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  • Writer's pictureSimon Basten

Manager Series: George Raynor

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

George Raynor was the first British manager to reach the final of the World Cup. But in Britain nobody has ever heard of him. He was Lazio manager in the 1954-55 season.

Source Coventry City

George Sydney Raynor was born in Wombell in South Yorkshire on January 13, 1907. After having played for non-league teams, his first professional job was with Sheffield United in 1930, but in two years he only made one appearance. In the next seven years he played for Mansfield Town, Rotherham United, Bury and Aldershot, making little impact. When the second World War broke out he signed up as a physical training instructor (PTI) so that he could avoid active service. The Football Association had requested that all professional footballers become PTIs if they did not want to be involved in the fighting. He was posted to Iraq.

Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nuri al-Said, wanted to create the first ever Iraqi national football team and Raynor was offered the job of head coach. As a consequence, seven years before joining FIFA, Iraq had a football team made up of officers and students. They played a number of friendlies against Polish and British military teams plus a number of games in Lebanon and Syria. In 1944 a match had to be abandoned when a riot broke out killing eight and injuring a further 200.

His job in Iraq was not approved by the Football Association which forced Raynor to go back to the UK. He coached the Aldershot reserve team but in 1946 he was unemployed. The FA Secretary, Stanley Rous, told Raynor that there was an opportunity to coach the Swedish Olympic team. He took it.

The Swedes had some formidable players: Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm (nicknamed Gre-No-Li), later all to play for Milan and win the scudetto (Gren once, Nordahl twice and Liedholm four times). In the first round they thrashed Austria 3-0, scored 12 against South Korea in the quarterfinals, beat Denmark 4-2 in the semi-final and Yugoslavia 3-1 in the final. The gold medal was an exceptional feat and Raynor was the last British manager to do so, at least for men’s football.

In 1950 he managed Sweden at the World Cup. Despite the fact that professionals could not play for the country, hence no Gre-No-Li and many others who had left for more lucrative European championships, they beat Italy in the opening game and proceeded to the final round. They lost to Brazil and Uruguay but beat Spain to claim third position. One must consider that all the players were amateurs so an incredible result.

In the 1952 Olympic Games Sweden beat Norway and Austria but lost the semi-final to the formidable Hungarians 6-0. But in the bronze medal match they beat West Germany 2-0. Thus, another triumph.

While he was head coach for Sweden, Raynor was also manager for GAIS (Gothenburg’s Athletics and Sports Association) in the 1947-48 season and AIK Fotboll from 1948 to 1952 winning the Swedish Cup twice in successive years. From 1952 to 1954 he was manager for Atvidaberg in the Swedish second division.

In 1954 he quit Sweden and came to Italy. He became Technical Director at Juventus with Aldo Olivieri as manager. He did not last long. On November 1 he was sacked.

Lazio 1954-55

The Biancocelesti had started the season under Federico Allasio but after six games they were bottom with only three points. Lazio President, Costantino Tessaroli, seeing that Raynor was jobless, asked him to become manager with Roberto Copernico as Technical Director. At the end of the first half of the season Lazio were 16th, three points ahead of Pro Patria, last, and +1 on Spal. They had at least won a few games including beating Inter 3-2 at home. Once the team started correctly applying Raynor's teachings on the pitch, the Biancocelesti improved considerably, thanks also to John Hansen’s goals and Giuseppe Zibetti’s great saves. At the end of the season Lazio arrived 12th comfortably avoiding any relegation worries. They also beat Juventus (revenge is sweet) and won the derby.

He was highly considered at Lazio. A true professional, a little irascible at times and with a typical English feeling of superiority, but he certainly knew what he was doing and the Biancocelesti managed to have a decent season despite the initial disaster.

Sweden 1958

Sweden had not qualified for the 1954 World Cup due to the fact that all the best players were not allowed to play for the National team. But the country was awarded the organisation of the 1958 World Cup.

In the meantime Raynor had gone back to the UK but instead of getting a job for a team that was “worthy” of his CV, he was forced to accept a job in the third tier. He managed Coventry City for 11 months before being called back to Sweden. There was a world cup to prepare on home soil.

Raynor told the Federation that it would have been impossible to play against world class opposition without the Swedes playing in Italy. The Federation eventually agreed and Raynor was able to call up Liedholm (AC Milan), Kurt Hamrin (Padova), Arne Selmosson (Lazio), Lennart Skoglund (Inter) and Bengt Gustavsson (Atalanta).

In the group phase, Sweden beat Mexico and Hungary and drew with Wales to top their group. In the quarterfinals they beat the USSR 2-0 and in the semis they won 3-1, coming from behind, against West Germany.

The final was against Brazil. One has to bear in mind that Brazil were probably one the strongest footballing teams of all time: Goalkeeper Gilmar, Djalma Santos, Nilton Santos, Mario Zagallo, Garrincha and the marvellous trio Didi, Vavà and Pelé. Sweden did not stand a chance but they went surprisingly ahead with a Liedholm goal after four minutes. Brazil at that point started playing and scored five goals. The match finished 5-2, a triumph for Brazil but also for Sweden and Raynor.

Swedish National Football Team, 1958 World Cup final. Source Wikipedia

Later career

One would think that the first British manager to play the World Cup final would not have too much difficulty in finding a good job back home. But the only offer came from non-league Skegness Town. Tired of travelling he accepted and stayed two years. He managed Djurgardens IF in 1960 and Sweden again in 1961. His last managerial job was with Doncaster Rovers in the English fourth Division from 1967 to 1968.

In 1960 he published a book about his idea of football called "Football Ambassador at Large".

He died in Buxton on November 24, 1985.

Raynor is the typical example of the snobbish attitude in UK football at the time and to a certain extent still today. Despite Olympic Gold and a World Cup final, Raynor is never spoken about and many people in the UK do not even know who he is. He was knighted in Sweden, but ignored in Britain. His brief stay in Italy and with Lazio left a positive memory and as we know, whoever joins the Biancoceleste club remains immortal however long they stay.



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