Carter the free spirit

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A FRIEND telephoned the other night to ask whether I had ever clapped eyes on Raich Carter, whose death this week at 80 must have stirred fond memories in people of his generation.

Being little more than a boy when Carter was approaching the end of a great career, and as the question referred specifically to style and technique, I was not able to impart much in the way of useful information.

However, a thought quickly grew up in our minds about the role Carter performed, especially in the colours of Sunderland, Derby County and England, and how it has more or less disappeared from the game.

Ivan Ponting's tribute to Carter in Tuesday's paper immediately stressed his remarkable prowess as a maker and taker of goals. Doubtless he would now be known as a midfield player or one who operates 'in the hole', but the old terminology serves him better. Completely, Carter was an inside forward.

For the benefit of today's enthusiasts, the role required him to provide openings and consistently appear on the score sheet. The extent to which he achieved this is shown by his record of 216 goals in 451 League appearances.

A tentative theory is that a lot went out of football when coaches got around to devising formations that seriously interfere with initiative. The fashion today is to pigeon-hole players on the basis of function, but had this ever been put to Carter and numerous others of his kind they would have snorted in disgust.

For the purpose of clarification, there is an image of Carter that filtered through time when I was asked about him. 'Stopping, with his foot on the ball, bringing the game to a standstill,' I said. Somebody is bound to declare that this is not possible in the modern game and in any case Carter would have had to choose between being a playmaker and a striker. Don't believe it.

From a conversation we had with Carter when he managed Middlesbrough, there was a hazard in putting this to him personally. 'More rubbish is spoken about football than almost anything else you can think of,' he said. 'Mark my word, the day will come when players of my type disappear from the game.'

During that time, Carter was persuaded to experiment with a policy favoured by the majority of managers and coaches, but foreign to his nature, that of getting players together a few hours before home matches.

Carter did not put in an appearance and was later asked by a director if he had forgotten the appointment. 'No,' he grunted. 'I agreed to the team meeting, but I didn't say anything about being there myself. What is the point in speaking to them. They can't play.'

Such intolerance goes a long way to explaining Carter's relative failure in management and gets me going on another thought.

You may think it is doing society a considerable disservice to dwell on any remark attributed to the Wimbledon footballer and alleged hard case Vinnie Jones, but recently, in a ghosted article, he related Gary Lineker's disinterest in football management to a lack of passion.

It is not known whether this idea was served up to Jones or it came to him in a flash of inspiration, but it ignores decisions taken by players whose passion for the game was central to monumental achievement. For example, Pele, who is generally regarded as the greatest player in history, never gave management a second thought.

There is enough money in the game today to permit leading players the boon of independence when setting out on the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, it was not accorded to Carter, who would now be able to calculate in multiples of seven figures.