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Football and the First World War

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John Carey

John Carey was one of the outstanding defenders of his time.  His innovative defensive play and clean tackling gained him the admiration of his fellow-players. Throughout a highly successful career Carey captained United to the F.A. Cup in 1948 and the League Championship in 1952, and had the distinction of playing for both the Republic and Northern Ireland in a distinguished international career.

John Carey was in Dublin, the son of John Carey, van driver, and his wife, Sarah. He left Ireland at the age of seventeen when he was transferred by his Dublin club, St James's Gate, to Manchester United for a sum of 200. In his first full season at Old Trafford, in 19378, he played at inside forward and was part of the successful team that won promotion to the first division that year. In the same season he won his first international cap for the Irish team.

Carey played for Manchester United during the first three seasons of the Second World War, in regional football leagues, but his career was interrupted in 1943 when he took the decision to join the British army. He served in the Queen's Royal Hussars and took part in the campaigns in the Middle East and Italy.

At the end of the war Carey returned to Manchester United and was promoted to club captain by the new team manager, Matt Busby. Although he had played in just about every position for United, including goalkeeper, Busby converted him to full-back.

Between the 1946/7 and 1950/51 seasons, Manchester United finished runners-up in the league four times. The title was finally clinched in the 1951/2 season. In 1948 Carey also won an FA Cup winners medal in the 4-2 victory over Blackpool in a classic final.   The following year  he was elected footballer of the year, and in 1950 sportsman of the year.

In addition to his successful domestic career Carey also resumed international appearances after the war. He captained the Republic of Ireland to a 20 victory over England at Goodison Park in 1949, thereby inflicting the first ever defeat on an England team in a full international fixture played on home soil. As a result of his military service, and the ongoing disputes between the two football associations in Ireland over player selection, Carey also qualified to play for Northern Ireland after 1945. He took the opportunity, and played for both Northern Ireland and the republic in the four years following the war. In the space of three days in 1948 he played for both Irish teams, each time against England. His standing within international football was demonstrated in 1947 when he was chosen as the captain of a Rest of Europe team against England.

In 1953 Carey finally retired as a player. He went on to manage second-division Blackburn Rovers, gaining them promotion to the first division in 1958.  Carey was then appointed manager of Everton where he rebuilt a poor team and directed them to  fifth place in the league by the close of the 1961 season. He was famously sacked by Everton chairman, John Moores,  in the back of a London taxi en route for the Football League annual meeting.

Carey then moved to Leyton Orient, leading the London team to the first division for the first time in their history in his first season there. He subsequently managed Nottingham Forest before a second, less successful, spell at Blackburn Rovers.

In 1971 Carey began work for a textile company, and then moved on to the treasurer's office of Trafford borough council, where he remained until his retirement in 1984. He returned to Old Trafford in the 1970s as a scout working for Tommy Docherty, and he retained his contacts with Manchester United until his death on 23 August 1995.