Wilf Carter: Striker who led Plymouth’s late-1950s rise

 

Wilf Carter was Plymouth Argyle’s sharpshooter-in-chief for six seasons early in the second half of the 20th century, his goals a key factor in the Pilgrims lifting the first championship of the newly constituted Third Division in 1958-59.

That season, the lithe, darting Black Countryman was the leading scorer in manager Jack Rowley’s entertaining side, with 22 League strikes, taking the eye alongside his almost equally prolific fellow inside-forward Jimmy Gauld, whose name would be tarnished forever for his central role in the match-fixing bribes scandal of the early 1960s, several years after he had left the club.

There was nothing tricky about the impeccably sportsmanlike and honest Carter. He didn’t indulge in mesmeric manoeuvres to bamboozle his markers; he was pacy and direct, a predatory opportunist eager to shoot with either foot from any angle, one blessed with an instinctive appreciation of space in a crowded penalty box and a knack for exploiting it.

Carter took his first steps in the senior game with one of his local clubs, West Bromwich Albion, with whom he turned professional as a 17-year-old in January 1951, then made his top-flight entrance in a 1-0 defeat at Fulham in the following September. In that era, however, the Baggies were plentifully endowed with high-class attackers – current and future England internationals Ronnie Allen, Johnny Nicholls, Bobby Robson and Derek Kevan were all on the rise at the Hawthorns during the first half of the decade – and Carter proved unable to command a regular place in manager Vic Buckingham’s enterprising XI.

In urgent need of first-team football to restore his impetus, in March 1957 he headed south-west to join Plymouth of the Third Division South in a package deal with reserve goalkeeper Geoff Barnsley for the modest combined fee of £2,500. At Home Park, Carter was quickly into his stride, scoring 32 times in his first campaign in a green shirt, then leading the title charge a season later and continuing to thrive as a Pilgrim for another five years.

Profiting particularly from the sophisticated service of the cultured play-making wing-half Johnny Williams, he totalled 148 goals in his 274 league and cup appearances, an impressive tally outstripped for Argyle only by between-the-wars marksman Sammy Black, who scored 185 times. Carter’s aggregate included seven hat-tricks, plus, best of all as the club consolidated in the second tier, a haul of five in a 6-4 home win over Charlton Athletic in December 1960.

Yet for all his impressive marksmanship, the amiable Carter was an unselfish footballer, every inch a team man, one of the most popular characters in the Devonians’ dressing room. In May 1964, having reached his thirties, he joined Exeter City of the Third Division, with whom he suffered relegation in 1966, then left to become an influential captain and midfield schemer with Southern League Bath City.

Wilfred Carter, footballer: born Wednesbury, Staffordshire 4 October 1933; played for West Bromwich Albion 1951-57, Plymouth Argyle 1957-64, Exeter City 1964-66; married (one son, two daughters); died Bath 4 August 2013.

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