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Bowler's Delivery: Your mind is a parachute

9 December 2014

Jesse Carver: A man of culture

(pictured: Jesse Carver gives instructions to Joe Kennedy (left), Stan Rickaby and Len Millard (right))




IT'S rare that a manager arrives at a football club with a good team in place. It’s rarer still that he leaves an even better one behind.

Such though is the tale of Jesse Carver, who joined the Albion on 18th April 1952 and left just eight months later, on this very day, 9th December, in the same year.

In giving Carver the job, Albion embraced another new concept – the tracksuit manager, an extraordinarily farsighted appointment.

Carver was like very few of his contemporaries who still tended to sit in the office all week, rarely venturing out to supervise training – why bother when all it consisted of was players lapping the pitch time and again?

Carver was very different, mixing British ideas with others picked up in his time on the continent. 

Harried out of Huddersfield when he had suggested the players might do better if they trained with the ball, instead of retreating into the insular bunker that did English football so much harm in the immediate post-war period, Carver went out to see the footballing world, working with the Dutch FA before landing a coaching job with the mighty Juventus of Turin, winning the scudetto, before he fell foul of Italian football politics and was moved on. 

On his foreign odyssey, Carver absorbed new ideas, new styles of football, of training, applying the dictum that your mind is a parachute – it only works when it’s open. 

Albion’s approach for his services was incredibly ambitious, but a chance to return home clearly appealed and he came to The Hawthorns as trainer-coach, rather than out-and-out manager. 

He quickly brought into play the methods that had made foreign players so much more technically skilled and, in particular, more tactically astute, than our own. 

Suddenly training was all about getting the ball out, rehearsing routines for set pieces, passing drills, making players sprint with the ball, train in their boots, in short, do all the things they’d be expected to do on Saturday afternoons. 

If ever there was a man in the right place at the right time, this was it for Albion had assembled a squad of players that were intelligent, mobile, imaginative and, above all, thirsty to learn – Ronnie Allen, Paddy Ryan, George Lee, Johnnie Nicholls, Frank Griffin, Stan Rickaby, Len Millard, Jimmy Dudley, Joe Kennedy and the great Ray Barlow.

The culture at The Hawthorns was to talk football, experiment, innovate. In that classroom, the professorial Carver was in his element. 

The redeployment of Allen as a deep lying Number Nine on a roving commission, dropping deeper to collect the ball, gave Allen the freedom of the field to create and instigate. As a piece of tactical thinking, it fell right into the hands of Carver who had studied European football, notably that of the Hungarians who were about to whip up a perfect storm on English soil just a year or so later.

Under Carver, we were a side transformed, winning seven of the first nine to go second, playing with extraordinary style and panache. 

Come October, our form fell like the leaves, but it was just a temporary blip and before long, we were back in the groove, clocking up win after win, Carver underlining his value. But all was not well behind the scenes.

A man ahead of his time, the reclusive, controlling Carver and the authoritarian chairman Major Wilson Keys were set for collision from day one. Carver was never a man to stay in one place for long, nor was he someone who wanted to answer for his actions – later in his career, he would tell the press that he could not give interviews because a clause in his contract forbade him to do so, a complete fabrication. 

Carver brooked no interference from anyone on footballing matters, Wilson Keys had a longer term obligation towards the club’s health. By mid-December 1952, with Albion in third place, it had become self-evident that it was a relationship that could not be sustained.

When Carver was invited to take charge of Torino, the Italian powerhouse desperately trying to resurrect itself after the air crash that had robbed them of their team, he could not turn it down and left The Hawthorns. 
 
It was left to Vic Buckingham to come in, pick up the pieces and lead the “Team of the Century” to glory the following season. But that’s another story…

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