Liverpool born centre half Jesse Carver started out in football joining Blackburn Rovers as an 18-year-old ground staff boy in June 1928 and spent seven years at Ewood Park, making his Football League debut against Sunderland in September 1930, becoming the first choice centre-half in 1931, playing 146 games for the First Division side, scoring twice. Although under six foot and short for a stopper his strong tackling and intelligent reading of the game more than made up for his lack of inches. In June 1936 he joined Newcastle United for £2,000, making his debut against Barnsley in August, and with Carver playing the Toon’s highest finish was 4th in the Second Division in 1936-37. After playing 76 times in the League and FA Cup for Newcastle United, he joined Bury for £850 in April 1939, but Carver’s playing career was cut short by the onset of the Second World War without having made a first team appearance for The Shakers.
After the War, Carver became assistant trainer at Huddersfield, and he began to realise that he had more talent as a coach than as a player. He successfully applied to coach Dutch club Xerxes in Rotterdam. He built his training routines around using the ball, instead of boring repetitive lapping, Xerxes flourished, and heading the championship and he was asked to coach the national team, a position he held for two years. After one season coaching at Millwall, he was appointed trainer to the England ‘B’ team on the successful 1949 tour of Holland & Finland. A job at the FA looked likely but as the FA hesitated, Juventus jumped in and offered him the coach’s job. He led Juve to the Italian Championship in his first season at the Turin club.
Carver still wanted to prove himself in England however, and in the summer of 1952 he was persuaded to return to coach West Brom and had an immediate impact with the team playing attacking football and up amongst the league leaders. With the manager’s chair empty, Carver wasn’t offered the job despite his success and in early 1953, Torino lured him back to Italy and he saved the famous club from relegation.
He only stayed at Torino a year, before moving to Roma. His salary at Roma was £5,000; he and his wife had an apartment in the Via Archemedes, where his neighbours included ex-King Farouk and Ingrid Bergman. Several English First Division clubs coveted him, but in early 1955, Coventry City tempted him with a salary close to £100 per week (at a time when most players were earning £15). But perhaps the challenge at Coventry was more compelling than the lure of the cheque book.
Football writer Brian Glanville who was close to Jesse in Italy, revealed in recent years, that months after accepting the Coventry job, Carver was offered the England manager’s job but turned it down because he had given his word to City chairman Erle Shanks. The FA were prepared to sack Walter Winterbottom to make the position his. Carver arrived in Coventry with a tan that complemented his man-about-town personality, and with his tailored light grey suits and camel coat, he looked more like a Hollywood film mogul than a football manager. He warned supporters not too expect too much but his words went unheeded – promotion talk was, as always, in the air.
His innovations were far-reaching, from wooden shoes and bathrobes for the players to prevent them catching cold whilst getting out of the showers, to made-to-measure lightweight continental boots for all the players. He also bought 40 footballs, one for each player on the staff as he expected them to practice their ball skills at all times. He also brought from Italy, former Swedish national coach George Raynor as his number two, another man with an outstanding reputation on the continent.
Over 24,000 fans were at the opening day win over Bournemouth, and the football was slick and exciting. At home, Carver’s team were unbeatable, but away from home, they struggled for results and promotion hopes looked slim. Throughout the autumn, rumours persisted of a move back to Italy, but these were quashed by chairman Shanks. By now, it had become apparent that Carver and Raynor’s continental style was not quite enough to win promotion amidst the hurly-burly of the Third Division, and Carver re-shaped his approach. In December, he bought Ken McPherson from Middlesbrough, a big bustling centre-forward, and the team won five games on the trot culminating in a 5-1 thrashing of Millwall in front of a crowd of 30,000.
But there was another major story brewing. Behind the scenes, Carver had made it clear to Shanks that he wanted to leave. The Midlands didn’t suit his wife’s health and he made an urgent request to be released from his three-year contract. The board reluctantly agreed and Carver left the club on New Year’s Eve. He denied that there were any other offers for his services but within hours of him returning to Italy, on 3rd January Inter Milan announced he would be their new manager.
City released him on the understanding that he didn’t work in England during the remaining period of his Coventry contract. He did return to a coaching job at Tottenham in 1958, but failed to settle and later, he moved to Portugal. After a spell in the USA, he retired to England in the late 1960’s.
NB this image was taken during one of Carver’s first 7 Blackburn Rovers matches between late September and the start of November 1930.