP But the prospect of Bielsa, and whom Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino cite as an influence, taking the helm at Elland Road would surprise and intrigue in equal measure. Angus Kinnear, Leeds’ managing director, said they were “confident of making a quick appointment”. Other candidates are also being considered. England Formation Builder “Our objective is to bring in a head coach with more experience who can help us reach the goals we have talked about since we became custodians of the club last summer,” Kinnear said. Only one of Leeds’ past eight managers – Garry Monk in 2016-17 – has lasted a whole season in charge. Leeds had activated a £500,000 release clause in Heckingbottom’s contract at Barnsley in order to appoint him. Heckingbottom’s assistant, Jamie Clapham, the former Leeds defender, also departs along with head of fitness Nathan Winder, and analyst Alex Bailey. Gianni Vio – the club’s set-piece coach who was recruited prior to Heckingbottom’s arrival – is not having his contracted renewed.
Argentina, Chile... Elland Road?! Marcelo Bielsa emerges as unlikely Leeds United managerial candidate
Marcelo Bielsa, the former Argentina and Chile coach, has emerged as a shock candidate to take over at Leeds United as the club search for their 10th manager in less than three years following the sacking of Paul Heckingbottom. Heckingbottom, 40, replaced Thomas Christiansen in February but, after winning just four of his 16 matches in charge, Leeds finished 13th in the Championship, 15 points adrift of the top six, and the club now want to appoint a head coach “with more experience”. Leeds are thought to have made initial contact with Bielsa, who left French club Lille in December. It is unclear whether the 62-year-old Argentine, who spent six years in charge of his native Argentina and four years coaching the Chile national team, before taking club jobs with Athletic Bilbao, Marseille and Lazio, would be prepared to move to England for the first time. Batigol: Bielsa with Argentinian striker Gabriel Batistuta in 2000 Credit: AP But the prospect of Bielsa, and whom Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino cite as an influence, taking the helm at Elland Road would surprise and intrigue in equal measure. Angus Kinnear, Leeds’ managing director, said they were “confident of making a quick appointment”. Other candidates are also being considered. England Formation Builder “Our objective is to bring in a head coach with more experience who can help us reach the goals we have talked about since we became custodians of the club last summer,” Kinnear said. Only one of Leeds’ past eight managers – Garry Monk in 2016-17 – has lasted a whole season in charge. Leeds had activated a £500,000 release clause in Heckingbottom’s contract at Barnsley in order to appoint him. Heckingbottom’s assistant, Jamie Clapham, the former Leeds defender, also departs along with head of fitness Nathan Winder, and analyst Alex Bailey. Gianni Vio – the club’s set-piece coach who was recruited prior to Heckingbottom’s arrival – is not having his contracted renewed.
Middle-aged men in Lycra (Mamils) started the cycling holiday trend. Now health-conscious millennials are also sweating with excitement at the prospect of bike-themed fitness breaks. Not me. Perhaps it’s their seriousness; perhaps it’s their spandex-clad smuggery. But hail an exciting development: a hotel-hopping cycling break from family-run Wild Carrot, which has just launched tours across the Calcot Collection of properties in the Cotswolds. The concept, while not completely new, is so embryonic that it doesn’t even have a name (something tells me 'hotel-bike-hopping' or 'hotel-cycloping' might not catch on). In any case, it’s perfect for wusses and Bradley Wiggins wannabes alike. "Just three more hills until the pub," said my guide, James, as I spluttered up what any self-respecting cyclist would dismiss as a 'bump'. It didn’t stop me whooping with euphoria when I got to the top. The best bit was that, on Roman roads this smooth, I didn’t have to pedal. Cotswold stone houses speckled the landscape. Rapeseed radiated a prickly, yellow fluorescence. Fields foamed white with cow parsley. Fern forests closed in then fizzled away. • The best spa hotels in the south of England Roaming the gardens at Barnsley House is a joy for people of all ages It was hard to believe I’d been nervous the night before while staying at Barnsley House, the starting point for my cycling experience: a wisteria-clad country manor that’s all crenellations and coats-of-arms. To anyone who thinks this doesn’t sound sufficiently 'millennial', given my generation’s newfound enthusiasm for tending indoor plants in our hovelish city flats, I’d say the magnificent gardens at Barnsley are a serious pull. Who needs meditation podcasts when you can sniff at perfumed oriental lilies and bound through pink and purple flushes of pansies and violets? Then there is the spa, which I had almost to myself of a Saturday evening, complete with crackling fire pit and outdoor pool overlooking meadows, with water as hot as a freshly run bath. Dinner also showcased the garden, from my eye-wateringly green asparagus with truffle, to duck breast with candy beetroot plucked from the veggie patch, and rhubarb and orange drizzle cake. Still, by the time I had retired to my room (which had its own front garden frequented by robins and a conservatory backed by an indoor waterfall), panicky flashes of me conking out midway through the bike ride set in. In fact at half-time I was still pumping with energy. • The best luxury hotels in the Cotswolds Don't miss the spa at Barnsley House, complete with outdoor pool overlooking meadows Credit: Steven Russell At this point we lunched: We sipped local cider and devoured Gloucester pork and football-sized Yorkshire puddings in the most upper-class of English pubs. Think retro deck chairs on the lawn, and Ralph-Lauren-shirted clientele ordering Bollinger with their beer-battered hake. Inflated of belly and slightly sozzled of brain, we zoomed on down steep hills, and through Cotswold stone villages with red phone boxes and dusty windows (perhaps to stop tourists peering in). I was having such a brilliant time I was slightly disappointed to see the grey slate roofs of the five-star Calcot Manor, in the far distance. Sun-bronzed and saddle sore, we charged triumphantly through the meadow tracks of the hotel’s 220-acre grounds. I would recommend wobbling straight over to the spa after the ride. But make sure you pre-book a treatment. I found the outdoor hot tub rammed (late on a Sunday afternoon). I opted for the Rose Restore massage, which left me smelling like a chapter out of the Secret Garden and very relaxed. For a country house Calcot is funky. There are pineapple wall sconces and brushed-gold coffee tables. The dining room, with its loud flower prints and indoor trees, looks like Cath Kidston battling with a botanical garden. And lots of teal. • The best boutique hotels in the Cotswolds For a country house, Calcot is funky The food has the slight edge on Barnsley, which was nice seeing as post-cycle I was hungry enough to eat a cow – and in fact I did: a beautiful tartare made with beef from Calcot village. I followed up with more red meat: blushing, brightly flavoured Wiltshire lamb with sprightly raisin and anchovy sauce. It came to an end in the most fitting place: in the bath of my suite (furnished with a complimentary Calcot rubber duck). My cycling feat may not have been comparable to the Tour de France, but the delicate snowflake in me still felt thoroughly deserving of my wild thyme muscle soak. A two-night, half-board Lark Rise to Calcot package, with a night at Barnsley House followed by a stay at Calcot Manor, including guided cycle and pub lunch with Wild Carrot (wildcarrot.co.uk) costs from £873 based on two sharing. For full reviews of both hotels, see: telegraph.co.uk/tt-barnsleyhouse and telegraph.co.uk/tt-calcotmanor
Hotel Hit Squad: Is hotel-hopping (by bicycle) the next big trend?
Middle-aged men in Lycra (Mamils) started the cycling holiday trend. Now health-conscious millennials are also sweating with excitement at the prospect of bike-themed fitness breaks. Not me. Perhaps it’s their seriousness; perhaps it’s their spandex-clad smuggery. But hail an exciting development: a hotel-hopping cycling break from family-run Wild Carrot, which has just launched tours across the Calcot Collection of properties in the Cotswolds. The concept, while not completely new, is so embryonic that it doesn’t even have a name (something tells me 'hotel-bike-hopping' or 'hotel-cycloping' might not catch on). In any case, it’s perfect for wusses and Bradley Wiggins wannabes alike. "Just three more hills until the pub," said my guide, James, as I spluttered up what any self-respecting cyclist would dismiss as a 'bump'. It didn’t stop me whooping with euphoria when I got to the top. The best bit was that, on Roman roads this smooth, I didn’t have to pedal. Cotswold stone houses speckled the landscape. Rapeseed radiated a prickly, yellow fluorescence. Fields foamed white with cow parsley. Fern forests closed in then fizzled away. • The best spa hotels in the south of England Roaming the gardens at Barnsley House is a joy for people of all ages It was hard to believe I’d been nervous the night before while staying at Barnsley House, the starting point for my cycling experience: a wisteria-clad country manor that’s all crenellations and coats-of-arms. To anyone who thinks this doesn’t sound sufficiently 'millennial', given my generation’s newfound enthusiasm for tending indoor plants in our hovelish city flats, I’d say the magnificent gardens at Barnsley are a serious pull. Who needs meditation podcasts when you can sniff at perfumed oriental lilies and bound through pink and purple flushes of pansies and violets? Then there is the spa, which I had almost to myself of a Saturday evening, complete with crackling fire pit and outdoor pool overlooking meadows, with water as hot as a freshly run bath. Dinner also showcased the garden, from my eye-wateringly green asparagus with truffle, to duck breast with candy beetroot plucked from the veggie patch, and rhubarb and orange drizzle cake. Still, by the time I had retired to my room (which had its own front garden frequented by robins and a conservatory backed by an indoor waterfall), panicky flashes of me conking out midway through the bike ride set in. In fact at half-time I was still pumping with energy. • The best luxury hotels in the Cotswolds Don't miss the spa at Barnsley House, complete with outdoor pool overlooking meadows Credit: Steven Russell At this point we lunched: We sipped local cider and devoured Gloucester pork and football-sized Yorkshire puddings in the most upper-class of English pubs. Think retro deck chairs on the lawn, and Ralph-Lauren-shirted clientele ordering Bollinger with their beer-battered hake. Inflated of belly and slightly sozzled of brain, we zoomed on down steep hills, and through Cotswold stone villages with red phone boxes and dusty windows (perhaps to stop tourists peering in). I was having such a brilliant time I was slightly disappointed to see the grey slate roofs of the five-star Calcot Manor, in the far distance. Sun-bronzed and saddle sore, we charged triumphantly through the meadow tracks of the hotel’s 220-acre grounds. I would recommend wobbling straight over to the spa after the ride. But make sure you pre-book a treatment. I found the outdoor hot tub rammed (late on a Sunday afternoon). I opted for the Rose Restore massage, which left me smelling like a chapter out of the Secret Garden and very relaxed. For a country house Calcot is funky. There are pineapple wall sconces and brushed-gold coffee tables. The dining room, with its loud flower prints and indoor trees, looks like Cath Kidston battling with a botanical garden. And lots of teal. • The best boutique hotels in the Cotswolds For a country house, Calcot is funky The food has the slight edge on Barnsley, which was nice seeing as post-cycle I was hungry enough to eat a cow – and in fact I did: a beautiful tartare made with beef from Calcot village. I followed up with more red meat: blushing, brightly flavoured Wiltshire lamb with sprightly raisin and anchovy sauce. It came to an end in the most fitting place: in the bath of my suite (furnished with a complimentary Calcot rubber duck). My cycling feat may not have been comparable to the Tour de France, but the delicate snowflake in me still felt thoroughly deserving of my wild thyme muscle soak. A two-night, half-board Lark Rise to Calcot package, with a night at Barnsley House followed by a stay at Calcot Manor, including guided cycle and pub lunch with Wild Carrot (wildcarrot.co.uk) costs from £873 based on two sharing. For full reviews of both hotels, see: telegraph.co.uk/tt-barnsleyhouse and telegraph.co.uk/tt-calcotmanor
Middle-aged men in Lycra (Mamils) started the cycling holiday trend. Now health-conscious millennials are also sweating with excitement at the prospect of bike-themed fitness breaks. Not me. Perhaps it’s their seriousness; perhaps it’s their spandex-clad smuggery. But hail an exciting development: a hotel-hopping cycling break from family-run Wild Carrot, which has just launched tours across the Calcot Collection of properties in the Cotswolds. The concept, while not completely new, is so embryonic that it doesn’t even have a name (something tells me 'hotel-bike-hopping' or 'hotel-cycloping' might not catch on). In any case, it’s perfect for wusses and Bradley Wiggins wannabes alike. "Just three more hills until the pub," said my guide, James, as I spluttered up what any self-respecting cyclist would dismiss as a 'bump'. It didn’t stop me whooping with euphoria when I got to the top. The best bit was that, on Roman roads this smooth, I didn’t have to pedal. Cotswold stone houses speckled the landscape. Rapeseed radiated a prickly, yellow fluorescence. Fields foamed white with cow parsley. Fern forests closed in then fizzled away. • The best spa hotels in the south of England Roaming the gardens at Barnsley House is a joy for people of all ages It was hard to believe I’d been nervous the night before while staying at Barnsley House, the starting point for my cycling experience: a wisteria-clad country manor that’s all crenellations and coats-of-arms. To anyone who thinks this doesn’t sound sufficiently 'millennial', given my generation’s newfound enthusiasm for tending indoor plants in our hovelish city flats, I’d say the magnificent gardens at Barnsley are a serious pull. Who needs meditation podcasts when you can sniff at perfumed oriental lilies and bound through pink and purple flushes of pansies and violets? Then there is the spa, which I had almost to myself of a Saturday evening, complete with crackling fire pit and outdoor pool overlooking meadows, with water as hot as a freshly run bath. Dinner also showcased the garden, from my eye-wateringly green asparagus with truffle, to duck breast with candy beetroot plucked from the veggie patch, and rhubarb and orange drizzle cake. Still, by the time I had retired to my room (which had its own front garden frequented by robins and a conservatory backed by an indoor waterfall), panicky flashes of me conking out midway through the bike ride set in. In fact at half-time I was still pumping with energy. • The best luxury hotels in the Cotswolds Don't miss the spa at Barnsley House, complete with outdoor pool overlooking meadows Credit: Steven Russell At this point we lunched: We sipped local cider and devoured Gloucester pork and football-sized Yorkshire puddings in the most upper-class of English pubs. Think retro deck chairs on the lawn, and Ralph-Lauren-shirted clientele ordering Bollinger with their beer-battered hake. Inflated of belly and slightly sozzled of brain, we zoomed on down steep hills, and through Cotswold stone villages with red phone boxes and dusty windows (perhaps to stop tourists peering in). I was having such a brilliant time I was slightly disappointed to see the grey slate roofs of the five-star Calcot Manor, in the far distance. Sun-bronzed and saddle sore, we charged triumphantly through the meadow tracks of the hotel’s 220-acre grounds. I would recommend wobbling straight over to the spa after the ride. But make sure you pre-book a treatment. I found the outdoor hot tub rammed (late on a Sunday afternoon). I opted for the Rose Restore massage, which left me smelling like a chapter out of the Secret Garden and very relaxed. For a country house Calcot is funky. There are pineapple wall sconces and brushed-gold coffee tables. The dining room, with its loud flower prints and indoor trees, looks like Cath Kidston battling with a botanical garden. And lots of teal. • The best boutique hotels in the Cotswolds For a country house, Calcot is funky The food has the slight edge on Barnsley, which was nice seeing as post-cycle I was hungry enough to eat a cow – and in fact I did: a beautiful tartare made with beef from Calcot village. I followed up with more red meat: blushing, brightly flavoured Wiltshire lamb with sprightly raisin and anchovy sauce. It came to an end in the most fitting place: in the bath of my suite (furnished with a complimentary Calcot rubber duck). My cycling feat may not have been comparable to the Tour de France, but the delicate snowflake in me still felt thoroughly deserving of my wild thyme muscle soak. A two-night, half-board Lark Rise to Calcot package, with a night at Barnsley House followed by a stay at Calcot Manor, including guided cycle and pub lunch with Wild Carrot (wildcarrot.co.uk) costs from £873 based on two sharing. For full reviews of both hotels, see: telegraph.co.uk/tt-barnsleyhouse and telegraph.co.uk/tt-calcotmanor
Hotel Hit Squad: Is hotel-hopping (by bicycle) the next big trend?
Middle-aged men in Lycra (Mamils) started the cycling holiday trend. Now health-conscious millennials are also sweating with excitement at the prospect of bike-themed fitness breaks. Not me. Perhaps it’s their seriousness; perhaps it’s their spandex-clad smuggery. But hail an exciting development: a hotel-hopping cycling break from family-run Wild Carrot, which has just launched tours across the Calcot Collection of properties in the Cotswolds. The concept, while not completely new, is so embryonic that it doesn’t even have a name (something tells me 'hotel-bike-hopping' or 'hotel-cycloping' might not catch on). In any case, it’s perfect for wusses and Bradley Wiggins wannabes alike. "Just three more hills until the pub," said my guide, James, as I spluttered up what any self-respecting cyclist would dismiss as a 'bump'. It didn’t stop me whooping with euphoria when I got to the top. The best bit was that, on Roman roads this smooth, I didn’t have to pedal. Cotswold stone houses speckled the landscape. Rapeseed radiated a prickly, yellow fluorescence. Fields foamed white with cow parsley. Fern forests closed in then fizzled away. • The best spa hotels in the south of England Roaming the gardens at Barnsley House is a joy for people of all ages It was hard to believe I’d been nervous the night before while staying at Barnsley House, the starting point for my cycling experience: a wisteria-clad country manor that’s all crenellations and coats-of-arms. To anyone who thinks this doesn’t sound sufficiently 'millennial', given my generation’s newfound enthusiasm for tending indoor plants in our hovelish city flats, I’d say the magnificent gardens at Barnsley are a serious pull. Who needs meditation podcasts when you can sniff at perfumed oriental lilies and bound through pink and purple flushes of pansies and violets? Then there is the spa, which I had almost to myself of a Saturday evening, complete with crackling fire pit and outdoor pool overlooking meadows, with water as hot as a freshly run bath. Dinner also showcased the garden, from my eye-wateringly green asparagus with truffle, to duck breast with candy beetroot plucked from the veggie patch, and rhubarb and orange drizzle cake. Still, by the time I had retired to my room (which had its own front garden frequented by robins and a conservatory backed by an indoor waterfall), panicky flashes of me conking out midway through the bike ride set in. In fact at half-time I was still pumping with energy. • The best luxury hotels in the Cotswolds Don't miss the spa at Barnsley House, complete with outdoor pool overlooking meadows Credit: Steven Russell At this point we lunched: We sipped local cider and devoured Gloucester pork and football-sized Yorkshire puddings in the most upper-class of English pubs. Think retro deck chairs on the lawn, and Ralph-Lauren-shirted clientele ordering Bollinger with their beer-battered hake. Inflated of belly and slightly sozzled of brain, we zoomed on down steep hills, and through Cotswold stone villages with red phone boxes and dusty windows (perhaps to stop tourists peering in). I was having such a brilliant time I was slightly disappointed to see the grey slate roofs of the five-star Calcot Manor, in the far distance. Sun-bronzed and saddle sore, we charged triumphantly through the meadow tracks of the hotel’s 220-acre grounds. I would recommend wobbling straight over to the spa after the ride. But make sure you pre-book a treatment. I found the outdoor hot tub rammed (late on a Sunday afternoon). I opted for the Rose Restore massage, which left me smelling like a chapter out of the Secret Garden and very relaxed. For a country house Calcot is funky. There are pineapple wall sconces and brushed-gold coffee tables. The dining room, with its loud flower prints and indoor trees, looks like Cath Kidston battling with a botanical garden. And lots of teal. • The best boutique hotels in the Cotswolds For a country house, Calcot is funky The food has the slight edge on Barnsley, which was nice seeing as post-cycle I was hungry enough to eat a cow – and in fact I did: a beautiful tartare made with beef from Calcot village. I followed up with more red meat: blushing, brightly flavoured Wiltshire lamb with sprightly raisin and anchovy sauce. It came to an end in the most fitting place: in the bath of my suite (furnished with a complimentary Calcot rubber duck). My cycling feat may not have been comparable to the Tour de France, but the delicate snowflake in me still felt thoroughly deserving of my wild thyme muscle soak. A two-night, half-board Lark Rise to Calcot package, with a night at Barnsley House followed by a stay at Calcot Manor, including guided cycle and pub lunch with Wild Carrot (wildcarrot.co.uk) costs from £873 based on two sharing. For full reviews of both hotels, see: telegraph.co.uk/tt-barnsleyhouse and telegraph.co.uk/tt-calcotmanor
Middle-aged men in Lycra (Mamils) started the cycling holiday trend. Now health-conscious millennials are also sweating with excitement at the prospect of bike-themed fitness breaks. Not me. Perhaps it’s their seriousness; perhaps it’s their spandex-clad smuggery. But hail an exciting development: a hotel-hopping cycling break from family-run Wild Carrot, which has just launched tours across the Calcot Collection of properties in the Cotswolds. The concept, while not completely new, is so embryonic that it doesn’t even have a name (something tells me 'hotel-bike-hopping' or 'hotel-cycloping' might not catch on). In any case, it’s perfect for wusses and Bradley Wiggins wannabes alike. "Just three more hills until the pub," said my guide, James, as I spluttered up what any self-respecting cyclist would dismiss as a 'bump'. It didn’t stop me whooping with euphoria when I got to the top. The best bit was that, on Roman roads this smooth, I didn’t have to pedal. Cotswold stone houses speckled the landscape. Rapeseed radiated a prickly, yellow fluorescence. Fields foamed white with cow parsley. Fern forests closed in then fizzled away. • The best spa hotels in the south of England Roaming the gardens at Barnsley House is a joy for people of all ages It was hard to believe I’d been nervous the night before while staying at Barnsley House, the starting point for my cycling experience: a wisteria-clad country manor that’s all crenellations and coats-of-arms. To anyone who thinks this doesn’t sound sufficiently 'millennial', given my generation’s newfound enthusiasm for tending indoor plants in our hovelish city flats, I’d say the magnificent gardens at Barnsley are a serious pull. Who needs meditation podcasts when you can sniff at perfumed oriental lilies and bound through pink and purple flushes of pansies and violets? Then there is the spa, which I had almost to myself of a Saturday evening, complete with crackling fire pit and outdoor pool overlooking meadows, with water as hot as a freshly run bath. Dinner also showcased the garden, from my eye-wateringly green asparagus with truffle, to duck breast with candy beetroot plucked from the veggie patch, and rhubarb and orange drizzle cake. Still, by the time I had retired to my room (which had its own front garden frequented by robins and a conservatory backed by an indoor waterfall), panicky flashes of me conking out midway through the bike ride set in. In fact at half-time I was still pumping with energy. • The best luxury hotels in the Cotswolds Don't miss the spa at Barnsley House, complete with outdoor pool overlooking meadows Credit: Steven Russell At this point we lunched: We sipped local cider and devoured Gloucester pork and football-sized Yorkshire puddings in the most upper-class of English pubs. Think retro deck chairs on the lawn, and Ralph-Lauren-shirted clientele ordering Bollinger with their beer-battered hake. Inflated of belly and slightly sozzled of brain, we zoomed on down steep hills, and through Cotswold stone villages with red phone boxes and dusty windows (perhaps to stop tourists peering in). I was having such a brilliant time I was slightly disappointed to see the grey slate roofs of the five-star Calcot Manor, in the far distance. Sun-bronzed and saddle sore, we charged triumphantly through the meadow tracks of the hotel’s 220-acre grounds. I would recommend wobbling straight over to the spa after the ride. But make sure you pre-book a treatment. I found the outdoor hot tub rammed (late on a Sunday afternoon). I opted for the Rose Restore massage, which left me smelling like a chapter out of the Secret Garden and very relaxed. For a country house Calcot is funky. There are pineapple wall sconces and brushed-gold coffee tables. The dining room, with its loud flower prints and indoor trees, looks like Cath Kidston battling with a botanical garden. And lots of teal. • The best boutique hotels in the Cotswolds For a country house, Calcot is funky The food has the slight edge on Barnsley, which was nice seeing as post-cycle I was hungry enough to eat a cow – and in fact I did: a beautiful tartare made with beef from Calcot village. I followed up with more red meat: blushing, brightly flavoured Wiltshire lamb with sprightly raisin and anchovy sauce. It came to an end in the most fitting place: in the bath of my suite (furnished with a complimentary Calcot rubber duck). My cycling feat may not have been comparable to the Tour de France, but the delicate snowflake in me still felt thoroughly deserving of my wild thyme muscle soak. A two-night, half-board Lark Rise to Calcot package, with a night at Barnsley House followed by a stay at Calcot Manor, including guided cycle and pub lunch with Wild Carrot (wildcarrot.co.uk) costs from £873 based on two sharing. For full reviews of both hotels, see: telegraph.co.uk/tt-barnsleyhouse and telegraph.co.uk/tt-calcotmanor
Hotel Hit Squad: Is hotel-hopping (by bicycle) the next big trend?
Middle-aged men in Lycra (Mamils) started the cycling holiday trend. Now health-conscious millennials are also sweating with excitement at the prospect of bike-themed fitness breaks. Not me. Perhaps it’s their seriousness; perhaps it’s their spandex-clad smuggery. But hail an exciting development: a hotel-hopping cycling break from family-run Wild Carrot, which has just launched tours across the Calcot Collection of properties in the Cotswolds. The concept, while not completely new, is so embryonic that it doesn’t even have a name (something tells me 'hotel-bike-hopping' or 'hotel-cycloping' might not catch on). In any case, it’s perfect for wusses and Bradley Wiggins wannabes alike. "Just three more hills until the pub," said my guide, James, as I spluttered up what any self-respecting cyclist would dismiss as a 'bump'. It didn’t stop me whooping with euphoria when I got to the top. The best bit was that, on Roman roads this smooth, I didn’t have to pedal. Cotswold stone houses speckled the landscape. Rapeseed radiated a prickly, yellow fluorescence. Fields foamed white with cow parsley. Fern forests closed in then fizzled away. • The best spa hotels in the south of England Roaming the gardens at Barnsley House is a joy for people of all ages It was hard to believe I’d been nervous the night before while staying at Barnsley House, the starting point for my cycling experience: a wisteria-clad country manor that’s all crenellations and coats-of-arms. To anyone who thinks this doesn’t sound sufficiently 'millennial', given my generation’s newfound enthusiasm for tending indoor plants in our hovelish city flats, I’d say the magnificent gardens at Barnsley are a serious pull. Who needs meditation podcasts when you can sniff at perfumed oriental lilies and bound through pink and purple flushes of pansies and violets? Then there is the spa, which I had almost to myself of a Saturday evening, complete with crackling fire pit and outdoor pool overlooking meadows, with water as hot as a freshly run bath. Dinner also showcased the garden, from my eye-wateringly green asparagus with truffle, to duck breast with candy beetroot plucked from the veggie patch, and rhubarb and orange drizzle cake. Still, by the time I had retired to my room (which had its own front garden frequented by robins and a conservatory backed by an indoor waterfall), panicky flashes of me conking out midway through the bike ride set in. In fact at half-time I was still pumping with energy. • The best luxury hotels in the Cotswolds Don't miss the spa at Barnsley House, complete with outdoor pool overlooking meadows Credit: Steven Russell At this point we lunched: We sipped local cider and devoured Gloucester pork and football-sized Yorkshire puddings in the most upper-class of English pubs. Think retro deck chairs on the lawn, and Ralph-Lauren-shirted clientele ordering Bollinger with their beer-battered hake. Inflated of belly and slightly sozzled of brain, we zoomed on down steep hills, and through Cotswold stone villages with red phone boxes and dusty windows (perhaps to stop tourists peering in). I was having such a brilliant time I was slightly disappointed to see the grey slate roofs of the five-star Calcot Manor, in the far distance. Sun-bronzed and saddle sore, we charged triumphantly through the meadow tracks of the hotel’s 220-acre grounds. I would recommend wobbling straight over to the spa after the ride. But make sure you pre-book a treatment. I found the outdoor hot tub rammed (late on a Sunday afternoon). I opted for the Rose Restore massage, which left me smelling like a chapter out of the Secret Garden and very relaxed. For a country house Calcot is funky. There are pineapple wall sconces and brushed-gold coffee tables. The dining room, with its loud flower prints and indoor trees, looks like Cath Kidston battling with a botanical garden. And lots of teal. • The best boutique hotels in the Cotswolds For a country house, Calcot is funky The food has the slight edge on Barnsley, which was nice seeing as post-cycle I was hungry enough to eat a cow – and in fact I did: a beautiful tartare made with beef from Calcot village. I followed up with more red meat: blushing, brightly flavoured Wiltshire lamb with sprightly raisin and anchovy sauce. It came to an end in the most fitting place: in the bath of my suite (furnished with a complimentary Calcot rubber duck). My cycling feat may not have been comparable to the Tour de France, but the delicate snowflake in me still felt thoroughly deserving of my wild thyme muscle soak. A two-night, half-board Lark Rise to Calcot package, with a night at Barnsley House followed by a stay at Calcot Manor, including guided cycle and pub lunch with Wild Carrot (wildcarrot.co.uk) costs from £873 based on two sharing. For full reviews of both hotels, see: telegraph.co.uk/tt-barnsleyhouse and telegraph.co.uk/tt-calcotmanor
Middle-aged men in Lycra (Mamils) started the cycling holiday trend. Now health-conscious millennials are also sweating with excitement at the prospect of bike-themed fitness breaks. Not me. Perhaps it’s their seriousness; perhaps it’s their spandex-clad smuggery. But hail an exciting development: a hotel-hopping cycling break from family-run Wild Carrot, which has just launched tours across the Calcot Collection of properties in the Cotswolds. The concept, while not completely new, is so embryonic that it doesn’t even have a name (something tells me 'hotel-bike-hopping' or 'hotel-cycloping' might not catch on). In any case, it’s perfect for wusses and Bradley Wiggins wannabes alike. "Just three more hills until the pub," said my guide, James, as I spluttered up what any self-respecting cyclist would dismiss as a 'bump'. It didn’t stop me whooping with euphoria when I got to the top. The best bit was that, on Roman roads this smooth, I didn’t have to pedal. Cotswold stone houses speckled the landscape. Rapeseed radiated a prickly, yellow fluorescence. Fields foamed white with cow parsley. Fern forests closed in then fizzled away. • The best spa hotels in the south of England Roaming the gardens at Barnsley House is a joy for people of all ages It was hard to believe I’d been nervous the night before while staying at Barnsley House, the starting point for my cycling experience: a wisteria-clad country manor that’s all crenellations and coats-of-arms. To anyone who thinks this doesn’t sound sufficiently 'millennial', given my generation’s newfound enthusiasm for tending indoor plants in our hovelish city flats, I’d say the magnificent gardens at Barnsley are a serious pull. Who needs meditation podcasts when you can sniff at perfumed oriental lilies and bound through pink and purple flushes of pansies and violets? Then there is the spa, which I had almost to myself of a Saturday evening, complete with crackling fire pit and outdoor pool overlooking meadows, with water as hot as a freshly run bath. Dinner also showcased the garden, from my eye-wateringly green asparagus with truffle, to duck breast with candy beetroot plucked from the veggie patch, and rhubarb and orange drizzle cake. Still, by the time I had retired to my room (which had its own front garden frequented by robins and a conservatory backed by an indoor waterfall), panicky flashes of me conking out midway through the bike ride set in. In fact at half-time I was still pumping with energy. • The best luxury hotels in the Cotswolds Don't miss the spa at Barnsley House, complete with outdoor pool overlooking meadows Credit: Steven Russell At this point we lunched: We sipped local cider and devoured Gloucester pork and football-sized Yorkshire puddings in the most upper-class of English pubs. Think retro deck chairs on the lawn, and Ralph-Lauren-shirted clientele ordering Bollinger with their beer-battered hake. Inflated of belly and slightly sozzled of brain, we zoomed on down steep hills, and through Cotswold stone villages with red phone boxes and dusty windows (perhaps to stop tourists peering in). I was having such a brilliant time I was slightly disappointed to see the grey slate roofs of the five-star Calcot Manor, in the far distance. Sun-bronzed and saddle sore, we charged triumphantly through the meadow tracks of the hotel’s 220-acre grounds. I would recommend wobbling straight over to the spa after the ride. But make sure you pre-book a treatment. I found the outdoor hot tub rammed (late on a Sunday afternoon). I opted for the Rose Restore massage, which left me smelling like a chapter out of the Secret Garden and very relaxed. For a country house Calcot is funky. There are pineapple wall sconces and brushed-gold coffee tables. The dining room, with its loud flower prints and indoor trees, looks like Cath Kidston battling with a botanical garden. And lots of teal. • The best boutique hotels in the Cotswolds For a country house, Calcot is funky The food has the slight edge on Barnsley, which was nice seeing as post-cycle I was hungry enough to eat a cow – and in fact I did: a beautiful tartare made with beef from Calcot village. I followed up with more red meat: blushing, brightly flavoured Wiltshire lamb with sprightly raisin and anchovy sauce. It came to an end in the most fitting place: in the bath of my suite (furnished with a complimentary Calcot rubber duck). My cycling feat may not have been comparable to the Tour de France, but the delicate snowflake in me still felt thoroughly deserving of my wild thyme muscle soak. A two-night, half-board Lark Rise to Calcot package, with a night at Barnsley House followed by a stay at Calcot Manor, including guided cycle and pub lunch with Wild Carrot (wildcarrot.co.uk) costs from £873 based on two sharing. For full reviews of both hotels, see: telegraph.co.uk/tt-barnsleyhouse and telegraph.co.uk/tt-calcotmanor
Hotel Hit Squad: Is hotel-hopping (by bicycle) the next big trend?
Middle-aged men in Lycra (Mamils) started the cycling holiday trend. Now health-conscious millennials are also sweating with excitement at the prospect of bike-themed fitness breaks. Not me. Perhaps it’s their seriousness; perhaps it’s their spandex-clad smuggery. But hail an exciting development: a hotel-hopping cycling break from family-run Wild Carrot, which has just launched tours across the Calcot Collection of properties in the Cotswolds. The concept, while not completely new, is so embryonic that it doesn’t even have a name (something tells me 'hotel-bike-hopping' or 'hotel-cycloping' might not catch on). In any case, it’s perfect for wusses and Bradley Wiggins wannabes alike. "Just three more hills until the pub," said my guide, James, as I spluttered up what any self-respecting cyclist would dismiss as a 'bump'. It didn’t stop me whooping with euphoria when I got to the top. The best bit was that, on Roman roads this smooth, I didn’t have to pedal. Cotswold stone houses speckled the landscape. Rapeseed radiated a prickly, yellow fluorescence. Fields foamed white with cow parsley. Fern forests closed in then fizzled away. • The best spa hotels in the south of England Roaming the gardens at Barnsley House is a joy for people of all ages It was hard to believe I’d been nervous the night before while staying at Barnsley House, the starting point for my cycling experience: a wisteria-clad country manor that’s all crenellations and coats-of-arms. To anyone who thinks this doesn’t sound sufficiently 'millennial', given my generation’s newfound enthusiasm for tending indoor plants in our hovelish city flats, I’d say the magnificent gardens at Barnsley are a serious pull. Who needs meditation podcasts when you can sniff at perfumed oriental lilies and bound through pink and purple flushes of pansies and violets? Then there is the spa, which I had almost to myself of a Saturday evening, complete with crackling fire pit and outdoor pool overlooking meadows, with water as hot as a freshly run bath. Dinner also showcased the garden, from my eye-wateringly green asparagus with truffle, to duck breast with candy beetroot plucked from the veggie patch, and rhubarb and orange drizzle cake. Still, by the time I had retired to my room (which had its own front garden frequented by robins and a conservatory backed by an indoor waterfall), panicky flashes of me conking out midway through the bike ride set in. In fact at half-time I was still pumping with energy. • The best luxury hotels in the Cotswolds Don't miss the spa at Barnsley House, complete with outdoor pool overlooking meadows Credit: Steven Russell At this point we lunched: We sipped local cider and devoured Gloucester pork and football-sized Yorkshire puddings in the most upper-class of English pubs. Think retro deck chairs on the lawn, and Ralph-Lauren-shirted clientele ordering Bollinger with their beer-battered hake. Inflated of belly and slightly sozzled of brain, we zoomed on down steep hills, and through Cotswold stone villages with red phone boxes and dusty windows (perhaps to stop tourists peering in). I was having such a brilliant time I was slightly disappointed to see the grey slate roofs of the five-star Calcot Manor, in the far distance. Sun-bronzed and saddle sore, we charged triumphantly through the meadow tracks of the hotel’s 220-acre grounds. I would recommend wobbling straight over to the spa after the ride. But make sure you pre-book a treatment. I found the outdoor hot tub rammed (late on a Sunday afternoon). I opted for the Rose Restore massage, which left me smelling like a chapter out of the Secret Garden and very relaxed. For a country house Calcot is funky. There are pineapple wall sconces and brushed-gold coffee tables. The dining room, with its loud flower prints and indoor trees, looks like Cath Kidston battling with a botanical garden. And lots of teal. • The best boutique hotels in the Cotswolds For a country house, Calcot is funky The food has the slight edge on Barnsley, which was nice seeing as post-cycle I was hungry enough to eat a cow – and in fact I did: a beautiful tartare made with beef from Calcot village. I followed up with more red meat: blushing, brightly flavoured Wiltshire lamb with sprightly raisin and anchovy sauce. It came to an end in the most fitting place: in the bath of my suite (furnished with a complimentary Calcot rubber duck). My cycling feat may not have been comparable to the Tour de France, but the delicate snowflake in me still felt thoroughly deserving of my wild thyme muscle soak. A two-night, half-board Lark Rise to Calcot package, with a night at Barnsley House followed by a stay at Calcot Manor, including guided cycle and pub lunch with Wild Carrot (wildcarrot.co.uk) costs from £873 based on two sharing. For full reviews of both hotels, see: telegraph.co.uk/tt-barnsleyhouse and telegraph.co.uk/tt-calcotmanor
Bromley FC is a proud old club, but not a successful one. Dave Roberts’ book The Bromley Boys chronicles the author following the team in the 1960s, when it had an authentic claim to being the worst in the country. The town it represents has a higher population than Crewe, Shrewsbury and Accrington but has never hosted the league football expected in those places. Instead, Bromley have just completed a third season of steady improvement in the National League, the highest level the club have ever reached. They have visited Wembley once, for the final of the old FA Amateur Cup in 1949 for a 1-0 win over Romford in front of 96,000. They return on Sunday for the FA Trophy final and have a player to call on who has already played three times under the arch, seeking a redemptive coda to a varied career. Centre-back Roger Johnson was part of the Birmingham City side who beat Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final, and with Cardiff when they lost the FA Cup final to Portsmouth in 2008 but beat Barnsley in the semi at Wembley. “Everyone says ‘just try and relax and enjoy the day’ but it’s very stressful,” he says. “The anxiety, getting there, the build-up. I’m sure once we’re out there and the whistle blows we’ll be fine.” Johnson, 35, looks remarkably lean as we talk after a video analysis session at Bromley’s Hayes Lane home. An armful of tattoos indicates his tour of duty in the modern Premier League, where he shone at Birmingham, endured a tougher spell at Wolves and turned out four times for West Ham as recently as 2014. The Wembley opponents are Brackley Town from the tier below and while Bromley have sold an impressive 20,000 tickets the stadium will still be sparsely occupied. Nevertheless, Johnson puts the game on a par with his most notable previous visit. “Winning on Sunday would mean as much as the Birmingham win,” he says. “Yeah it’s not an 89,000 sell-out against an Arsenal team with Robin van Persie in it who beat Barcelona nine days before, but we’re we’re there on merit.” Surprisingly heartfelt words from a man who came close to the England squad while with Birmingham. “I got six England call-ups for the 30-man squad, but nobody got injured so I didn’t make the 23,” he says. It was a rapid ascension after a long apprenticeship at Wycombe Wanderers, where he made his debut at 17. Cardiff eventually took a gamble on him in 2006 before Johnson stepped up to the Premier League with Birmingham. That solid side finished ninth in his first season but were relegated three months after their Wembley win. Johnson joined Bromley after 18 months at Charlton Athletic Credit: JULIAN SIMMONDS for The Telegraph A move to Wolves followed to prolong his top-flight career but little went to plan. He strongly disputes stories he once arrived at training worse for wear from the night before, but addresses his time at Molineux with candour. “I blame myself,” he says. “I had a dip in form, in a team of people that had a dip in form. I was blocking shots and it was going in off me, I was making stupid errors that I never make. “A regret is taking the captaincy when it was offered to me. It made my signing even bigger because I was the team captain and if things are going wrong the skipper has to answer for it. “It was hard to dig people out and have an opinion on what was going wrong, because I was one of the things that wasn’t working.” Loans to Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham took him away from the West Midlands before two spells at Charlton, either side of a sojourn in India with Pune City and unlikely team-mates Adrian Mutu and Didier Zokora. “I’d never choose to go to that side of the world personally, but I’ve seen the whole of India now. Goa was good, but the north-east was tough. There was no phone signal. Some of the flights were very dodgy, but it’s a tick in a box.” A far cry from Bromley’s Hayes Lane, surely one of the country’s only grounds which is approached via a road next to a field of grazing horses. Johnson celebrates Birmingham's victory over Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final in the traditional fashion Credit: Action Images/Lee Smith After a knee injury and a subsequent blood poisoning from the surgery to treat it, Johnson is happy to be back playing the game he loves. “I’m not going to sit here and think I’ve had a failed career,” he says. “Every player wants to reach the Premier League and play for their country, I did one of them and got very close to the other.” Calm and philosophical, he seems every inch the elder statesmen and you can easily imagine him coaching. “I’m not too proud to go down the divisions but I probably wouldn’t drop any further, unless there was a player-coach role. I can’t see myself doing pub football. “There are some horrible people out there, who want to bad mouth you and write nonsense on social media. But have they been a footballer? No they haven’t. “My career, my stats, and what I’ve won speak for themselves. Wikipedia it, then write me something on social media.”
Roger Johnson returns for another shot at Wembley
Bromley FC is a proud old club, but not a successful one. Dave Roberts’ book The Bromley Boys chronicles the author following the team in the 1960s, when it had an authentic claim to being the worst in the country. The town it represents has a higher population than Crewe, Shrewsbury and Accrington but has never hosted the league football expected in those places. Instead, Bromley have just completed a third season of steady improvement in the National League, the highest level the club have ever reached. They have visited Wembley once, for the final of the old FA Amateur Cup in 1949 for a 1-0 win over Romford in front of 96,000. They return on Sunday for the FA Trophy final and have a player to call on who has already played three times under the arch, seeking a redemptive coda to a varied career. Centre-back Roger Johnson was part of the Birmingham City side who beat Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final, and with Cardiff when they lost the FA Cup final to Portsmouth in 2008 but beat Barnsley in the semi at Wembley. “Everyone says ‘just try and relax and enjoy the day’ but it’s very stressful,” he says. “The anxiety, getting there, the build-up. I’m sure once we’re out there and the whistle blows we’ll be fine.” Johnson, 35, looks remarkably lean as we talk after a video analysis session at Bromley’s Hayes Lane home. An armful of tattoos indicates his tour of duty in the modern Premier League, where he shone at Birmingham, endured a tougher spell at Wolves and turned out four times for West Ham as recently as 2014. The Wembley opponents are Brackley Town from the tier below and while Bromley have sold an impressive 20,000 tickets the stadium will still be sparsely occupied. Nevertheless, Johnson puts the game on a par with his most notable previous visit. “Winning on Sunday would mean as much as the Birmingham win,” he says. “Yeah it’s not an 89,000 sell-out against an Arsenal team with Robin van Persie in it who beat Barcelona nine days before, but we’re we’re there on merit.” Surprisingly heartfelt words from a man who came close to the England squad while with Birmingham. “I got six England call-ups for the 30-man squad, but nobody got injured so I didn’t make the 23,” he says. It was a rapid ascension after a long apprenticeship at Wycombe Wanderers, where he made his debut at 17. Cardiff eventually took a gamble on him in 2006 before Johnson stepped up to the Premier League with Birmingham. That solid side finished ninth in his first season but were relegated three months after their Wembley win. Johnson joined Bromley after 18 months at Charlton Athletic Credit: JULIAN SIMMONDS for The Telegraph A move to Wolves followed to prolong his top-flight career but little went to plan. He strongly disputes stories he once arrived at training worse for wear from the night before, but addresses his time at Molineux with candour. “I blame myself,” he says. “I had a dip in form, in a team of people that had a dip in form. I was blocking shots and it was going in off me, I was making stupid errors that I never make. “A regret is taking the captaincy when it was offered to me. It made my signing even bigger because I was the team captain and if things are going wrong the skipper has to answer for it. “It was hard to dig people out and have an opinion on what was going wrong, because I was one of the things that wasn’t working.” Loans to Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham took him away from the West Midlands before two spells at Charlton, either side of a sojourn in India with Pune City and unlikely team-mates Adrian Mutu and Didier Zokora. “I’d never choose to go to that side of the world personally, but I’ve seen the whole of India now. Goa was good, but the north-east was tough. There was no phone signal. Some of the flights were very dodgy, but it’s a tick in a box.” A far cry from Bromley’s Hayes Lane, surely one of the country’s only grounds which is approached via a road next to a field of grazing horses. Johnson celebrates Birmingham's victory over Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final in the traditional fashion Credit: Action Images/Lee Smith After a knee injury and a subsequent blood poisoning from the surgery to treat it, Johnson is happy to be back playing the game he loves. “I’m not going to sit here and think I’ve had a failed career,” he says. “Every player wants to reach the Premier League and play for their country, I did one of them and got very close to the other.” Calm and philosophical, he seems every inch the elder statesmen and you can easily imagine him coaching. “I’m not too proud to go down the divisions but I probably wouldn’t drop any further, unless there was a player-coach role. I can’t see myself doing pub football. “There are some horrible people out there, who want to bad mouth you and write nonsense on social media. But have they been a footballer? No they haven’t. “My career, my stats, and what I’ve won speak for themselves. Wikipedia it, then write me something on social media.”
Bromley FC is a proud old club, but not a successful one. Dave Roberts’ book The Bromley Boys chronicles the author following the team in the 1960s, when it had an authentic claim to being the worst in the country. The town it represents has a higher population than Crewe, Shrewsbury and Accrington but has never hosted the league football expected in those places. Instead, Bromley have just completed a third season of steady improvement in the National League, the highest level the club have ever reached. They have visited Wembley once, for the final of the old FA Amateur Cup in 1949 for a 1-0 win over Romford in front of 96,000. They return on Sunday for the FA Trophy final and have a player to call on who has already played three times under the arch, seeking a redemptive coda to a varied career. Centre-back Roger Johnson was part of the Birmingham City side who beat Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final, and with Cardiff when they lost the FA Cup final to Portsmouth in 2008 but beat Barnsley in the semi at Wembley. “Everyone says ‘just try and relax and enjoy the day’ but it’s very stressful,” he says. “The anxiety, getting there, the build-up. I’m sure once we’re out there and the whistle blows we’ll be fine.” Johnson, 35, looks remarkably lean as we talk after a video analysis session at Bromley’s Hayes Lane home. An armful of tattoos indicates his tour of duty in the modern Premier League, where he shone at Birmingham, endured a tougher spell at Wolves and turned out four times for West Ham as recently as 2014. The Wembley opponents are Brackley Town from the tier below and while Bromley have sold an impressive 20,000 tickets the stadium will still be sparsely occupied. Nevertheless, Johnson puts the game on a par with his most notable previous visit. “Winning on Sunday would mean as much as the Birmingham win,” he says. “Yeah it’s not an 89,000 sell-out against an Arsenal team with Robin van Persie in it who beat Barcelona nine days before, but we’re we’re there on merit.” Surprisingly heartfelt words from a man who came close to the England squad while with Birmingham. “I got six England call-ups for the 30-man squad, but nobody got injured so I didn’t make the 23,” he says. It was a rapid ascension after a long apprenticeship at Wycombe Wanderers, where he made his debut at 17. Cardiff eventually took a gamble on him in 2006 before Johnson stepped up to the Premier League with Birmingham. That solid side finished ninth in his first season but were relegated three months after their Wembley win. Johnson joined Bromley after 18 months at Charlton Athletic Credit: JULIAN SIMMONDS for The Telegraph A move to Wolves followed to prolong his top-flight career but little went to plan. He strongly disputes stories he once arrived at training worse for wear from the night before, but addresses his time at Molineux with candour. “I blame myself,” he says. “I had a dip in form, in a team of people that had a dip in form. I was blocking shots and it was going in off me, I was making stupid errors that I never make. “A regret is taking the captaincy when it was offered to me. It made my signing even bigger because I was the team captain and if things are going wrong the skipper has to answer for it. “It was hard to dig people out and have an opinion on what was going wrong, because I was one of the things that wasn’t working.” Loans to Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham took him away from the West Midlands before two spells at Charlton, either side of a sojourn in India with Pune City and unlikely team-mates Adrian Mutu and Didier Zokora. “I’d never choose to go to that side of the world personally, but I’ve seen the whole of India now. Goa was good, but the north-east was tough. There was no phone signal. Some of the flights were very dodgy, but it’s a tick in a box.” A far cry from Bromley’s Hayes Lane, surely one of the country’s only grounds which is approached via a road next to a field of grazing horses. Johnson celebrates Birmingham's victory over Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final in the traditional fashion Credit: Action Images/Lee Smith After a knee injury and a subsequent blood poisoning from the surgery to treat it, Johnson is happy to be back playing the game he loves. “I’m not going to sit here and think I’ve had a failed career,” he says. “Every player wants to reach the Premier League and play for their country, I did one of them and got very close to the other.” Calm and philosophical, he seems every inch the elder statesmen and you can easily imagine him coaching. “I’m not too proud to go down the divisions but I probably wouldn’t drop any further, unless there was a player-coach role. I can’t see myself doing pub football. “There are some horrible people out there, who want to bad mouth you and write nonsense on social media. But have they been a footballer? No they haven’t. “My career, my stats, and what I’ve won speak for themselves. Wikipedia it, then write me something on social media.”
Roger Johnson returns for another shot at Wembley
Bromley FC is a proud old club, but not a successful one. Dave Roberts’ book The Bromley Boys chronicles the author following the team in the 1960s, when it had an authentic claim to being the worst in the country. The town it represents has a higher population than Crewe, Shrewsbury and Accrington but has never hosted the league football expected in those places. Instead, Bromley have just completed a third season of steady improvement in the National League, the highest level the club have ever reached. They have visited Wembley once, for the final of the old FA Amateur Cup in 1949 for a 1-0 win over Romford in front of 96,000. They return on Sunday for the FA Trophy final and have a player to call on who has already played three times under the arch, seeking a redemptive coda to a varied career. Centre-back Roger Johnson was part of the Birmingham City side who beat Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final, and with Cardiff when they lost the FA Cup final to Portsmouth in 2008 but beat Barnsley in the semi at Wembley. “Everyone says ‘just try and relax and enjoy the day’ but it’s very stressful,” he says. “The anxiety, getting there, the build-up. I’m sure once we’re out there and the whistle blows we’ll be fine.” Johnson, 35, looks remarkably lean as we talk after a video analysis session at Bromley’s Hayes Lane home. An armful of tattoos indicates his tour of duty in the modern Premier League, where he shone at Birmingham, endured a tougher spell at Wolves and turned out four times for West Ham as recently as 2014. The Wembley opponents are Brackley Town from the tier below and while Bromley have sold an impressive 20,000 tickets the stadium will still be sparsely occupied. Nevertheless, Johnson puts the game on a par with his most notable previous visit. “Winning on Sunday would mean as much as the Birmingham win,” he says. “Yeah it’s not an 89,000 sell-out against an Arsenal team with Robin van Persie in it who beat Barcelona nine days before, but we’re we’re there on merit.” Surprisingly heartfelt words from a man who came close to the England squad while with Birmingham. “I got six England call-ups for the 30-man squad, but nobody got injured so I didn’t make the 23,” he says. It was a rapid ascension after a long apprenticeship at Wycombe Wanderers, where he made his debut at 17. Cardiff eventually took a gamble on him in 2006 before Johnson stepped up to the Premier League with Birmingham. That solid side finished ninth in his first season but were relegated three months after their Wembley win. Johnson joined Bromley after 18 months at Charlton Athletic Credit: JULIAN SIMMONDS for The Telegraph A move to Wolves followed to prolong his top-flight career but little went to plan. He strongly disputes stories he once arrived at training worse for wear from the night before, but addresses his time at Molineux with candour. “I blame myself,” he says. “I had a dip in form, in a team of people that had a dip in form. I was blocking shots and it was going in off me, I was making stupid errors that I never make. “A regret is taking the captaincy when it was offered to me. It made my signing even bigger because I was the team captain and if things are going wrong the skipper has to answer for it. “It was hard to dig people out and have an opinion on what was going wrong, because I was one of the things that wasn’t working.” Loans to Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham took him away from the West Midlands before two spells at Charlton, either side of a sojourn in India with Pune City and unlikely team-mates Adrian Mutu and Didier Zokora. “I’d never choose to go to that side of the world personally, but I’ve seen the whole of India now. Goa was good, but the north-east was tough. There was no phone signal. Some of the flights were very dodgy, but it’s a tick in a box.” A far cry from Bromley’s Hayes Lane, surely one of the country’s only grounds which is approached via a road next to a field of grazing horses. Johnson celebrates Birmingham's victory over Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final in the traditional fashion Credit: Action Images/Lee Smith After a knee injury and a subsequent blood poisoning from the surgery to treat it, Johnson is happy to be back playing the game he loves. “I’m not going to sit here and think I’ve had a failed career,” he says. “Every player wants to reach the Premier League and play for their country, I did one of them and got very close to the other.” Calm and philosophical, he seems every inch the elder statesmen and you can easily imagine him coaching. “I’m not too proud to go down the divisions but I probably wouldn’t drop any further, unless there was a player-coach role. I can’t see myself doing pub football. “There are some horrible people out there, who want to bad mouth you and write nonsense on social media. But have they been a footballer? No they haven’t. “My career, my stats, and what I’ve won speak for themselves. Wikipedia it, then write me something on social media.”
Bromley FC is a proud old club, but not a successful one. Dave Roberts’ book The Bromley Boys chronicles the author following the team in the 1960s, when it had an authentic claim to being the worst in the country. The town it represents has a higher population than Crewe, Shrewsbury and Accrington but has never hosted the league football expected in those places. Instead, Bromley have just completed a third season of steady improvement in the National League, the highest level the club have ever reached. They have visited Wembley once, for the final of the old FA Amateur Cup in 1949 for a 1-0 win over Romford in front of 96,000. They return on Sunday for the FA Trophy final and have a player to call on who has already played three times under the arch, seeking a redemptive coda to a varied career. Centre-back Roger Johnson was part of the Birmingham City side who beat Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final, and with Cardiff when they lost the FA Cup final to Portsmouth in 2008 but beat Barnsley in the semi at Wembley. “Everyone says ‘just try and relax and enjoy the day’ but it’s very stressful,” he says. “The anxiety, getting there, the build-up. I’m sure once we’re out there and the whistle blows we’ll be fine.” Johnson, 35, looks remarkably lean as we talk after a video analysis session at Bromley’s Hayes Lane home. An armful of tattoos indicates his tour of duty in the modern Premier League, where he shone at Birmingham, endured a tougher spell at Wolves and turned out four times for West Ham as recently as 2014. The Wembley opponents are Brackley Town from the tier below and while Bromley have sold an impressive 20,000 tickets the stadium will still be sparsely occupied. Nevertheless, Johnson puts the game on a par with his most notable previous visit. “Winning on Sunday would mean as much as the Birmingham win,” he says. “Yeah it’s not an 89,000 sell-out against an Arsenal team with Robin van Persie in it who beat Barcelona nine days before, but we’re we’re there on merit.” Surprisingly heartfelt words from a man who came close to the England squad while with Birmingham. “I got six England call-ups for the 30-man squad, but nobody got injured so I didn’t make the 23,” he says. It was a rapid ascension after a long apprenticeship at Wycombe Wanderers, where he made his debut at 17. Cardiff eventually took a gamble on him in 2006 before Johnson stepped up to the Premier League with Birmingham. That solid side finished ninth in his first season but were relegated three months after their Wembley win. Johnson joined Bromley after 18 months at Charlton Athletic Credit: JULIAN SIMMONDS for The Telegraph A move to Wolves followed to prolong his top-flight career but little went to plan. He strongly disputes stories he once arrived at training worse for wear from the night before, but addresses his time at Molineux with candour. “I blame myself,” he says. “I had a dip in form, in a team of people that had a dip in form. I was blocking shots and it was going in off me, I was making stupid errors that I never make. “A regret is taking the captaincy when it was offered to me. It made my signing even bigger because I was the team captain and if things are going wrong the skipper has to answer for it. “It was hard to dig people out and have an opinion on what was going wrong, because I was one of the things that wasn’t working.” Loans to Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham took him away from the West Midlands before two spells at Charlton, either side of a sojourn in India with Pune City and unlikely team-mates Adrian Mutu and Didier Zokora. “I’d never choose to go to that side of the world personally, but I’ve seen the whole of India now. Goa was good, but the north-east was tough. There was no phone signal. Some of the flights were very dodgy, but it’s a tick in a box.” A far cry from Bromley’s Hayes Lane, surely one of the country’s only grounds which is approached via a road next to a field of grazing horses. Johnson celebrates Birmingham's victory over Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final in the traditional fashion Credit: Action Images/Lee Smith After a knee injury and a subsequent blood poisoning from the surgery to treat it, Johnson is happy to be back playing the game he loves. “I’m not going to sit here and think I’ve had a failed career,” he says. “Every player wants to reach the Premier League and play for their country, I did one of them and got very close to the other.” Calm and philosophical, he seems every inch the elder statesmen and you can easily imagine him coaching. “I’m not too proud to go down the divisions but I probably wouldn’t drop any further, unless there was a player-coach role. I can’t see myself doing pub football. “There are some horrible people out there, who want to bad mouth you and write nonsense on social media. But have they been a footballer? No they haven’t. “My career, my stats, and what I’ve won speak for themselves. Wikipedia it, then write me something on social media.”
Roger Johnson returns for another shot at Wembley
Bromley FC is a proud old club, but not a successful one. Dave Roberts’ book The Bromley Boys chronicles the author following the team in the 1960s, when it had an authentic claim to being the worst in the country. The town it represents has a higher population than Crewe, Shrewsbury and Accrington but has never hosted the league football expected in those places. Instead, Bromley have just completed a third season of steady improvement in the National League, the highest level the club have ever reached. They have visited Wembley once, for the final of the old FA Amateur Cup in 1949 for a 1-0 win over Romford in front of 96,000. They return on Sunday for the FA Trophy final and have a player to call on who has already played three times under the arch, seeking a redemptive coda to a varied career. Centre-back Roger Johnson was part of the Birmingham City side who beat Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final, and with Cardiff when they lost the FA Cup final to Portsmouth in 2008 but beat Barnsley in the semi at Wembley. “Everyone says ‘just try and relax and enjoy the day’ but it’s very stressful,” he says. “The anxiety, getting there, the build-up. I’m sure once we’re out there and the whistle blows we’ll be fine.” Johnson, 35, looks remarkably lean as we talk after a video analysis session at Bromley’s Hayes Lane home. An armful of tattoos indicates his tour of duty in the modern Premier League, where he shone at Birmingham, endured a tougher spell at Wolves and turned out four times for West Ham as recently as 2014. The Wembley opponents are Brackley Town from the tier below and while Bromley have sold an impressive 20,000 tickets the stadium will still be sparsely occupied. Nevertheless, Johnson puts the game on a par with his most notable previous visit. “Winning on Sunday would mean as much as the Birmingham win,” he says. “Yeah it’s not an 89,000 sell-out against an Arsenal team with Robin van Persie in it who beat Barcelona nine days before, but we’re we’re there on merit.” Surprisingly heartfelt words from a man who came close to the England squad while with Birmingham. “I got six England call-ups for the 30-man squad, but nobody got injured so I didn’t make the 23,” he says. It was a rapid ascension after a long apprenticeship at Wycombe Wanderers, where he made his debut at 17. Cardiff eventually took a gamble on him in 2006 before Johnson stepped up to the Premier League with Birmingham. That solid side finished ninth in his first season but were relegated three months after their Wembley win. Johnson joined Bromley after 18 months at Charlton Athletic Credit: JULIAN SIMMONDS for The Telegraph A move to Wolves followed to prolong his top-flight career but little went to plan. He strongly disputes stories he once arrived at training worse for wear from the night before, but addresses his time at Molineux with candour. “I blame myself,” he says. “I had a dip in form, in a team of people that had a dip in form. I was blocking shots and it was going in off me, I was making stupid errors that I never make. “A regret is taking the captaincy when it was offered to me. It made my signing even bigger because I was the team captain and if things are going wrong the skipper has to answer for it. “It was hard to dig people out and have an opinion on what was going wrong, because I was one of the things that wasn’t working.” Loans to Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham took him away from the West Midlands before two spells at Charlton, either side of a sojourn in India with Pune City and unlikely team-mates Adrian Mutu and Didier Zokora. “I’d never choose to go to that side of the world personally, but I’ve seen the whole of India now. Goa was good, but the north-east was tough. There was no phone signal. Some of the flights were very dodgy, but it’s a tick in a box.” A far cry from Bromley’s Hayes Lane, surely one of the country’s only grounds which is approached via a road next to a field of grazing horses. Johnson celebrates Birmingham's victory over Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final in the traditional fashion Credit: Action Images/Lee Smith After a knee injury and a subsequent blood poisoning from the surgery to treat it, Johnson is happy to be back playing the game he loves. “I’m not going to sit here and think I’ve had a failed career,” he says. “Every player wants to reach the Premier League and play for their country, I did one of them and got very close to the other.” Calm and philosophical, he seems every inch the elder statesmen and you can easily imagine him coaching. “I’m not too proud to go down the divisions but I probably wouldn’t drop any further, unless there was a player-coach role. I can’t see myself doing pub football. “There are some horrible people out there, who want to bad mouth you and write nonsense on social media. But have they been a footballer? No they haven’t. “My career, my stats, and what I’ve won speak for themselves. Wikipedia it, then write me something on social media.”
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Year of the underdog: Every single promoted team in English football's top four divisions avoids relegation
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Year of the underdog: Every single promoted team in English football's top four divisions avoids relegation
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Year of the underdog: Every single promoted team in English football's top four divisions avoids relegation
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Year of the underdog: Every single promoted team in English football's top four divisions avoids relegation
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Ahead of the first legs of the Championship play-off semi-finals between Fulham vs Derby and Aston Villa vs Middlesbrough later this week, we assess the form of the four clubs all vying for promotion back to the promised land and offer our prediction as to how they will play out. Fulham Form guide Slavisa Jokanovic's side would not have been in the play-offs mix had they won or drawn their final Championship match at Birmingham. The Craven Cottage outfit suffered their first league defeat of 2018 at St Andrews as Birmingham staved off relegation. It meant Fulham finished two points off second-placed Cardiff City. The blip at Birmingham aside, Fulham have been in sensational form, winning 18 of their last 26 league games since a 1-0 loss at Sunderland back in mid-December. Goals have been easy to come by for the west Londoners who have struck more than three per game in seven matches this season which also included a 6-0 hammering of Burton. Ryan Sessegnon was the first player outside the Premier League to be nominated for the Young Player of the Year award Credit: PA Star player Ryan Sessegnon was crowned Championship Player of the Season last month and was the first ever non-Premier League nominee of the PFA Young Player of the Year award. The 17-year-old, who made his debut for England Under-21s against Ukraine in March, has scored 14 goals in 43 Championship appearances and has been touted as a potential wildcard for Gareth Southgate's senior squad for Russia this summer. A striker in his youth, then winger, then left-back and now back on the left of midfield, Sessegnon has been linked with moves to Tottenham and PSG even if Fulham win promotion via the play-offs. Play-off record Fulham can use the pain of losing in the Championship play-offs semi-finals last season as a catalyst for going one step further this time around. Jokanovic's side lost 2-1 on aggregate to Reading with Ali Al Habsi pulling off a string of saves in the second leg to deny the Cottagers. Their only other appearance in the play-off lottery was back in 1996/97 when they lost in the Old Division Two semi-finals. Odds 13/8 Prediction To beat Derby and win final. Aston Villa Form guide Like Fulham, Steve Bruce's Villa fell to defeat on the final day of the regulation season for their first loss in five league games. Villa have been prolific at home this season, scoring 42 goals at Villa Park and collecting 49 points overall. They have only suffered defeat twice in their back yard this season - against Sheffield Wednesday back in November and QPR in March. Defensively, Villa have been tight, shipping just two goals in their last five matches. Sam Johnstone has been a key figure for Aston Villa this season Credit: Getty Images Star player While captain and defender John Terry has been an influential figure on and off the pitch following his move from Chelsea last summer and Albert Adomah has contributed at the other end with 15 goals, goalkeeper Sam Johnstone just shades the pair. The 25-year-old has spent the season on loan at Villa from Manchester United and has arguably been the best keeper in the Championship keeping 20 clean sheets from 45 appearances. He is likely to be a transfer priority of Villa's this summer regardless of whether they secure promotion. Play-off record It is unchartered territory for Aston Villa who have never contested the Championship play-offs before. Odds 11/4 Prediction To beat Boro but lose to Fulham in final. Middlesbrough Form guide Patrick Bamford's 97th-minute header ensured Tony Pulis' men didn't end the regulation season with defeat at Ipswich and stretched their unbeaten run to four matches. Boro's home form has been patchy. They have lost six at the Riverside this term for the joint-worst record of any of the play-off contenders (with Derby). They also have the lowest goal return of the four teams who have extended their season. Boro have struck 33 goals at home, nine fewer than their semi-final opponents Villa. They make up for it on the road, where they have scored one more on their travels but are equally prone to ship a few more than you would expect from a Pulis set-up. Adama Traore has perked up since the arrival of Tony Pulis Credit: Getty Images Star player Adama Traore has enjoyed a stunning second half to the season since the arrival of Pulis. The speedy Spaniard has scored five goals and made 10 assists under the experienced tutelage of Pulis which hasn't gone unnoticed by Chelsea and others. The former Barcelona man has a much improved end product to his game and at 22-years-old still has plenty of time on his side. Play-off record You have to go back 30 years for the last time Middlesbrough won promotion via an altogether different play-off format. Back in 1988 the team that finished in the position above the relegation places in the First Divsion would be thrown into the play-off mix instead of the sixth-place finisher in the Second Division. This threw up a two-legged final between Boro and Chelsea which the Teessiders won 2-1 on aggregate. Boro have since lost in the semi-finals in 1991 and suffered a 2-0 defeat to Norwich in the 2015 final at Wembley. Odds 11/4 Prediction To lose semi-final against Villa. Derby County Form guide The only team of the play-off four to win their final league match of the season, which ultimately sealed their sixth-place finish, Derby are unbeaten in three after suffering a run of three straight losses during April as nerves took hold of Gary Rowett's side. Derby have scored one less than their semi-final opponents Fulham at home this term (41) but only eight wins on the road - the second worst of the top 10 in the division - has been their Achilles heel. Derby secured a 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage earlier in the season but lost the return fixture 2-1 in early March. Matej Vydra won this year's Championship Golden Boot Credit: Getty Images Star player Matej Vydra claimed his 21st league goal of the season, the most in his career, in Derby's 4-1 win over Barnsley on Sunday as the Czech Republic international won the Championship Golden Boot award. It is the most goals any player has managed since Derby moved to Pride Park in 1997 as Vydra's tally surpassed that of Chris Martin's 20 scored in the 2013/14 Championship campaign. Play-off record Derby are familiar to the ways and workings of the play-offs after featuring six times in the last 26 years. Half of those appearances have ended at the semi-final stages and only on one occasion have they won promotion to the Premier League. That was back in 2007 when they edged a narrow final against West Brom 1-0 to return to the top flight after a five-year absence. Odds 9/2 Prediction To lose to Fulham in semi-finals.