By Rich Laverty.
One of England’s greatest football managers, but the biggest team he played for was Sheffield United; he coached Aldershot Reserves and Skegness Town and also helped football grow in Iraq. Yet he also coached Juventus, Lazio and reached a World Cup final, so why don’t many people know much about him?
In January 1907, George S. Raynor was born in Hoyland Common, a small, remote area of Yorkshire not far from Sheffield. In November of this year it will be 30 years since Raynor passed away, there is no memory of his legacy anywhere near his South Yorkshire home and most of his greatest achievements came on the international stage.
Raynor was well into his twenties by the time he started playing football. He represented local clubs in Elsecar, Mexborough and Wombwell before spending a year at Sheffield United. He went on to play for clubs such as Aldershot, Bury, Rotherham and Mansfield before World War II changed his career forever.
The now 36-year-old was working as a training instructor in Baghdad, in the midst of such hostilities Raynor never allowed his vision for football to be forgotten. Raynor put together the Iraqi national team and his name began to spread around English football during the mid-forties, but it would be the fifties where he would leave his true legacy.
He returned to England after WWII to take charge of the Aldershot Reserves side before the Swedish FA came calling. At this time, Raynor was well known to FA secretary Stanley Rous and when the Swedes asked for a coach, Rous was only too happy to recommend Raynor. That was the starting point of an incredible eight years in charge of the Swedish national team, where Raynor would become an Olympic champion and lead his men to a World Cup final.
After just two years in the job, Raynor and assistant Putte Kock returned to England for the 1948 Olympic Games. In front of 60,000 fans at Wembley, Sweden overcame Yugoslavia 3-1 and Gre-No-Li was born. Sadly, the emergence of Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm would cause more issues for Raynor than it would today.
Almost immediately after their Olympic triumph, the trio were snapped up by Serie A giants AC Milan. Under rules at the time, players on professional contracts were barred from representing their country, meaning Raynor went into the 1950 World Cup without his key men. Sweden remarkably made it all the way to the final round before being dismantled by Brazil 7-1. After failing to qualify for the tournament in 1954, Raynor left to manage Lazio, Juventus and Coventry City in the space of two years before returning to his job as the national team coach in Sweden.
His initial breakthrough in Italy came through former Huddersfield Town manager Jesse Carver, who was now in charge of Juventus. Raynor became his assistant before quickly moving on to the capital and the Lazio job. Raynor disliked the corrupt nature of Italian football and was desperate to manage back in his native England.
Sadly for Raynor, his visions and his football brain were far ahead of English football at that time. He assisted Carver once again at Coventry, who were an average Third Division side, a world away from
Serie A giants, and after a brief spell in charge he was once again demoted to make way for Harry Warren.
Raynor wanted to bring a ‘continental’ approach to English football but British coaches were predominantly set on physical football and weren’t interested in his ideas. He was welcomed back to Sweden with open arms and straight away got down to business. The Swedish FA had changed their ruling and would now allow players from abroad to represent the country. This meant Liedholm, who was still at Milan, and Kurt Hamrin of Padova could play. The Swedish people weren’t happy; they looked upon these players as ‘foreign’ despite their Swedish heritage. Raynor convinced people it was a representation of the footballers Sweden were capable of producing and that they should be celebrated, and they went on to help Sweden go one better than 1950 as they reached the World Cup final.
The man deemed not good enough to take charge of a Third Division side in England would once again meet his match in the shape of Brazil. Brazil had been dominant and hadn’t as much as fallen behind in a game so far. Liedholm shocked them with a fourth-minute opener but a Pele inspired Brazil went on to win 5-2.
Expecting a flood of offers from England, the Swedish FA reluctantly let Raynor leave but despite his worldwide status, England weren’t ready for his visions. Six years previous Sweden were preparing a match against a Hungary side that would go unbeaten for four years. It was the ‘Golden Team’ and Sweden mustered up a 2-2 draw. Raynor, being the patriot that he was, offered advice to his home nation who were also set to face the Hungarians. They were disgusted by his notion that they should lower themselves to defensive football and trying to thwart the threat of Hungary’s key players.
England’s home record was left in tatters as the visitors romped to a 6-3 victory, a game that is still talked about over 50 years later. Indeed, Raynor’s next job took him to Skegness Town, deep in the depths of non-league football. In reality, it was a chairman looking for a PR coup and he got one. His bungalow faced far away Scandinavia and he worked at a local Butlins to pay his way. In the late fifties, he rejoined Sweden as an advisor and helped oversee a 3-2 win at Wembley against England – one that Raynor undoubtedly would have felt incredibly satisfying.
After the match, Raynor came out with one of his most famous quotes. He said: “I would much rather have been doing the same sort of thing for the country of my birth. All I consider is that the people in England have had their chance. I want to work in England. For England. They want me in Ghana, in Israel, in Mexico and in Sweden. I am a knight in Sweden and have a huge gold medal of thanks from King Gustaf. I have a letter of thanks and commendation from the Prime Minister of Iraq.
“My record as a coach is the best in the world. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I live for football.”
His career ended after leaving Doncaster Rovers in 1968, he confirmed his life in football was over and described himself as a ‘dying swan’. His autobiography slammed the English FA for their ignorance towards him and it is still staggering to those who know him that he never managed a top English club or the national team. He laid into the FA and then current manager Walter Winterbottom and his book was banned from going on sale within the country. He would go on to teach schoolchildren, teach English to Hungarian refugees and eventually die a quiet and solemn death in 1985.
Raynor was a miner’s son, he grew up close to major cities such as Sheffield and Barnsley and attended the latter’s Grammar School before chasing a career within football. He was revered in
Sweden, he was a hero. But he was in the wrong generation when it came to English football, his own country didn’t understand him and his views on the FA practically wiped him from the history books.
George S. Raynor died 24th November 1985. In his home of South Yorkshire, there is no statue, no memory whatsoever that the country produced one of the greatest English coaches in the history of football. His death wasn’t mentioned in any local or national newspaper, his memory simply slipped away quietly as his career had done 20 years earlier.
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