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George Raynor: Yorkshire's forgotten hero who took on the world with unfancied Sweden

He was a miner's son from Barnsley and led a team into a World Cup final and semi-final. Ian Appleyard tells the story of George Raynor.

THERE is still no statue of George Raynor in Barnsley. Maybe it is time there was.

His achievements on the international stage in the Fifties are the stuff of legend yet even now, on the 25th anniversary of his death, he is an often forgotten figure.

Raynor led Sweden to the 1958 World Cup final and Olympic gold, he was knighted for his success, and his portrait hangs proudly at the home of the Swedish Football Association.

However, back home in his native Yorkshire – where he played for the Uniteds of both Sheffield and Rotherham and managed Doncaster Rovers – his legacy is not recognised in the manner it deserves.

In footballing terms, he was the man who so nearly ruled the world, a coach whose vision was ahead of its time. Yet, almost criminally, Raynor spent a latter part of his career coaching part-timers in Skegness and working as a storeman at the Butlins holiday camp.

Born in Wombwell, Raynor attended Barnsley Grammar School and played non-league football for Elsecar Bible Class, Mexborough Athletic and Wombwell.

He turned professional with Sheffield United in 1930 but made only one appearance for the Blades before embarking on an unspectacular jaunt around the Football League with Mansfield, Bury, Rotherham and Aldershot

At the start of World War II, he had been working as a training instructor in Baghdad and it was there that the door opened to his amazing footballing adventure.

After assembling an Iraqi national team, he returned to England with Aldershot and came to the attention of Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association. When Rous was contacted by Swedish officials looking for a coach in 1946, he recommended Raynor.

The following year, Sweden gave England a mighty scare at Wembley and it took a hat-trick from Stan Mortensen to secure a 4-2 victory.

Raynor and his side returned the following year for the summer Olympics and went home with gold medals. The Swedes beat Yugoslavia in the final while Matt Busby's Great Britain side could only finish third.

The core of the Swedish squad were now snapped up by Italian clubs including Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm. Under Swedish rules, any professional players were barred from representing their country but Raynor still achieved World Cup qualification in 1950.

Combining his job as Swedish national coach with spells managing domestic sides GAIS, AIK Solna, Atvidaberg FF, Raynor took his standing on the world stage to new heights by reaching the World Cup semi-finals only to lose to eventual champions Uruguay.

His side won bronze medals at the 1952 Olympics before Raynor accepted an offer to assist former Huddersfield Town coach Jesse Carver at Italian giants Juventus.

Despite some success, and a brief spell at Lazio, Raynor was appalled by the crooked business of Italian football. He also yearned for the chance to prove his worth in the English game.

In 1956, he followed Carver to Coventry City who, at that stage, were an average side in Division Three South. When Carver quit to go back to Italy, Raynor stepped up for his first managerial job in England.

His relationship with the club's directors was never smooth, however, and he was demoted again and told to assist new manager Harry Warren.

Nursing a sense of betrayal, Raynor's footballing philosophies contrasted sharply with those of Warren who wanted a more physical approach and was not interested in the 'continental' approach.

It was no surprise when Raynor left 'by mutual consent' after just five months at Highfield Road. Even less of a surprise was his next destination.

Raynor returned to his role as Swedish manager and was treated as the returning hero. But there was even greater success on the horizon.

The man who had led the Swedes to the semi-final eight years earlier took his side to the 1958 final which, to this day, is still Sweden's greatest achievement in football.

Although they lost 5-2 to a Pele-inspired Brazil side in the final, it confirmed Raynor's status as an international manager of the highest order.

The Swedes, reluctantly, let him go and Raynor was expected to have no shortage of offers of work in England.

For whatever reason, he was ignored by the top clubs and it was a call by an ambitious chairman seeking a publicity coup that took him to Midland League part-timers Skegness. He spent two years by the seaside, lived in a bungalow that looked out across the sea to Scandinavia, and supplemented his 10 a week pay packet by working at the local holiday centre. His bitterness over the snub surfaced when he attacked both the FA and then England manager Walter Winterbottom in his autobiography.

Maybe he had wanted Winterbottom's job? Maybe, as Brian Clough would discover decades later, there is only so far you can go with criticism of the game's top brass. When he re-joined Sweden for a short-spell as advisor in 1959 it was to help his adoptive nation secure a famous 3-2 victory over England at Wembley – proving a point or two to his doubters at the FA.

In his post-match interview, Raynor 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."

He also suggested that the nine-man England committee should 'sack themselves'.

At the age of 60, and after several years away from the game, Raynor was appointed manager of Doncaster.

His time at Belle Vue is best remembered for his decision to bring Alick Jeffrey out of retirement. He was sacked in 1968 after a seven-month stint in charge and declared: "This was my swansong and now I am a dying swan."

It was the end of his footballing career – but what a career it had been. One of the most successful international managers England has ever known and he never even got the chance to lead the nation of his birth.

George Raynor passed away in 1985, aged 78. His death went unrecorded in English newspapers.

The career of George Raynor

Born: Wombwell, Barnsley January 13, 1907

Died: Buxton, November 24, 1985 (aged 78)

Playing career:

1930-31 Sheffield United

1932-33 Mansfield Town

1933-35 Rotherham United

1935-38 Bury

1938-39 Aldershot

Managerial career:

1943-45 Iraq XI

1946-54 Sweden

1947-48 GAIS

1948-52 AIK Solna

1952-54 Atvidaberg FF

1954-55 Lazio

1955-56 Coventry City

1956-58 Sweden

1958-60 Skegness Town

1960-61 Djurgardens IF

1961-62 Sweden

1967-68 Doncaster Rovers

International honours:

1948 Olympic Gold

1950 World Cup, third place

1952 Olympic Bronze

1958 World Cup, runner-up

 
 
 

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