John Carey, Footballing Legend

John Carey

John Carey, full name John Joseph Carey, was born shortly after the first world war in Dublin, on 23rd February 1919. Little did he know back then that he’d go on to become one of the, if not the, most respected Irish footballers to ever play in England.

We are big admirers of Carey here at Rarefootystuff and have managed to acquire many books on the man along with this great autographed pic. Follow the link to see more.

Where his Football Career began

From his early years through to high school, Carey showed signs of athletic promise as he played Gaelic football alongside school football.

The first football team Carey played for was Home Farm FC, a local team who produced many football players who went on to play in England and for football teams throughout Ireland.

First Signing

Carey signed his very first footballing contract for St James Gate in 1936, a Dublin based team established in 1902 steeped in Irish footballing history, and victors of the first FAI Cup Final.

Carey’s football career at St James Gate was short-lived, having been spotted by Manchester United’s talent scout Ben Behan. Within two months of signing for St James Gate, Carey found himself on the way to Old Trafford, with United paying a record Irish transfer fee of £250.

Manchester United Career

Johnny joined United whilst they were competing in the second division and having joined helped them achieve promotion in his first season. Throughout their first season back in the first division, Johnny had no problems maintaining his first team place and position.

The Second World War brought a halt to his aspiring career, and after the war had concluded Manchester United had undergone some serious changes. The ground had sustained heavy damage and a new manager awaited the team.

It was Matt Busby who promoted Carey to club captain, a role many say he was made for. As the club’s main stalwart in defence, John managed to notch up 17 goals, though the majority came soon after joining, as he played in a more advanced position for the first couple of seasons.

Career Timeline

Having joined Manchester United in 1937, Carey went on to hold a glittering career and captained the club out on to the pitch for the Wembley Cup Final in 1948. Manchester United had not competed in this final for 40 years and only Blackpool stood in the way. Manchester United came away victorious that day, with a 4 – 2 win, and Carey collected his first major footballing honour. The following year saw success for Carey again, with him collecting the Professional Football Writers Player of the Year in 1949.

It was in 1952 when more honours were awarded, after finishing second for almost five seasons United eventually won the league. This victory meant Carey became the first non-Englishman to captain an English team to both Cup and League victories.

Carey eventually retired from playing football in 1953, scoring his last professional goal for Manchester United in December 1952. A match they went on to win 2 – 1 against Blackpool. Carey’s last match wasn’t the best of his career, they were defeated 5 nil at Middlesboro.

From his footballing youth in Ireland to a successful career in England, Carey stayed loyal to his club throughout his career. In total Carey spent 16 years playing for Manchester united, making 344 appearances whilst captaining them for seven seasons.

International Career

Carey’s international career began the same year he joined Manchester United, unlike other countries Ireland had two governing football bodies – IFA, the Northern Ireland-based association and the FAI who governed the whole Ireland.

Some players, including Carey, played matches for both associations, with Carey once competing for both bodies within days of each other in 1939. He went on to captain at international level and like with his domestic football achieved some great results and awards.

One of the most famous victories for the Republic of Ireland came in 1949 at Goodison Park. When Ireland, captained by Carey, managed a 2-nil victory against England. A first for England – being defeated at home by a non-UK team.

In total he played 29 matches for the FAI and 9 for the IFA with an international career that spanned from 1937 to 1953.

Coaching Career

Having retired in 1953 it was no surprise to see Carey instantly join a team as manager, and it was Blackburn Rovers who made Carey manager in 1953. This wasn’t his first experience of managing a team, as in 1948 he took charge of the Irish team for the Olympics. Not a fantastic experience as Ireland lost their first match against the Netherlands.

Whilst at Blackburn Carey’s experience was a mixed bag, though eventually he got them to the first division in 1958. This was to be his last season with Blackburn having accepted the same role but for Everton.

At Everton Carey did help them record their highest finish since the post-war period in 1961, helping Everton hit fifth place of the first division. However, this was to end badly, with Carey being sacked by Everton’s owner John Moores, in the back of a taxi. This went on to be recognised as the roots of the phrase “taxi for …!”.

Carey didn’t see this as the end, and went to manage Leyton Orient, again helping them to reach the first division in 1962, before moving on to Nottingham Forest in 1967. It was with Nottingham that many say his greatest achievements were acquired. He managed them to an FA Cup Semi-Final and to second position in the first division in 1967.

Whilst performing his domestic work as a footballing manager, Carey was also involved in managing the international team for the Republic of Ireland. Carey maintained this position from 1955 to 1967, though had minimal control with selection as this was managed by a committee.

In the 1970 Carey returned to Blackburn, but this was a short speel after he was sacked in June 1971. It was at this point that Carey, hung up his pad and boots.


Carey was a special footballer of his time, dedicated and a student of all aspects – from playing to management. An aspect of his character can be cut from his work during the second world war, where he had the option of returning to Ireland. Instead, he choose to serve in the war, though still managed to play out matches for Manchester United. During this period, he notched up 112 appearances scoring 47 goals in the wartime regional leagues.

Carey went to enjoy his retirement, and eventually passed in 1995. One of the most poignant obituaries comes from Ivan Ponting, who stated in The Independent Obituary –

"Johnny Carey was a thoroughbred footballer who exuded class and calmness as Manchester United's first post-war captain and one of the most accomplished full-backs the British game has produced. A soft-brogued Dubliner who earned the epithet "Gentleman John" for his scrupulous fairness and unruffled demeanour no matter how dire the circumstances, Carey won every domestic prize available to him."